This guide will teach you how to build a minimalist men’s wardrobe that’s ready for any season or occasion.
Whether you’re a hardcore minimalist or a total clothes horse, you’ve probably asked yourself the following question:
How much clothing do I actually need?
It’s a good question. I mean, is it really possible to build a “complete” wardrobe? Can you actually get to the point where you’re done shopping forever?
According to menswear expert Barron Cuadro – founder of EffortlessGent and creator of the lean wardrobe philosophy – the answer is yes.
But you have to embrace the principle of interchangeability. You have to avoid owning clothes that don’t actually get worn.
While it’s okay to experiment with trends, maintaining a minimalist wardrobe requires you to pare down aggressively, and regularly (at least once a year).
It’s a lot of work, but it’s also rewarding!
Benefits of a Minimalist Wardrobe
If you build a fluff-free and versatile wardrobe, you’ll notice the following benefits:
Getting dressed is quick and easy
Using neutral, interchangeable colors, you can put together 100+ outfits with less than 20 wardrobe items.
This means that you can practically get dressed in the dark and still look good.
Sounds pretty sweet, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want that kind of versatility built into their wardrobe?
More closet space
Most closets are full of clothes that never get worn and shoes that just collect dust.
Imagine having a closet and shoes with plenty of space to see everything you own and enough room to avoid smashing your clothes together.
This is good for anyone, but especially those with limited storage space in their home.
Less mental effort = more brain space
A minimalist wardrobe makes getting dressed easy and frees up some extra brain space that was being used every morning (and before every big event).
There’s also an emotional weight we carry around when we own a bunch of stuff we don’t need (or even want).
Unburdening yourself of this weight by getting rid of useless clothes feels great!
How to Build a Minimalist Wardrobe
While this all sounds great, the obvious question becomes: “What should I buy?”
This post outlines exactly what you need for a lean, versatile wardrobe. If you’ve been looking for a list of essential wardrobe items, look no further. You’ve found it!
Note: if you want to dive deep into each clothing category, check out our Minimalist Collections Series:
- The Minimalist Men’s Shirt Collection
- The Minimalist Men’s Pants Collection
- The Minimalist Men’s Outerwear Collection
- The Minimalist Men’s Shoe Collection
We also have a YouTube video you can watch about this very topic.
Or, keep reading for a high-level look at the minimalist wardrobe.
One Quick Caveat
Here’s the thing: every man is different. We all have different preferences and lifestyles, so one man’s essential wardrobe is different from the next.
For example, a college student doesn’t need the exact same clothes as a business executive. And the business executive doesn’t need the same wardrobe as a factory worker or a computer programmer.
For simplicity, I’ll assume the following about your lifestyle:
- You wear business/smart casual outfits during the week.
- You wear casual outfits on the weekends.
- You wear a suit several times each year.
- You live in a temperate climate (no extreme weather).
You might be thinking, “That’s not me!” But before you stop reading, hear me out: not everyone fits perfectly into this criteria, and that’s okay.
This essential wardrobe list isn’t one size fits all. It’s meant to be used as a starting point that works for most men.
It’s your job to make adjustments as needed, according to your lifestyle and situation (climate, daily routine, age, etc.).
Got it? Okay, let’s start with the absolute essentials:
15 Essential Wardrobe Items
Note: This is the bare minimum. Undergarments, activewear, etc. are not included.
- Navy or grey two-piece suit
- Dark wash jeans
- Light wash jeans
- Tan chinos
- White dress shirt
- Light blue dress shirt
- Solid color button-up shirt
- Solid color t-shirt (2)
- Solid color sweater (2)
- Leather dress shoes
sneakers(leather or canvas)
- Charcoal necktie
- Dark brown leather belt
This won’t get you to the finish line, but if you could only choose 15 items, these are your best bet.
If you don’t currently own one of these items, it should be on the top of your list of things to buy soon.
Expanding on the Essential Items
Of course, you’re going to need more than those 15 essential items.
Let’s round out this essential wardrobe with a few more things, including your extra shoes, accessories and outerwear:
- Neutral sport coat or navy blazer
- Grey wool trousers
- Navy or grey chinos
- Tan or navy chino shorts
- Pattern dress shirt
- Pattern casual button-up shirt
- Short sleeve button-up shirt
- Solid color wool v-neck sweater
- Solid color polo shirt
- Brown/black leather boots
- Leather loafers
- Lighter color necktie
- Casual belt (woven, braided or nylon)
- Everyday wristwatch
- Lightweight casual jacket
- Mid-weight jacket (field or leather)
- Cold weather jacket (topcoat or parka)
Notice that there’s a lot of wiggle room with color. If you want to play it safe, stick with navy, grey, black, white, tan and charcoal.
If you want to mix it up, add some basic “extension” colors like brown, maroon, dark green, olive, oatmeal and pink.
You don’t need a ton of different colors in your wardrobe. One pop of color per outfit is plenty for most men, especially if you’re relatively new to the style game.
If you’re about to buy something in a new color, ask yourself: “Does this go with stuff I already own?”
If it doesn’t, don’t buy it! It won’t add to the versatility and interchangeability of your collection.
It Takes Time (Don’t Rush)
The first step is to figure out what you need. Use the above lists to do that, then take an honest look at your budget.
How much can you spend per month to build out your wardrobe? $200? $500?
After you decide how much you can spend upfront and per month, consider whether or not you like shopping. If you do, make it a goal to purchase one essential wardrobe item per month.
And remember: building a great wardrobe and improving/refining your style is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time, and enjoy the process.
FAQs About The Minimalist Wardrobe
Here are answers to some common questions about building a minimalist men’s wardrobe:
Should I buy a navy or grey suit?
Either is fine. Navy makes you look younger. Medium-dark grey is a very safe bet.
What about a blazer or sports jacket?
You can wear your suit jacket as a blazer, so you don’t really need both.
Should I buy v-neck or crew neck t-shirts?
Whichever you prefer! Same goes for sweaters.
What about polo shirts?
They serve the same purpose as t-shirts. Feel free to replace the tees with polos.
What color should my one tie be?
Grey or navy is a safe bet. If you’re only going to own one, stick with charcoal.
Black or brown Oxfords?
Black is technically more versatile (and necessary for formal events like funerals).
Black or brown belt?
Just make sure it matches your go-to shoes.
Leather or canvas
Either is fine. Stick with plain designs (no logos). Grey or off-white are okay too.
Simon Taylor says
6 jackets/coats and 6 pairs of shoes in the graphic. Kind of the opposite of minimal!
Ryan Hallstrom says
That’s the great thing about minimalism — it’s not a competition. You can be as minimal as you want (or not) and nobody else really cares. Checkout this video starting at 8:40 for more thoughts on this idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMnUKrvbFSg
Great article Brock. You’ve put so much knowledge and experience to share it with us, man! It resolves so many problems and saves heck lot of time! Thanks!
Hey. Just wanted to say how much I appreciate this guide. I keep coming back to this and the other minimalist articles before making a purchasing decision. Keep up the good work!
andy L redford says
im struggling with sportswear, i run a lot but how much activewear should i have???..i have loads!!!
So how often does one where the same clothes? Would you buy a couple of weeks clothes and mix them up throughout the month?
Hey Brock, how about updating this article or better yet do one for casual/smart casual. Thanks, George
Brock, thanks for the article. I read this about a year ago, and it completely changed my wardrobe. No longer do I open up my closet doors, dreading what I am going to wear for the day. I love all my clothes now, and it feels good knowing I am not wasting willpower on choosing outfits.
Kirk Williams says
At age 53, I am leaving a small town with a VERY casual dress code (embarrassingly so if I’m honest). I’ve accepted a great job in a major metropolitan area and have to revamp my wardrobe. I had no idea where to start until I read this article. Thank you!
Don Renollet says
Just saw this link via Facebook. Thanks Brock, a great “compass”, some great essential guidance. Cheers……
I’ve gotten into the whole socks thing. I used to have the boring ones you can buy. Now I have bright colours (notice the Canadian spelling). I match my socks to my shirt colour or sometimes I don’t. Today I’m wearing a grey button up shirt and I have a argyle sock with bright colours. I always get comments about my socks, particularly from women.
I’m hoping you have a section about belts. My question is where to find a good quality belt that doesn’t break the bank so to speak. I find the stuff that’s $40 splits and falls apart. Also, I am a 31″ waist. What size do I buy for a belt?
Joseph Yim says
You should check Anson belts out.Their belts are micro adjustable so you won’t have to punch holes in your belt.I hope that this should help.
Where do you get interesting socks that fit well? (I’m a size 6.5US shoe).
Even though their main target audience is law enforcement and those that carry, Hanks belts are really durable and top grain leather. Just stick with the more dressy and dress casual belts they offer and in widths no greater than 1 1/4 inch wide . You don’t need their belts made for carrying full size duty pistols, just stick with the aforementioned ones. Decent price and they last a long, long time. Far better than what you’ll find in menswear stores.
Chad Pettingill says
Hey Brock, what shoes are you wearing in your picture? Thanks
This is a great article! Really useful information and it makes me seriously consider downsizing my own wardrobe. Thanks for the info!
Adam Berkley says
Great article. I’ve copied and printed the extended list to work from. I’m not big on v-necks or button-down collars. Persuade me. You asked if you left anything out. What about hats? They can really set the tone. Also, do you have any recommended shoe store for the wingtip?
Joe Carter says
You mentioned this wardrobe is geared toward a temperate climate. I guess Phoenix, AZ is more “temp” than temperate, because you didn’t include any shorts. I would have to include two pair, 1 casual, such as light weight denim or cotton cargo shorts, and 1 a little dressier. I liked the rest of your choices, and actually developed a similar wardrobe philosophy years ago. As an elementary school teacher, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes and developed a basic wardrobe that didn’t cost a lot. I did invest in additional pairs of chinos In different colors and sport shirts since those were my “go to” work outfits and could easily be dressed up with a sport coat and tie.
Kanchan Purohit says
Useful tips in this article.. Could one pair of shoes be Black instead of both Brown ?
It could be if you went with really dark brown. Black goes with navy, charcoal and grey, and it’s necessary for super formal events.