It’s the opportunity of a lifetime - You’ll be sequestered to a place you’ve always dreamed of living, for three perfectly temperate months, doing something you’ve always wished to do. The height of formality will be a dinner date at a restaurant, the most casual a picnic in the park or a Sunday afternoon barbecue.
You have a small wardrobe to get you through - three bottoms, three shirts, a jacket, a coat, three pairs of shoes and two hats. What wardrobe will you choose? What gets you through the day to day with minimal fuss, maximum comfort and practicality?
Dressing within the constraints of a limited wardrobe can quickly teach you what you need and what you can live without. It can also prove which garments you love, which are truly your identity clothed and which are an affectation. There are no right or wrong answers, just differing approaches through which we choose to present ourselves to the world.
Through a career in men’s clothing fast approaching 25 years, I’ve had this mental exercise which acts as something of a reset from the affectations I so easily fall into. It has been instructive in many ways, and as I have aged, my circumstances have changed, and the freedom to dress for myself has expanded, giving fresh perspective on choices I may have made in the past.
As trite as it may seem, the things that bring us joy really are the only ones that deserve a place in our wardrobes and in our mental bandwidth. It is counterintuitive for a retailer and merchant to sing the gospel of less is more, but it’s completely true that quality trumps quantity. Admittedly we all live in circumstances that make it easier for some to develop tighter wardrobes of perfect pieces than others, and as I’ve aged I’ve found the joy in focusing on just filling my admittedly overstuffed wardrobe with pieces that I think of as the “lifetime” garments. I have noticed that men, when building a wardrobe, go through periods of acquisition mania and consolidation sobriety. Through our twenties, acquiring and experimenting with personal style serves us well, and helps to cement in our own minds who we are, and then into our thirties and fourties, the focus becomes on consolidating the pieces that serve us well, “levelling up” those pieces with better fit, make and quality, and ejecting the pieces that no longer serve the image we wish to project - to others and to ourselves.
So with that preamble, here is what would make my capsule wardrobe. It is a guide and an opinion, not lore to follow to the letter. We all have different needs from our wardrobes, and different ideas of who we are. No right or wrong answers, just different pictures painted on the varying canvases that we all are. The rules of the exercise, if there are to be any, are as follows;
All pieces should bring you joy.
All pieces should afford you appropriate and practical use for the life you live.
All pieces should coordinate with the best number of other pieces to make a wardrobe that feels varied despite being limited.
My capsule looks like this;
Chinos - Wide legged, high waisted, unadorned. I lean towards the classic US Army 45 model, in a creamy beige twill that softens and drapes with washes. The US Army chino model is most often found with a self waist rather than a waistband, and a gentle taper from a full thigh. On my frame the waist sits comfortably with both a tailored jacket or a leather blouson - the sort of versatility that typifies this exercise.
Denims - Classically fitting and dark. Our denim choices tend to be something me and mine have a passionate opinion on, and all could honestly justify why one cut trumps another, but in fitting with my build and character, my choice runs full and classic. I like a right hand twill at around 13.5oz, dyed to that classic Kurashiki Blue/Black/Green. While I have affection for the bright left hand twills and western cuts, if there is to be only one, it would be more 501 than Westerner.
Mid Grey Odd Trousers - Classically proportioned, pleated with a medium to high rise. Flannels in the cooler months, Tropical worsted if it’s warm. I favour mine with a 22cm opening, a full 5cm cuff, and enough slouch to accommodate my ever expanding waistline. Pleats can be out or in, but that they are there is non negotiable on mine. How you wear yours is up to you.
Chambray - Classically styled with flapped pockets, a traditional collar that could at a pinch support a tie, and a fit full enough to wear tucked or loose. For me, chambray is the king of shirts, and I have had it made into so many iterations that I forget sometimes what is buried in my wardrobe. Through all that, the classic workshirts with two breast pockets, contrast cat’s eye buttons, light but slubby pure cotton chambray and contrast stitching affords the greatest versatility of wear. If you can find a well washed example from half a century ago, you may have found your new favourite shirt.
White OCBD - In either a pinpoint or a full oxford, collar with long points to allow some roll, a breast flapped pocket and tails, preferably bespoke. The OCBD is so prolific, and consequently available in so many eye wateringly bad variations, that for my money it is something that earns back every dollar spent on getting it perfect. While Oxford is literally written in the name, I take mine in pinpoint for just that touch of luxury. The collar should be generous and rolling to the button, it must have a placket, and I like the small affectation of a breast pocket with a tone on tone monogram. Done well, a white OCBD warrants being made bespoke to those of us that can.
Denim Western Shirt - Classic styling with long tails, a generous collar point and pearl snap buttons. There is something very “white hat” about the western shirt - a workaday staple of the good guy. Cut for a younger working man, the traditional weight of 9-10oz paired with the structured shoulder and nipped waist encourages a slightly straighter posture than my normal slouchy shirts. Tuck it into trousers under a jacket, or wear it untucked and open like a shirt jacket.
Navy Flannel Double Breasted - 6x4 buttoning with gold buttons, Junior navy with enough blue to pair well with denim and chambray. If there are three things that warrant the expense of a tailors attention for me, it is first the navy blazer, second the odd grey trouser, this the white button down. A navy blazer is the chameleon of the wardrobe, pulling double and triple duty, running from formality to weekend ease without ever looking like “that jacket again?”. My go to is as busty as a 50’s starlet and as soft as cashmere, despite being made from pure camel. I like a tarnished brass button, but for the younger and prettier wearer, silver or smoke mother of pearl adds a little crispness. I’ll take mine as stuffy and old man as I actually am, thank you.
USN Navy Peacoat - Vintage wins every time with this piece. Kersey cloth in a deep navy with lots of collar to turn up. Another piece that I have had in multiple variations over the years, this is one garment that I found levelling down actually levelled it up. While there are myriad options, a robust vintage piece from WWII can often be found for a surprisingly reasonable price, and to my eye it can’t be beaten. It should be big enough to sit over a chunky knit, but with all the structure of that kersey cloth, it will never look slouchy, not even a little oversized. In a pinch it can double as an overcoat, but with chinos or denims and a chambray shirt, navy watch cap on top and a pair of canvas deck shoes, it is so orthodox as to defy any opposition.
Brown Calf Tassel Loafers - Chestnut brown with lots of patina, braided lace into the tassel. I sat on this choice for a moment, and the other options in mind could be just as easily argued. Be it black calf or burgundy shell or a burnished brown, it is a classic. If the tassel is a little flamboyant, a penny loafer works just as well. For me I like it with an almond toe to steer it slightly towards elegance, and a low vamp point to flash a little flesh on my so often un-socked feet. Wear them hard, polish them harder, and it is on par with old denim for how beautifully it will age.
Black Shell Engineer Boots - Leather soled, with a broke down round toe and cordovan polished to a glow. While too much affectation is, for want of a better word, affected, just enough to swagger to quietly announce your identity can be forgiven. Hats and boots do this for me, and while a lace to toe or a smoke jumper is beautiful, the engineer in shell cordovan has a surprising amount of elegance for its decidedly blue collar origins. The shell gives it some lustre, the leather sole grounds it back into the tailoring world, and the slip on nature makes it an easy choice in the morning, old man that I am.
Hi-Top Canvas Sneakers - Hard to beat the original, right? This doesn’t warrant much explanation, but I will lose the favour of many with my reasoning. In such a limited wardrobe, every piece should be an ensemble player and not a soloist. Nothing technical, minimal branding, as low profile as possible. It shouldn’t shine, it shouldn’t be something that the sneaker heads geek over. Just a classic deck shoe or hi-top canvas shoe.
Silverbelly Beaver in a Stratoliner model - Around 5 inches in the crown and 3 in the brim, with a narrow band and wind trolley. An affectation, but my affectation, dammit. Im bald, and I like a hat. A hat is as functional for me as a coat, perhaps more so, and so should be made with all the quality that justifies. Beaver, not rabbit, and nothing about it should be stingy.
Navy Wool Watch Cap - I like mine with a dry hand, short crown and deep roll. The more follically gifted amongst our readers might replace a hat for some other piece that signals their personality, and if so, more power to you. But for me a navy beanie ties the felt above for versatility. While I have many versions, the most aesthetically pleasing of them is a deep navy, with a tight hand to the knit and a short crown. Almost a skull cap more than a beanie. No pompom’s, please.
Dressing for Occasion
For me, these pieces offer variety for most necessities in my daily life, with every piece slotting in easily with every other to make many more combinations than the single pieces would suggest. While it neither accommodates a wedding or a board meeting, nor a jog on the beach, most occasions between are suitably afforded. No outfit is likely to cause controversy or offence, but depending on the quality of each piece, it can greatly improve the personal expression of the wearer.
Ultimately our wardrobes should make our lives easier - its the soundtrack to our lives, not the concert. Find the pieces that serve you and your life, and polish those choices to a perfect glow. When nobody remembers what you were wearing, but remembers that you were perfectly turned out, you have won the game.I look forward to hearing what makes up your “capsule” collections.