A capsule wardrobe is the new black, and a more sustainable fashion choice to boot. In Part 2 of a two-part series on fashion for men and women, Emma Willmann shares her step by step guide to creating a stylish men's capsule wardrobe.

Did you think a capsule wardrobe was only for the ladies? Think again.

Men, there is much you have to gain by simplifying and streamlining the way you dress: better quality clothes, saving money, dressing more sustainably and experiencing less hassles when dressing each day. With a capsule wardrobe you’ll enjoy more versatility and longevity in your wardrobe, while ensuring you always have something to suit your lifestyle.

Men and fashion

The essential difference with men’s personal style is that it’s expressed more subtly in the details of clothing; from the spread of a collar, the breaks in the pants, to the style of your watch. These all tell stories of history and tradition; the famous personalities, the events that occurred and the according changes in ideology. These remnants of the past century and its subcultures remain with us today and we now have a supermarket of style to pick and choose from.

While the options may feel overwhelming to some, to others they are a welcomed freedom. Either way, there is something for every man in this capsule wardrobe strategy. The methodology is easy enough to be followed like a formula for more practical men, yet it leaves enough room for creativity for those who are excited by fashion.

How to start

1.  Start with a dark suit (2 piece). Every man needs at least one, whether for weddings, funerals or job interviews. It is said that “a well tailored suit is to women what lingerie is to men,” meaning it flatters a man well. It need not be black, in fact, many men look better in charcoal or navy blue. Understanding of the right cut, however, is paramount. European cuts flatter men with broader shoulders and a narrow waist whereas the British cut with its structured jacket and higher waisted pants and are more suitable for straight builds. The American “sack” suit has very little padding, no darts and a single vent in the back and is suited to men with a softer silhouette.

2.  Sports coat/blazer x 1. This stand-alone jacket, usually made from a more flexible, relaxed fibre and can be worn with a variety of bottoms and is a key to nailing a smart casual look.

3.  A winter coat. Even if you live in the tropics, a mid or lightweight coat will greatly expand your styling options.

4.  6 x collared long-sleeved shirts:

  • 1 good quality white twill dress shirt.
  • 1 x patterned shirt- inject your personality into your outfit with stripes, checks, polka dots, paisley or quirky designs.
  • 2 light/mid coloured shirts- while blue is a popular colour, you want to be led by your complexion in your shirt selection.
  • 2 dark shirts- perfect for elongating the body, minimizing the torso area and as a side benefit they also don’t show stains as easily!

While the above suggestions are for men working in professional air-conditioned settings, you can modify the number of collared shirts to suit a more relaxed career by reducing the overall number of collared shirts and increasing your T-shirts or Polos in paragraph 8 and 9 below.

In any event, shirts are an essential way to expand your wardrobe as they are cheaper to buy than suits and offer more variety in patterns, finishes and details. Fit should be firm without restricting movement or pulling across the buttons, and there should be no excess fabric. Always look for natural fibers and have them tailored to any body variations.

Now, lets continue building our capsule wardrobe…

5.  Such a variety of smart bottoms exist for men that are untapped by many: wool trousers, slacks, twill chinos, khakis, relaxed leg trousers, joggers and cargos. Take a foray into pants-land and experiment with what feels and looks best for you.

6.  The perfect jeans x 2. In the modern man’s wardrobe, denim is a staple. Choose one pair of dark denim, (slightly more formal) and a true blue denim, ensuring that the fit is snug around the waist and butt and that the rise is a flattering length. Jeans provide great versatility especially when creatively teamed with good quality layers.

7.  Knits x 2. Depending on your jawline, either a V-neck, round or cowl neck sweater will be a great accompaniment over a T-shirt or collared shirt or under a sports coat or blazer in the cooler months.

8.  Vest/waist-coat/light weight jacket. Whilst either will be effective layering purposes, I personally love a waist coat on a man, paired with a Henley, a collared shirt with rolled up sleeves, layered for winter under a coat. A denim jacket or vest can also create rugged urban looks and unexpected combinations.

9.  T-shirts x 6 (variety). Whether V-neck, scoop neck, button down, block colours, patterned, contrasting pocket, sporty or raglan sleeved- express yourself with this wardrobe staple. If you live a more relaxed lifestyle, you get to add in extra T-shirts from the collared shirt section in paragraph 4 above.

10.  Collared polo/short sleeve shirts x 3. In many restaurants and establishments, collars are a must and on a sunny day, near the water, a short-sleeved shirt or polo offers a level of formality, sun protection, movement, airflow and sweat resistance.

11.  A variety of shoes including:

  • A formal shoe. This varies depending on your personality and lifestyle but you need to be able to team it with your dark suit. The focus here is elegance and leather soles are essential.
  • An ankle boot. Either made from suede, distressed leather or brown in colour, this smart but not formal shoe is a must. Try a Chelsea, captoe, dessert, chukka, or even a moto boot. The key is finding more relaxed features like utilitarian buckles, a rubber sole, contrasting laces or stitching.
  • A relaxed slip-on shoe. Great for weekends and getaways alike, try the loafer, brogue, driving shoe or boat shoe to be worn without socks.
  • A casual/street shoe. Choose the perfect kicks to suit your style whether trainers, high tops, Air Jordans or Chucks. These will give you a modern, sporty edge.
  • Sandals, a pair of thongs or open toe shoe for summer.

12.  Accessories- unlimited! If you have been accidentally minimalist in the accessories department, think about expressing yourself with your choice of watch, sunglasses, belt, tie, scarf, cufflinks, ring or neck chain. And lastly, don’t forget hats: flat-tops, baseball caps, beanies, Akubras, paperboys, fedoras or boaters. Finish your outfit with meaningful and personalised accessories every time.

And that’s it! Your men’s capsule wardrobe

Ultimately, the aim of your wardrobe capsule is to reduce waste, to hone in your personal style and to understand that you don’t need to be wooed or confused by the constantly changing trends.

There is a style of menswear that best suits your personality, lifestyle and body. Your wardrobe does not need to be replaced every season, but by adding good quality over time, you can represent yourself in the best light and have style that will last the test of time.

About sustainability and fast fashion

In recent years there has been a conceptual change how we view and consume clothing.

Take a T-shirt for example, traditionally it was seen as something that we use (much like a washing machine) until it was worn out or could no longer be mended. With the onset of fast fashion, that same T-shirt is now seen as something to be used up (like a packet of chewing gum) to be disposed of once it isn’t liked or wanted anymore.

This alarming trend is reported in recent statistics gathered by Textile World which show that, on average, Australians are only wearing each newly purchased item of clothing 7 times before throwing it away. Brisbane-based sustainability consultant Jane Milburn says Australians are the second-largest consumers of new textiles in the world and annually we each buy 37kg, with 23kg ending up in landfill each year. As a nation, this equates to 500,000 tonnes of textiles and leather buried in landfill, the equivalent of filling our biggest stadium 2.5 times over.

It is not just the amount of landfill that is disturbing but also the amount of water it takes to product each item: 2,700 litres of water for just 1 cotton T-shirt! Clearly fast fashion waste is an issue not only for our hip pockets for our planet as well. We need to share the responsibility with fashion brands by changing our shopping habits and supporting brands that are better for the environment (check out the Good on You app for the best ones).

The capsule wardrobe helps us to tackle this problem: “Buy less, choose well”.

And don’t forget many quality clothes can be bought second-hand at op shops – see Hannah Klose’s Live for Less guide to Brisbane op shops.

*  savings are based on the author’s estimate of average annual household expenditure on fashion as a proportion of household income.