There are a few styling mantras I live by when working with guys, and one of the most tried and true was actually verbalized best by a client. I was explaining how he could get more mileage out of his clothes by showing him different combos using the same 5 pieces. He said, "Exactly. Guys need outfits, not pieces,". Precisely, sir.
This holiday season, be a gift-giving hero and help a manfriend out with my 5 Essential Outfit Builders. It's like Jenga - without a solid base your look starts to fall apart. These 5 pieces are foundational to getting and having a wardrobe where pieces are easily swapped in and out and combined to make new looks, without investing in a ton of clothes. Layering is the key. Having pieces that can be worn on their own or easily layered together is what gives you that pulled together GQ look that's as functional as it is cool.
Shop smarter, and wardrobe wisely my friends, with the pieces below.
1. A Shirt that Fits
Seriously, there's no reason to compromise on shirt fit. Whether for work or play, a well-fitting button down shirt helps you look like you are a with-it, together person. I make no judgments on your actual state of mind and being. What I do know is that, often, off-the rack shirts are hurting your style cause rather than helping. If your shirt is too baggy, has excess material that you're constantly tucking into your pants, fits in the neck but the sleeves are too short or long, or a myriad other issues I regularly hear from guys, chances are you look like you're carrying around an extra 10 pounds when really, it's your shirt that needs to go on a diet. Find a shirt that fits in the shoulders and the chest - everything else can be tailored.
Or go custom - Esquire voted J. Hilburn Best Dress Shirt. And while I'm admittedly biased being a stylist with the company, I can say with 100% certainty that my guy clients finally have great-fitting shirts without breaking the bank.
2. The Go-to Sweater
A key layering piece, the sweater can be worn over a t-shirt or a collared shirt. What I love about a great fitting, high quality sweater is that it adds instant polish without being stuck up or too formal. Style-wise you can go preppy, classic, city-sleek, or weekend casual. Wear a pullover casually with some colored 5-pocket pants, dress it up for the business casual office with a shawl cardigan style (pictured above) or a v-neck with a button down showing underneath and some chinos or trousers. You can throw a vest over it for a sporty, rustic look, or just put it on with jeans and leave your house. The sweater rejects overthinking.
Style-wise, the most versatile sweater cut is anything in a V-neck shape, including V-neck cardigans and half-zip pullovers like the one pictured above. A V-neckline does a few awesome things:
- Elongates your build: Stockier guys and guys with weight around the midsection will benefit from the v neck shape creating the illusion of more space between their chest and their stomach. A longer you is a slimmer you.
- Frames your face: The V shape creates a frame that your face sits in. Sounds weird, but it helps draw attention to where people should be looking and listening.
If you have a longer face, opt for a higher, shorter v neck. A deep v-neck will make your face seem even longer. If you have a square face, a full face, and/or a thicker neck, go for a longer v-neck to lengthen you out.
Color picks: Avoid black -- seems like a go-to, but black near the face is actually pretty harsh on most skin tones. Dark or heather grey, purple, green, and navy will all work with black or brown pants and accessories, as well as most shirting fabrics and colors.
3. Belt Game Strong
An updated belt is a sure-fire, easy way to help a guy look polished with something he'll wear all the time. All. The. Time. Think outside the box from the standard black and brown and consider dark brown suede, a navy blue, or a lighter brown. And don't worry, a refined black and dark brown will go over well, too. For a modern look, go for a 1-1.25" belt with tapered rather than squared off edges. I like the custom belt option -- for $135 you can pick the leather or suede color and then the thread stitching color and get something unique but totally functional. Try out the belt builder here.
4. A Grown Up Jacket
Guys tend to buy jackets once a decade, I find. There's the patagonia-look from their college days, some sort of "dress" coat that's oversized and rarely worn that they bought during the first job years, and then the in-between jacket that they've had for years, isn't super presentable, but hey, "it's comfortable". Help a manfriend or yourself out with a jacket that's tailored and says Grown Ups Are People, Too. For a more casual look, try out a roadster-type jacket. Look for water-resistant and fleece-lined options like this one, pictured above left. These are great transitional pieces from fall to winter in cooler climes, and good lightweight but warm layers for you San Francisco types. An updated field jacket, like the one pictured top right from Barbour, is a great choice for a more rustic but still modern look. Find a similar one here.
An overcoat is a timeless piece, and a smart investment. Make sure it's not too bulky - look for good quality wool and a silhouette that looks like a person rather than a rectangle on your body. Color-wise, charcoal is my fave for versatility. Not as dressy as black, not as standout of a statement as camel, though beautiful, and can be dressed up or down easily. This one features a quilted lining. Because heckyeah warmth and style.
5. The Signature Accessory
Keep the layered look going with accessories that add a style boost through authentic, personal touches to his style. A cool scarf, a unique watch, dope shoes, the list goes on. These items are usually a bit more idiosyncratic to personal taste, so if you nail it, you're a hero. If not, A's for Effort are totally encouraged. As are generous return policies.
6. Bonus: The Sportcoat. And Why You Need One
I know, I know. Either you're a guy who wears jackets when not wearing a suit, or you're not. But here's the thing. The sportcoat is no longer the accessory of country clubs and dad jeans. It's updated, with a modern silhouette, fresh patterns and colors, and styling options that bring it into the 21st century. The sportcoat is the bonus layer you need - over sweaters, t-shirts, button downs, wear it with jeans or trousers. Check out the picture above -- Layers on fleek.
However you wear it, your fears of being overdressed are unfounded. You just look, well, cool. No one has ever said, Wow, that guy looks *too* good. There's a difference between looking pulled-together and looking like you're trying too hard. A sportcoat stays in the former lane.
If you're not in formal environments much and don't think you have occasion to wear a sportcoat, the trick is to get one that doesn't resemble a suit jacket at all. Ditch the flap pockets in favor of patch pockets, shown above in all jackets except the top right. Choose a material in a pattern like herringbone, a large plaid or small checks -- something that would be a serious commitment and a whole lotta look in a full suit, and makes it clear your look is intentional rather than haphazard. Corduroy is back as well: Elbow patches optional. Finish off the look with non-traditional styling details like distressed buttons, a narrow notch or a peak lapel. Finally, look for a "soft", or deconstructed jacket. These jackets are finished without as much of the padding in the shoulders and chest. It's as comfortable as wearing your favorite hoodie, but shows you've got a casual cool style of your own.
Images courtesy of J. Hilburn and mrkoachman.com
The Bottom Line
- Update your classics
- Prioritize fit as much as function
- Layer up for easy style wins
Happy Shopping and Happier Gifting!