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How to Build a Capsule Wardrobe for Men

17 min

Built to stand the test of time, here's how to create a lean, functional, neutral-colored wardrobe with only fifteen items.


What if I told you that you could build a wardrobe with dozens of outfit combinations comprised of just fifteen items? I'm talking about a capsule wardrobe, a collection of clothing and accessories that can be mixed and matched to create several different outfits.

If you're just starting in life (i.e., college or your first job), this is the best way to begin your style journey. The question then becomes...

What items should you fill your capsule wardrobe with?

In this article, I will show you how to start your first capsule wardrobe with only fifteen items. By the end of this post, you will see just how many outfits become possible when you prioritize filling your closet with versatile pieces that will stand the test of time and cover you for various occasions all year round.

This post has a section on the blog's Style Archive that you can view here. At the end of this article, I have also provided over thirty outfit combinations featuring each of these pieces (in case you need more convincing).



Regardless of your starting point, I think every man can benefit from beginning with a timeless and classic neutral-colored wardrobe that serves as a solid foundation for adding future garment pieces. In other words, we ought to prioritize the items that will be used continually and won't be in danger of going out of style.

Read this post here to learn why neutral colors are the best for men to wear.

The fashion industry relies on trendy items and the shifting of those trends, but despite that fact, some classic pieces can be trusted to stand the test of time.


When it comes to capsule wardrobes, versatility is the name of the game. When you open your closet, you want to be met with options that work well for you all year round, not just individual outfits. This will alleviate the burden of agonizing over what to wear because you will already have a lean and focused wardrobe that will allow you to appear like you have excellent taste in clothing (even if you secretly don't).

After reading through the list of items below, you'll quickly see that the set number of outfits you will have at your disposal with these fifteen garments is most likely superior to what already exists in your current wardrobe.


Some garments are more expensive than others (depending on your chosen brands). If you operate on a limited budget and want to maximize your wardrobe's versatility, owning a capsule wardrobe can save you money in the long run because you're investing in future-proof, high-quality pieces that allow for easy mixing and matching.

Due to their versatility, many of the timeless and classic pieces I'll be showing off in this list are easy to find at your local thrift store. Of course, ensure that they fit your personal preferences regarding sizing and material.


Take it from a guy who has a ton of clothes in his closet—far more than what I'm showing you on today's list. I'm always looking to downsize in some way. Newer and better-built items will come to light, older garments will wear out with time, etc.

Sometimes, I find items I never wear in my closet that I once purchased on sale or while out and about. This can quickly become a waste of time and money.

Capsule wardrobes allow you to get the most out of your closet by forcing you to carefully consider which items are necessary and how they might work well when paired with everything else.



This is a personal favorite of mine and perfect for Spring and Summer. A pair of reasonably high-quality white sneakers is a man's best casual footwear. If you need more convincing, see my other article, which showcases over ten ways to style white sneakers.

You can read that post here.

If you have a suit that fits you well (accompanied by a reasonably trim physique), you can get away with a gray or navy suit paired with a white t-shirt and clean, elegant leather sneakers. The key is to select a pair devoid of any apparent branding or additional colors that stick out, especially from a distance (with a few exceptions).

What makes this item so excellent is the sheer number of outfit combinations that it allows for. When it comes to white sneakers, there's a pair for everyone. Whether you opt for budget-friendly $100 or premium $450 variants, a pair at almost any price point will work wonders for your capsule wardrobe. Just remember to take care of them; they'll certainly care for you.

If you'd like to know which brands I recommend you to shop for, see my list of the best budget white sneaker options here.


Every man should have a pair of dress shoes to counterbalance the casual nature of the aforementioned white sneakers. These shoes are essential because they are the ideal foot decorum for a standard two-piece suit (more on that later).

When beginning a capsule wardrobe, it's best to focus on casual and high-quality formal pieces that can be worn daily. However, the challenge with creating a capsule wardrobe is selecting the necessary items for different occasions while ensuring they can be easily mixed and matched. Regarding oxford dress shoes, I always suggest investing in a single pair in brown.

Throw on a pair of dark-wash jeans or some khaki-colored chinos to add polish to your overall look, and you can quickly see the versatility on display. Women totally love this sort of look as well.

Owning a pair of brown oxfords as a part of your wardrobe ensures you're covered for some formal occasions, whether an impromptu event or a wedding for your friend.

Now, you have a handsome and interchangeable pair of kicks to dress up and down (but don't go too crazy).


Fall is synonymous with boots. The necessity for a stylish and quality pair of boots will largely depend on where you live. If you reside somewhere like Southern California, a solid argument can be made that you don't need a pair of these.

However, when you build a capsule wardrobe, you must account for functionality. In most cases, a pair of boots will be helpful for the Fall and Winter months (especially for any Winter capsule wardrobe you might like to build in the future).

If you live somewhere like Vermont, where copious amounts of snow are prevalent throughout Winter, owning a quality and even rugged pair of boots often proves necessary. I, however, would argue that a pair of brown lace-up boots, regardless of where you reside, are an excellent investment as they enhance your wardrobe in various ways.

The primary appeal is the functionality, but a great pair of lace-up boots in tobacco, hickory, or coffee (a.k.a. darker brown colors) will elevate your style and help you stand out during the Fall and Winter seasons regardless of where you reside.

If you want to wear boots more often throughout the latter months of the year and don't want to break the bank, check out my review of Thursday Boot Company here.


Much like owning a pair of white minimalist sneakers, I firmly believe every man should own a pair of slim-tapered dark-wash jeans. If I need to travel for work or pleasure, I immediately grab these because I can combine them with many other garments.

Why a slim, trim, or tapered fit?

Because this is often going to flatter your physique the best. Jeans that are too baggy, especially around the glutes and calves, do nothing to help you look more athletic or taller in the case of shorter men. If you make a point to stay in shape, this is all the more reason to show that physique off by wearing items that complement your body.


If you are on the hefty side, take care not to go too slim with your denim selection, as this could backfire and make you look silly instead of stylish.

A general rule of thumb for wearing pants is that the heftier you are, the more straight or classic of a cut and fit you should opt for. This is because a pair of straight-leg jeans or pants will look more natural instead of the tight and apparent taper that can draw (often unwanted) attention to a heftier-set gentleman's thighs, ultimately betraying him.

Of course, as with most things, it is a matter of preference, but remember that the eyes are naturally drawn to any stark contrast, so know what flatters your frame and what doesn't.

I believe in trying the slimmer fits, but intuition can go a long way here. If it doesn't look right, it most likely isn't—all the more reason to commit to a well-balanced exercise and nutrition routine.

For more information on how to start a fitness and nutrition routine, read here.


I remember embarking on my style journey and believing that black went with "everything." The truth is, it doesn't. I understand the appeal, but black is painfully generic in the case of trousers. If you're willing to increase the number of jeans you want for your closet, then, by all means, do so.

I certainly won't dissuade you from wearing black jeans or pants. However, I will defend the position that neutral-colored jeans and chinos (i.e., dark, medium-wash jeans and khaki chinos) are infinitely more interchangeable, especially in a capsule wardrobe such as this one.


There isn't much to say about this one. A classic, well-fitting pair of jeans in a medium-wash is just something you should have. For many of the same reasons I mentioned for the darker wash denim, I believe this is a quality and relatively inexpensive piece that you can get a lot of mileage out of (making it one of my personal favorites).

The only area you'll be very limited in is pairing these pants with something like dress shoes. You should only pair oxfords with darker-wash denim because the medium wash comes off as more casual and can look silly if you decide to wear more formal pieces with them, trust me.

We are already taking certain liberties by pairing dress shoes with denim jeans, and a darker look for the trousers can help maintain that clean and "well-put-together" appearance far better than the classic blue of the medium wash denim.

Pair these with a sweater, a polo, or an oxford cotton button-down (OCBD), along with those versatile white sneakers I mentioned before.


A solid pair of chinos is about as versatile as it gets for pants. Dress them up or down; you will quickly find that they are a timeless and reliable staple for any man's wardrobe. Ensure that you understand that "chinos" are the pants style and that "khaki" is the color.

Your first pair of chinos should be khaki because they more easily slide between different outfits and will stand the test of time.

Throw on a plain white crewneck t-shirt or a casual polo, and you're ready for a night out with friends or a casual date with that special lady. Remember, we want options in our closets and not just outfits.


With each pair of pants listed throughout this post, I think it is essential to understand that having a great tailor you can learn to trust will prove invaluable as you attempt to hone your skills in dressing well.

Tailored trousers are often a great way to put a prospective tailor to the test, and odds are, the pair of jeans or chinos in your closet could use a good hemming.

If you're unsure how to find a trustworthy tailor, read my five-step guide here.


It's relatively easy to purchase both in combined packaging; however, you can get away with a lot just by owning one (but if you own both, then you're really in business).

I still meet a lot of men who deny the power in the simplicity of the "plain white tee," but I am here to tell you that when your clothes fit you well and your shirt is complemented by a great pair of pants that flatter your physique, then it doesn't matter how simply you are dressing.

So long as it is appropriate for the setting, you can get much out of very little. Remember that your shoes can make or break a simple look like this, so make a wise choice for your footwear!


Nope, a tank top is best worn when lounging in private, occasionally as an undergarment that can't be perceived from the exterior of your outfit, or perhaps worn as workout gear (depending on the type of tank top).

Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of substituting a tank top for a classic white t-shirt (or black shirt). It just doesn't work as well, trust me.


Go with black or navy; it doesn't matter. A classic polo shirt looks great with a pair of khakis or jeans. Tuck it in and throw on a belt, or let it hang out for an even more casual look, whichever suits your style (but, more importantly, the occasion).

Read this article here for more tips on how to dress well and for the occasion.

Perfect for casual moments, a black or navy polo is great for dates, church, family dinners (depending on your family), or a pleasant stroll through your local park.

This is undoubtedly one of the most essential items for your wardrobe, and it looks great when paired with various clothing (both on and off this list).


Words matter here. When I say a button-UP shirt, I refer to any shirt that buttons up the front. When I say button-DOWN shirt, I refer to any buttoned shirt with a collar that can also be buttoned down.

Men should have at least one oxford cloth button-down (OCBD), preferably a white shirt, in their closet. Whether worn with jeans, chinos, or even as an overshirt surrounding your crewneck t-shirt, the OCBD is as versatile as it is classic.

The more button-down shirts you opt for in various colors, the better. If you are against white, try light blue; as with everything else on this list, try not to skimp on quality. If you're only purchasing one white shirt like this, make it a good one that fits you well.

Why should we be able to button down the collar?

Because when we put the next item on our list over it, the collar remains intact.


Sticking with neutral colors, a gray sweater is another must-have, preferably of the crewneck variety. If a v-neck is more your speed, then, by all means, go for it, but for layering purposes, I find that you can generally get more mileage out of a crewneck when you throw any variety of outerwear on top. If you want a more astute appearance, take that OCBD and wear the sweater over it.

Paired with some handsome eyeglasses, and voila! You look like you could be the most intelligent guy in the room (even if you're not). Functionally speaking, a sweater affords you some much-needed warmth if you are somewhere that demands the extra layers, and on its own, it serves as a clean and sleek piece.

Get yourself a solid gray or light charcoal-colored sweater if you don't have one already.


Much like a pair of boots, your selection of outerwear will largely depend on where you live (geographically) and how well it pairs with the rest of your wardrobe.

I recommend a good old denim trucker jacket in a medium or darker wash. This is one of my favorite pieces. It's a classic look, quite comfortable, and very affordable.

For eleven ways to style a denim jacket, read this article here.

However, the only problem with most denim jackets is the amount of warmth they provide. If you live somewhere that requires layers, either pile on more underneath or get something thicker and warmer to go over your primary outfits. Just don't freeze!

I attended college in the mountainous region of Vermont and remember how unforgiving the cold weather could be. So do what you need to to keep warm and comfortable.


Owning a leather jacket can be expensive. That said, never skimp on quality if you are dead set on owning one. Even to the untrained eye, a faux (fake) leather jacket will be very apparent and could easily backfire on you.

The best way to obtain a quality jacket is through smart shopping at a thrift store, buying second-hand from someone you know, or getting relatively lucky with a killer sale.

Don't get me wrong—a classic brown leather jacket is one of my favorite things to wear, but when it comes to finding something built with quality, the price can add up quickly (so buyer beware).


Remember, the fit is critical here—time to use a tailor well. I am one of many traditionalists who will be among the first to tell you that a perfectly tailored suit is the most handsome thing a man can wear, full stop.

Feel free to disagree, but most people will undoubtedly take notice and admire you when you are at an event where a suit is appropriate and fits you perfectly.

If your boss is worth their salt, they will also notice. As for the color of the suit, black is painfully generic. Navy suits are far more versatile because they work well with brown and black dress shoes. Remember that, generally speaking, the darker the shade, the more formal the suit.

If that's not a color you're comfortable with, then gray or charcoal will do just fine. Again, these colors work well with those darker brown dress shoes we discussed earlier.

If you like suits and want to build a collection over time, you can wear the same brown oxfords with dark navy, classic navy, charcoal, and gray suits (so long as you pick the right shade of brown for your dress shoes).

The point is to ensure you invest in a quality suit that fits you well. You'll be surprised how often you must wear it as an adult.

If you're unsure how a suit should adequately fit you, read my comprehensive guide here.


I get it; not everyone wears a watch, which is always apparent when people ask others "what the time is." But possessing a versatile timepiece isn't just crucial for knowing the time of day; it also completes your outfit.

Believe it or not, some accessories can afford you that extra flair to augment your outfit further. Just like how you choose to dress, possessing a timepiece generally says something about you, i.e., a man who values time and keeps it in mind, etc.

The watch doesn't need to be expensive; however, it must be well made to last and remain interchangeable. Wearing a classic watch allows you to create more sophistication than something like jewelry (in my opinion).

Read this post here to learn about the different kinds of watch movements.


Like a watch, sunglasses are a quintessential way of elevating any man's style. Look at photos of men who wear a pair of shades when traveling. Need I say more?

When selecting a pair, the key is to opt for something that can work with virtually any outfit. Go with black, silver, or brown, and you're all set. Again, much like the timepiece, a pair of stylish sunglasses doesn't need to be expensive and have that high-end label slapped on the side.


When selecting a belt, ensure that the color matches your dress shoes (those leather oxfords we included earlier in the list).

This isn't necessarily because your belt and shoes must always match, despite that rather "old-school" rule that has lived as the letter of the law for men's fashion for decades ("match your leathers").

When starting your wardrobe, you should cover the basics first and then work to identify your personal style later. Matching your leathers is a great way to create consistency in your outfits, so get a brown belt that matches your leather dress shoes and maintain it as a staple in your wardrobe when starting.

Hopefully, after reading this post, you are better aware of the benefits and results of building a neutral-colored capsule wardrobe. If you stick with these items, you can more than get by with virtually any event in your life all year round.

However, this is simply a start, and depending on where you are in life and where you may soon end up, you might need to consciously invest in more clothing articles (in fact, I recommend it).

Clothes don't always make the man, but what we wear communicates something about us to others. A gentleman must take pride in his appearance and know that every person he comes into contact with will take note of the first impression he leaves. Love it or hate it, that is the world we live in. But I'm here to help you along the way!

My separate article here outlines my thoughts on what it means to be a modern gentleman. Give it a read and comment with your thoughts; I'd love to hear them!




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