The little black dress. Almost every woman either already owns at least one, or aspires to finding the perfect one (and, possibly, slimming down to fit into it). This is what's known as a staple of her wardrobe; it's adaptable enough to be dressed up or down, flattering, and it never goes out of style. Women have this figured out so clearly that the term has become a stereotype, or even frequently reduced to acronym form, it's that ingrained into our culture.
Is there a male equivalent, and if so what is it? What items should a gentleman's wardrobe not be without? What classic items should you buy, safe in the knowledge that you'll wear them until they wear out, unconcerned by the ever-shifting sands of fashion?
Plain white boxers and plain black socks
Let's start with the first things you put on. Clearly anything undignified like a thong or a posing pouch should be immediately burnt. Briefs are barely any better and Y-fronts only look good on girls in a post-ironic way. Some prefer close-fitting trunk-style boxers but be aware that if you have any love-handles at all they will accentuate them. Besides, a loose fit helps keep your testicles cool, helping sperm production. Male underwear that fits comfortably is notoriously difficult to find. You may need to shop around until you can find some that don't ride up. A surprisingly good place to start is George at Asda, who sell packs of really rather comfortable cotton boxers for a few pounds. Compare all others to this starting point and if you ever find that perfectly comfortable underwear then please let me know. Buy several pairs so you never run out.
As for the socks, immediately eschew anything featuring cartoon characters or in garish shades. If you want to have a cashmere pair for special occasions then be my guest, but for day-to-day wear you just need a simple cotton pair, preferably with some lycra to help them stay up. Lycra is better than elastic because it's less likely to leave an indentation in your skin where the sock was when you take it off. If you do lots of sports then white socks are standard for teaming with trainers, but most other times your black socks will fit the bill. Again, buy lots so it doesn't matter if an odd one goes missing in the wash.
Blue jeans that fit well
You already knew about the blue jeans, didn't you? However, the 'fit well' part is also vital. Get jeans that don't cut into your sides, that hold your rear, that are loose enough for you to run for a bus in them but that fit closely to your legs. I prefer the sillouette of a boot-cut (slightly wider at the foot) but this part is up to you. There's literally thousands of different jeans out there, so shop around and try them on. Never buy jeans that you haven't tried on. There's lots of different washes, treatments and fading out there, but think conservatively. A little fading or a small rip is fine, but anything more will look dated in a couple of years. The jeans should make you look slimmer and taller than you do in your boxers if you've found the right pair. After wearing them a few times the knees will have stretched a little, but washing and ironing them will return them to their former glory. The better quality denim you can find, (you'll be able to feel the difference; it's not rocket science), the longer the jeans will last before the stretching at the knee becomes permanent.
A plain white t-shirt
Look at any picture of James Dean in jeans and a white t-shirt. If that doesn't convince you nothing will. Find one that's not too baggy and that fits fairly closely without being skin-tight. Look out for t-shirts with narrower sleeves as they're more flattering to whatever biceps you may have. H&M do plain t-shirts for less than £10. Why not buy two?
A black turtleneck sweater
It can be worn on it's own, over a t-shirt, or instead of a shirt under a jacket or with a suit. Don't have too-high a turtleneck, choose a sweater in wool that's not too thick, and make sure it fits you quite closely. An easy way to make your shoulders look broad and your waist slimmer without setting foot inside a gym. Teaming it with a goatee, beret, sunglasses, coffee and a copy of 'On the Road' is not recommended.
A white shirt
Tailored is best. A tailored shirt is one that's cut so that it goes in at the waist, preventing a lot of blousing and creasing when you tuck it in. Tailored shirts are also short enough that you can wear them untucked. Wear with your jeans or with a suit, bottoned up or with one or two buttons undone. Don't undo more than this unless you're Brad Pitt and it's extremely warm (and even then, stop at three). Try to get one that doesn't have a button-down collar, and has strips in the points of the collar to reinforce it.
A good navy blue suit
I don't care who you are or what you do. I can't concieve of a single man on the planet who should be without at least one suit. And if you only have one suit then make it a navy blue one. Everyone has to go to weddings and, unfortunately, funerals at some point in their life if nothing else. Go for single-breasted and wool. This should be the most expensive item in your wardrobe. I could write a whole article about suits (and will at some point in the future) but for now just remember to make sure it fits properly. A suit that fits well is the single most flattering item of clothing that a man can wear. It shouldn't be something that you feel restricted in - it should be comfortable and cool. The inside-leg, waist and chest measurements should all be exact and the sleeves should not be so long that they hide your hands, nor so short that half your forearm is exposed when you reach forwards. If you're on a budget then check in a high-street store such as Marks and Spencer to get an idea of what to look for, then look around charity shops. A good suit can be remarkably hard-wearing if treated properly (avoid wearing it two days in a row) and often they last longer than their owner's waistline. Get it dry-cleaned before you wear it though. Incidentally, charity shops are also great places to pick up good quality tuxedos inexpensively. I'm told that the best time is in January, after the festive season.
A pair of black shoes and a pair of brown shoes
Think conservatively here. I'm not a fan of excessively patterned wingtips. Keep it simple. A lace-up pair of black leather shoes, ideally with a leather sole, and a rounded toe. For a change, and those occasions when you want to be a little more casual, try a brown loafer with a squarer toe. Wear them with jeans instead of trainers, and team them with a shirt and jacket to give the words 'smart-casual' a stylish meaning.
A dark-coloured thick wool overcoat
Because the weather rarely looks favourably on a man who is only wearing his suit jacket. Think Jose Mourinho. Black, navy blue or charcol-grey are all acceptable. If it has a hood, make sure it's not going to make you look like a ten year old. If it doesn't have a hood, it should have a collar similar to a jacket collar. It should be warm, and fit over a suit jacket. And if it has a chest pocket then keep a pair of black leather gloves here, fingers poking out of the top, to look extra stylish.
Remember, each of these items has become classic through the collective trial and error of millions of men across the world. Take advantage of all that consumer testing. Equally, bear in mind that each of these items can be easily teamed with any other clothes you buy in future. They may not be the most exciting things in your wardrobe, but they're the ones that will prove most reliable and versatile for years to come.
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