Outerwear tends to be expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. Depending on your budget, you can get relatively affordable coats and jackets nowadays from Club Monaco, J. Crew, Brooks Brothers, and Ralph Lauren. At the end of every season, they’ll have nice looking designs for about $150-200 (Brooks Brothers and Ralph Lauren have really good mid-season sales as well). More affordably, there’s Pointer’s chore coat for $87. It looks pretty good if you like workwear.
For rainy days, I sometimes wear LL Bean’s Trail Model Rain Jacket with jeans, a Shetland sweater, and some LL Bean boots. The shell is made from a waterproof rip stop nylon and the interior seams are taped. The pocket bags are also made of mesh, so that if you store away any wet things, they’ll dry quicker. The best part? It’s $79. Possibly $71 if you wait for one of LL Bean’s occasional 10% off coupons. Additionally, they have a similar jacket this season under their “Signature” line. Although I haven’t handled it, the jacket looks like it comes without a chest logo (which the mainline does, unfortunately, although it’s tonal). I also assume it fits slimmer all around.
In the photo above, I’ve paired my LL Bean rain jacket with an oxford cloth button down shirt from Ascot Chang, a Shetland sweater from O’Connell’s, and a pair of straight legged jeans from 3sixteen. All of these tend to be a bit on the pricey side, but you can find more affordable alternatives at a number of places. Brooks Brothers will have oxford cloth button downs for about $50 during sale season, while Kamakura sells them for about $79 year round. More affordable Shetlands can be had for about $75-100 at Brooks Brothers and LL Bean when they’re on discount (although they don’t always carry them). Lastly, raw selvedge denim jeans can be had for about $89 from our advertiser Gustin, or $82 from Unbranded. Both get regularly recommended in the denim community.
Together, these pieces make for a reasonably classic look, and more importantly, can be had for not too much money.
I recently accepted that my shirts don’t fit me anymore. Every time I sit down, the placket gapes, which either means my shirts have magically shrunken just at the midsection, or that I’ve gotten fatter. Whatever the reason, I’ve asked my shirtmaker, Ascot Chang, to make me a new set of shirts, which means I’ve had to decide what’s the bare minimum I need, based on what I wore most often before. Of course, what’s basic and essential for you might be totally different, but I thought I’d share my list, in case some readers find it helpful.
Three blue oxford cloth button downs (aka OCBDs): I realize that not everyone likes OCBDs and they can be too American for some. However, I’m unapologetic in my love for them and find they go really well with a range of casual ensembles – from being worn underneath sport coats or sweaters, or just alone with a pair of chinos, corduroys, or wool trousers. If your tastes run even more American than mine, you can add another OCBD in a solid pink or light blue Bengal stripe. White OCBDs can also look pretty good with a pair of jeans.
Two solid white shirts: These can be worn during the evenings, with suits, or just when you’re feeling fancy. I’ve found that light blue is much more wearable than white, but it’s good to have a couple of these on hand. I recommend getting them in either a basic poplin or twill fabric. You can also get them with French cuffs, if you’d like.
Five solid light blue shirts: It’s almost impossible to go wrong with a solid light blue shirt. The color complements any complexion and can be successfully paired with almost any suit, sport coat, or tie (the exception is maybe a light blue jacket, but who owns those?). You can get these in a plain poplin weave, but I find end-on-end and a dressy chambray to be much more interesting. They have a crisscrossing of blue and white yarns that make them look more appealing, but aren’t so busy that they force the shirt into casualwear.
Two shirts in a mix of pin and dress stripes (either one of each or two of one): Striped shirts are really useful if most of your tailored jackets are in solid colors. They help add a bit of visual interest and keep your patterned tie from looking too lonely. For what it’s worth, I find the wider-spaced dress stripes to be easier to wear than more densely striped ones, and light blue to be easier to wear than dark blue (reason being that it’s easier to wear things with tonal variation, so dark jackets go well with light blue shirts and dark- or medium-toned ties, rather than a mix of darks in all three). Darker blue dress stripes can be nice, however, if you want a bit more variation in your wardrobe and don’t wear ties often. Brown pinstripes are also a good choice.
Three shirts in a mix of Bengal and candy stripes: Same logic as the pin and dress stripes, but just in a bolder pattern. Mix your pin and dress stripes with boldly patterned ties, and your Bengal and candy stripes with subtle ones. By varying the scale of the two patterns, you ensure that your shirt and tie will never compete for attention. Light blues are again great, but if you want darker blues, I find they’re easier to wear here, for some reason, than in pin or dress stripes.
Four casual weekend shirts: Finally, some casual shirts for the weekend. Depending on how hot or cold your climate gets, I recommend getting these in seasonal fabrics. For spring/ summer, you can go with madras, linen, or voile. Those will be very airy and breathable, making them nice for hot, humid days. For fall/ winter, you can swap these out for brushed cottons, wool/ cotton blends, and heavy twills. I find that graph checks and tattersalls also look good underneath tweed sport coats, and can be worn alone with a pair of corduroy trousers and a sweater.
This gives you a total of nineteen shirts for each season. Fifteen for the workweek, and four for the weekend. That should be enough to get you through two weeks before laundry day, with enough extra so that you’re not in danger of being shirtless if you go a few days past or stain something during a particularly good meal.
I love suits, but being that I don’t work in law or finance, don’t live on the East Coast, and am (what I’d like to think) a relatively young guy in his mid-30s, I don’t get to wear them very often. So, I buy most of mine these days in causal materials, such as cotton, linen, and corduroy. That way, I can have a casual suit for social occasions, or break the pieces up and wear them separately. In the above, for example, the brown sport coat is actually a suit jacket that’s part of a cigar linen suit I bought last year.
With a casual suit, even the trousers can be worn separately. Corduroy, linen, and cotton suit trousers just become … well, corduroy pants, linen pants, and chinos. And since these pieces came as part of a suit, the jacket’s length will be a bit longer than most sport coats these days (which often look too short anyway) and the pants will have a slightly higher rise (which I think looks more flattering anyhow).
The only downside, of course, is the cost. A good suit – whether made from a fine worsted wool or a more casual material – can run you $1,000 or more at the retail level. Depending on how you break up that price, that’s a lot more than what you’d typically pay for a casual pair of pants and a sport coat. Those won’t match up to form a suit when you need them to, but they will be less expensive.
If you can afford them, however, casual suits can be great, and they’ll give you a lot of versatility in your wardrobe. You can find them at most places that sell tailored clothing (try our suit buying guides here and here). No Man Walks Alone also has a rare Minnis Fresco option this summer. Fresco is an open-weave, worsted wool (which makes it breathable on hot days) and it has a bit of a texture (which means you can wear the jacket as a sport coat). Remember: the rule of thumb for wearing suit jackets as sport coats is to avoid anything that’s made from a very silky or finely woven wool. It should never look like you’re wearing a suit jacket by itself, even if you are.
Ring Jacket’s made-to-order program is pretty awesome. If you fit into one of our 5 stock Ring Jacket fits, you can tweak the sleeve length, jacket length, and body directly from the factory. Additionally, just like you would in a made-to-measure program, you get the added benefit of picking your own fabric and details like buttons, lining, and pockets.
My MTO above is in vintage Carlo Barbera silk from Ring Jacket’s summer trunk show. This weekend they’ll be bringing another selection of winter-weight vintage Barbera cloths which we’ll be able to offer for MTO and MTM commissions.
The centerpiece of almost any ensemble tends to be outermost layer. It’s what people see most easily, and what covers up everything else underneath. Which means, if you splurge on outerwear and knitwear, you can often get away with spending little on everything else.
In the above, my white tees above are from Hanes, which cost $12 a piece, but you can sometimes find them on sale for as little as $2. The shirts are from Ascot Chang, which are admittedly pricey, but you can get good casual shirts at Brooks Brothers for about $50 on sale. For something more affordable, look into Uniqlo or J. Crew. They’ll often have shirts on sale for $25 to $40.
The jeans above are from 3sixteen. I bought them on sale for $125 five years ago, when they retailed for $175. They’re now $225. I think they’re still worth the price, but for a more affordable alternative, try our advertiser Gustin. They have raw, selvedge denim jeans starting at $89.
Next, for shoes, I think it’s worth splurging for a pair of boots. The above are shell cordovan cap toe boots from Brooks Brothers, but you could just as easily swap these out for a pair of calf leather chukkas or bluchers, depending on your style. You can get those new through Meermin for $200 or as little as $125 if you’re willing to go second hand on eBay. For something more affordable, try a simple pair of sneakers. For $70, you can get the German Army Trainers Jesse talked about. For $45, you can get Chuck Taylors at ShoeBuy (where they’re almost always on sale).
After that, there’s just outerwear and knitwear. If you can’t afford to spend on both, then cut back on sweaters. The grey sweatshirt above is one of my most versatile knits, and it cost me $30 on clearance at J. Crew. Sure, it doesn’t keep its shape as well as more expensive sweatshirts, but a quick wash and dry after every wear solves that problem. This takes a bit of the luster out of the cotton, but sweatshirts look good worn-in anyway. As usual, if you can’t afford to get things made from fine materials, then get things that look better beat-up.
Spending little on everything else can make you feel less guilty about splurging where it counts. For fall, this mostly means outerwear and knitwear.