Think of your wardrobe as a well-stocked fridge: From it, you only need a few basic ingredients to throw together a great combo. In fact, there are only six articles of clothing that you really must own, because of their versatility. Mix and match and accessorize properly, and the same elements will work equally well at the beach and dog run as they do at the office or a funeral (or both if you’re having a bad day). Here, the list.
1. White Button-down Shirt
“The white shirt is the most flexible piece of clothing you will ever own,” says Massimo Bizzocchi, menswear importer and owner of the eponymous downtown Manhattan boutique. Wear it with shorts and jeans for a more casual look, with chinos and a tie for work attire and with a dark suit to a formal event. For a traditional look, stick to 100 percent cotton broadcloth; for modern, try stretch cotton with a slightly slimmer fit.
2. Dark Rinse Jeans
“Dark denim jeans are considered the new standby,” says Bizzocchi. You can wear them with everything from a tailored jacket to a T-shirt and sneakers. “I like APC New Standard,” says Steven Taffel, owner and proprietor of Leffot, a high-end men’s clothing store in Manhattan. “They’re a crisp denim, and they don’t have any stitching on the back pockets. Paired with a white shirt, you have a blank canvas that you can accessorize with pretty much anything.”
3. Cashmere V-neck Sweater
You can wear this classic under a suit, with a pair of jeans — with pretty much anything. “And if it gets too warm,” says Bizzocchi, “just take it off and wear it draped around your neck on top of your blazer.” If you’re only going to buy one, choose a neutral color like black, brown or charcoal. If you invest in a second, pick a bright color like green or pink that highlights one of your best traits (i.e., If you have blue eyes, go for bright blue).
4. Navy Blazer
This jacket always looks great, whether you wear it with jeans or dress slacks. “Just lose the brass buttons,” says Taffel. “The buttons should always be dark.” And make sure to get the right fit — you don’t want a lot of extra fabric through the body. The general rule is that if you can fit your arm in between the jacket and your chest, you have too much fabric and need to get it taken in.
5. Solid Dark Suit
“You need to have one of these regardless if you wear it to work or not,” says Taffel. “These days you could need it for a job interview, a wedding or a funeral.” A solid dark color (black, navy or charcoal gray) offers more flexibility in dressing up and down. Wear it on its own for a formal event and dress it down by pairing the jacket with jeans and a T-shirt. If you buy more than one, Bizzocchi recommends experimenting with browns. “A dark charcoal brown suit in a lightweight fabric has a lot of personality,” he says, “and it shows you have confidence.”
6. Stylish Sneakers
If you’d wear them to the gym or the basketball court, they do not go with jeans and a nice shirt on a Saturday night. Instead, go for something plain and simple that doesn’t read “gym.” Guess, Bally, Coach and Puma all make classic shoes that bridge the divide between athletic and fashion, and they read casual or dressy depending on the rest of your outfit (shorts, jeans or dark suit pants). “If I’m not in my boat shoes I wear a pair of Adidas white and blue Rod Laver sneakers,” says Taffel. “Sneakers have a life of their own.”
Jessica Lothstein is a former fashion journalist at Best Life magazine. She has written profiles on such designers as Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani and Michael Bastian.