Kyle, Joe – how big are your closets? Kidding. Thank you guys for the questions. Honestly... that is one thing we wanted to answer when we started this business. A one-stop shop.
You're both trying to maximize your options. The truth is that there's no silver bullet. I've been doing this a long time and I'm still refining my wardrobe. But I can tell you what I look for in those foundational pieces — which also happen to be the things we design for — and the items that should remain as you clear out the clutter. Building a capsule can take a while... and can be expensive to do all at once. So I'll start with the most essential pieces at the beginning.
We wrote about 11 things every guy should have in the very first Hey Sid back in 2018... and it still stands up today. There's a professional bent to these, but several of them also work for weekends and trips. And in every item in this list, we look at 4 things:
Fabric - what does it feel like? What are my fingers telling me?
Fit - we like things to be proportionate… slim but not skinny.
Features - What are details that make it special?
Finish – how do all of these play in harmony?
A Navy High-Twist Wool Suit. It'll cover you from board meetings to big life events (planned and not). Of course, the stuff we look for happens to be the stuff we design for: slim, not skinny. Natural shoulder. Full canvas construction and never, ever fused. And fabric-wise, if you go with the navy high-twist you can split up the two pieces and wear the jacket with other trousers or 5-pockets. You can’t do that with a smoother sharkskin. Just don't forget your pocket square. For us, that's a must. White is always safe.
A Pair of Dark Brown Calfskin Dress Shoes. Another thing every man should have. Those who lean a little more conservative would be well served by a pair of cap-toes, while double monks are a tad more declarative. I'd look for Goodyear-welted ones, like ours, because they can be resoled and, with proper care, will last you a really long time… like 10-40 years.
A Solid Navy Tie. A dark navy tie (knit or grenadine) is the jack-of-all-ties. It'll go with a navy suit, it'll go with jeans. For the most versatility, you want one that's not too skinny (which looks overly trendy) and not too fat (which can look dated). We use a 3.15" width for normal ties and 2.25" for knits. And while we're on the topic, we like a four-in-hand knot. Here’s how.
A White Spread Collar Dress Shirt. After Fabric and Fit, the collar is the most important thing. You want one with proportionate collar – not too large, which can make your head look small, or too small, which can look boyish. For us, the sweet spot is 3.15"…. just like that tie width. You can read more about why I like a spread collar here but a button-down is a great add-on. The fabric should be high-quality and all cotton, 2ply/2ply. White poplin or roxford can be dressed up with a suit and down with jeans.
A Pair of Charcoal Dress Trousers. A great way to dress up without going full suit. Again, you're looking for a cut that's slim, but not skinny, ideally hemmed (cuff or no cuff – we like both) with no break. I wear mine all the time, both pleated and flat-front... almost like my dressy version of dark jeans.
A Dark Brown Belt. My go-to width is 1" because we think it's very flattering. (More on that here.) You want a quality skin (bridle or pull-up leather, gator, or shark). Add a simple plaque buckle and it'll go with literally anything you own with belt loops... and will hold up for as long as your pants fit.
A Pair of Dark, Over-the-Calf Socks. We like wool, because it has better duration… cotton socks tend to wear out quicker, and fade. We make a lot, but a dark color (navy or charcoal) will NEVER look out of place. In fact, I wear navy OTC socks so much that we developed a 7-day kit with matching toe stripes for easy laundry sorting.
A Pair of Dark, Well-Fitting Blue Jeans. A clean, dark wash (no rips or intentional distress) can be dressed up but doesn't have to be. And the most versatile silhouette is going to be, as usual, slim but not skinny. In the beginning, we sold Levi's and tapered them. We still offer that, but now we make our own jeans that are ring-ring denim and designed so that you can wear them right out of the store. Rinse or rigid selvedge, pick your passion.
A Travelers Trench. This is the secret weapon of outerwear, and one of my favorite pieces we've ever developed. A trench gives you instant extended coverage from your shoulders down to your knees, and it's slimming. It's also versatile enough to go with everything from jeans up to a tuxedo. Lastly, this one folds up and packs within itself – the ultimate Traveler. You won't always get called to New York on business in February, but when you are, you're ready.
At this point you're pretty covered for a LOT of events. But a suit, a pair of jeans, dress shoes and a white shirt won't fill out the calendar. Phase 2 is about filling in the gaps.
A Blazer That is NOT Navy. In the Mashburn world, this could also be 5-10 Blazers That are Not Navy. But knowing dress codes these days, I'd say that every guy needs at least one other blazer in his arsenal to pair with 5-pockets or dress trousers. Just like with the suit, you want a natural shoulder, a slim cut, and full canvas construction with no fusing. And we have multiple jackets that have a similar versatility to a navy blazer. To start a capsule, a good four-season option would be a green or brown leno-weave jacket. Either one will go with everything in PHASE 1. As your wardrobe grows, and if you find yourself wearing jackets a lot, you can get into the seasonal and non-solid stuff — here’s some information on the versatility of a patterned jacket.
At Least 5 Shirts That You Can Mix and Match. Starting out (or refreshing your closet), it's better to have 5 great shirts you wear a lot vs. more that don't all make the starting lineup. After the white, I'd add Sky Roxford, a blue (or pink)) Bengal stripe, a quiet graph check, and maybe a chambray. I've said this before but I will re-wear a dress shirt a second time over the weekend. Even to the pool. So it's 5 shirts for many occasions, not just dressy ones.
A Pair of White or Light 5-Pockets. I get a lot of wear out of these, and while bright white's not for everyone... a natural wheat color gives the same lift to an outfit. I wear both a lot and talked more about it here. Just like with the blue jeans, a slim straight shape is the most versatile. These are a good jumping off point for mixing in 5-pockets in other colors (light blue! shades of khaki! pinks!) or seasonal fabrics (moleskin! canvas!).
Lightweight Twill Trousers. There is a reason so many guys wear khakis. They're the perfect dressed-up-but-not-too-much pants and the color goes with everything. Lightweight twill is our year-round go-to. This fabric is magic. So magic that we've had a hard time keeping it in stock lately. Start with stone or khaki, hemmed to no break.
A Pair of Loafers. The beauty of the loafer is that it can cross over from a suit to shorts. Some guys are penny guys, and some are tassel guys. I have both. They can go year-round – just add socks in the winter if you like. Again, look for a Goodyear welt, which extends the life, and get a pair of shoe trees. When in doubt, start with a dark brown suede or calf.
A Pair of Chelsea Boot. Another incredibly versatile pair of shoes that are worth the investment. They give you a very elegant line when worn with dress pants, and when worn with jeans you get a little bit of rock 'n' roll spirit – I even do black calf Chelseas for black-tie. In the cooler months you could honestly wear a pair every day. We talked more about them here.
A Cashball Travelers Vest. A layering piece, a style statement, a traveling companion? You want one that's low-profile enough to wear over a blazer, but warm enough to act as outerwear over a sport shirt or sweater on the weekends. Ours are a fantastic nylon that is lightweight and water repellent, insulated with Cashball, which is recycled cashmere fibers (an eco-friendly and sustainable alternative to goosedown or synthetic fill with excellent heat retention properties). Plus, it packs itself into a pouch if you're heading on the road.
A Timex Easy Reader. Nothing else needs to be said.
A few Caran d'Ache Pens Wait, pens??? I know... but there's a reason why many of our suits & blazers come with specially-designed pen pockets on the inside. Because when you have a good idea, it helps to write it down! I love these for their geometric shape and cheerful colors. And while they're nice, they're not expensive, so you don't have to feel precious with them.
If you've gotten this far, you've already got a pretty solid capsule going. But what about that invitation to go out on a boat, or up to the mountains, or get out and play? Let's keep going.
One More Jacket? Formal blazer? Check. Casual blazer? Check. Trench? Check. Vest? Check. At this point you're already pretty covered on jackets and outerwear, but an outdoorsy military jacket will round things out. We've made them in corduroy and waxed cotton and moleskin and tweed, and our most versatile ones are in neutral colors to go with a lot. Great for the actual field... or just your kid's soccer field.
Navy Cashmere Fine Gauge Sweater. Not sure there's a more beloved weekend item for our guys (or me). It'll work with any of the other shirts on this list, but can also go over a t-shirt. You're looking for 2ply cashmere and the fine-gauge weight is probably the most versatile — a great layering piece if it's cold, but equally great with shorts for evening beach walks when the wind is really up. I take mine on just about every trip, no matter the season.
One Polo for Every Activity (the courts, the course, the pool, the bar.) Right, you've probably got several polos. But the hallmarks of a great one, to me, are that it's breathable (Peruvian pima pique cotton vs. performance fabric,) timeless in silhouette (tennis tail, 3-buttons, easy fit,) and a collar that "stands up" to look good under a blazer. That should take you to whatever type of club fits your interests. Then it's just a matter of how many colors you want it in.
A Pair of Classic Sunglasses. Do yourself a favor... figure out what shape fits you the best, then buy a really nice pair that will last. I love Randolph Engineering for their aviators (these are my weekend sunglasses) or Allyn Scura Legends, which I own in a few colors.
A Pair of White Tennis Shoes.You could just wear running shoes in more casual settings, but I prefer to limit those to real exercise. For casual settings, get a dedicated a pair of simple white sneakers to wear with shorts, pants, jeans or chinos. And keep 'em clean. Tretorns, Diadora, and Onitsuka Tigers are all A+ options.
A Pair of Waterproof Boots. Like the stuff in Phase 1, Blundstones are near the top of the list when it comes to our own staff. And it was my snow boot when I lived in Wisconsin. The other shoes on this list aren't going to keep your feet dry, but Blundstones can handle any kind of weather and the shape is versatile enough to wear with trousers or jeans. They're not just for rain, either – my daughters have worn them on ski trips out west and I've done yard work in them. Again, universally loved.
Shorts & Swim. I'm writing this in February and we are a few weeks out from our launch of shorts and swimwear. But it gets H-O-T hot here in the South, and even though I'm wearing a tie 6.5 days a week, a pair of shorts are a must. We like a slightly tailored silhouette and a 7-inch inseam gives most guys a pretty lean silhouette. For the daring, it could even go shorter… even down to 5 inches. And I take a pair of swim trunks on every trip. You never know when you might find yourself able to take a dip. Not surprisingly, we take the same approach to these as we do to shorts. I usually go for a solid color.
A Tote Bag. Guys ask me all the time what kind of briefcase I use... and I don't. I actually carry a Filson zip-top tote for my laptop, files and such. I carry it to the office every day, but it's my bag for the plane too. It's the right size to where it's not too big (it's not an overnight tote or a pool bag), so it lacks bulk, is relatively lightweight, and fits neatly on top of a rolling carry-on suitcase.
We look at putting together a closet as a bit of a lifelong endeavor... it's never-ending. In a good way! But starting with the basics will cover you for most situations and allow you to identify the things you find yourself gravitating towards. Then you'll have the freedom, and the know-how, to start working in the nuance with things like seasonal fabrics, more colors, and new versions of old favorites. Our goal is to serve guys and leave them “clothed and in their right mind.” (Vestitum et sanae mentis.)