Reader Question: Building a Wardrobe

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Christopher, US: I am a 21-year-old who just received a senior-level job at a local corporation. However I’m trying to build a collection of business clothes, and trying to perfect my own style that will be acceptable amongst my executive peers yet still shine in personality. I’d love to see another blog about mus- haves for a young executive that hits on maybe color/textures as well as suits, and how to change up with the seasons and still remain professional

There seem to be several strands to this question: building a collection of business clothes, developing a subtle yet unique style and changing with the seasons. Hopefully I will touch on colours and textures sufficiently during the answering of these different questions.

The key to building a business wardrobe is to get to a stage where you have enough decent clothes, but only just enough, and then upgrading.

If we assume that you wear a suit every day of the week, I would recommend getting five decent quality suits (the maximum you can afford) as soon as possible. Then upgrade each suit in turn, ideally buying a new one every six months or so.

This time period is up to you. A longer interval means that you will be able to buy a more expensive suit each time, upgrading to a higher level. But it will also take you longer to work through your suits and those that remain will become tattier. Make a plan here and try to stick to it – though if bargains do present themselves snap these up and adjust your timetable accordingly.

A good wardrobe number is around 10 suits. If a suit is worn a maximum of once every fortnight it is likely to recover well and last a satisfyingly long time. Add a couple of jackets into there for variation.

Within these 10 suits, I would aim for half at least being sober business suits – mostly greys and blues, plain or pinstripes. The other half, worn perhaps on days without client-facing meetings, can be slightly more adventurous – some glen plaid, perhaps a windowpane check, some paler greys and browns.

By necessity the first suits you buy (to fill the five minimum) will be more sober suits, as you will want to have enough for a week of meetings without having to wear a suit more than once a week. It would be good to have one very good quality suit within this mix, but overall it’s not a problem – I would always say that more adventurous suits are worth having at a higher level of quality. If you’re going to wear a linen, seersucker or corduroy suit it had better fit immaculately.

Within this guide of five then 10, you can calculate your own need depending on how many days a week you do wear a suit.

I probably need to wear one three days a week, so were I to start my collection again I would buy three suits and one jacket to start me off, progressing rather slowly towards having six suits and two jackets of really excellent quality and fit (in my case, having them made bespoke in Hong Kong with the highest quality materials my tailor has – Loro Piana or Zegna).

Let’s return to our original example and assume you wear a suit every working day. A suggestion for the first five suits would be: two navy blue, one charcoal, one mid-grey and one other colour (perhaps a chocolate brown, muted green or petrol blue – never black). Of these, perhaps two could have a pinstripe of different widths.

Personally, I would also have one with a waistcoat and one double-breasted. But this is very much a personal choice and depends on what you are comfortable with and your business environment. Both the three-piece and the double-breasted should be bespoke or made-to-measure if at all possible – you will notice the difference in fit more.

The most important thing in these first suits is colour – keep them simple in largely blues and greys. Pattern is less important, just keep it subtle. They should be mostly single breasted and have two buttons or three buttons that roll to two. Every other aspect of the suit (lapel width, sleeve buttons, trouser cuffs, ticket pocket) is up to you – just keep it simple.

The variation in seasons is best accomplished with your next five suits. Although I don’t know what weather you have to deal with in your part of the US, mid-weight suits will always be fine around the office and can be covered in coats, scarfs and hats to take account of temperature outside. So your first five should all be of this weight.

When it comes to the next five, try a flannel suit. Perhaps when the colder months are coming around. Then when the summer is approaching try a lightweight wool, an unlined jacket or a linen suit. These will show you what you prefer with seasonal suits. I like winter-weight suits so would expand on this with a tweed or corduroy. Heavier patterns are also wintry – bold plaids or windowpane checks.

Lastly, a quick word on personality. Express this at the start with subtle changes in colour or texture in your shirt and tie. A conservative navy tie, but in wool for the winter. A knitted silk tie for summer, or a linen mix. Later on, experiment with the second batch of suits.

I hope this was helpful Christopher. Feel free to write in with any more specific questions. There is an awful lot one could say on this subject and I may not have covered many of the areas you wanted me to look at.


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Simon Crompton is a journalist and a style enthusiast living in London, who blogs at permanentstyle.blogspot.com. He has too many suits.

Comments

  1. Garrett says:

    Simon, another fantastic article. Your insight and practicality is an invaluable asset all us in “The Lost Generation” of mens style. Keep up the great work.

  2. abdul says:

    When starting with a smaller budget, look at stores like H&M, M&S and TK MAX. They have good quality suits and shirts that don’t cost too much. Also look out for sales.

  3. Gaetan says:

    Definitely, thanks a lot. I’m roughly in the same situation as Christopher, who asked the question, and I truly appreciate such valuable advice.

  4. smooth says:

    I think this advice was not feasible.

    10 Suits?

    Why in earth would he need 10 suits?

    Seersucker Suit?

    Did you even remember what job he has before you gave him “advice”?