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There’s a reason why so many people like to dress in uniform. Whether your job mandates a dress code or you just prefer a utilitarian look, there’s something oddly liberating about not having to decide which print or pattern to throw on in the mornings. It’s been said that the reason why the French are so stylish is because they focus on fit rather than flash, and indeed, Parisian brands like APC have built an entire following based on subtle takes on classic, everyday pieces.
And then there’s the B-word: “basics.” Once reserved for things like socks and underwear, the word has now come to define a whole way of dressing, with people ditching suits and ties for elevated versions of familiar staples like polo shirts, sweatshirts and jeans. Brands like Pharrell’s Billionaire’s Boys Club and designers like Gucci continue to churn-out logo-driven merch and flashy, fashion-forward looks, but more and more people are choosing to streamline their wardrobes to focus on simple, clean lines and a neutral palette.
“When I’m looking for ‘basics,’ what I’m really looking for are staple wardrobe items for me to build upon,” says Jenny Alaimo, Creative Director at cult favorite apparel and accessories brand, Richer Poorer. “A classic white tee, a perfect fitting casual trouser; [there are] the items that are essential for creating a long lasting closet of looks for all occasions.”
“To a lot of people, the word ‘basics’ draws visions of cheap, faded garments not meant to see the light of day,” says Steven Borrelli, the CEO and founder of LA-based label, Cuts Clothing. “But in today’s world, basics are foundational pieces of the wardrobe that get the most wear,” he says. “These items tend to get heavy rotation because they stand well on their own in some settings and hold an entire outfit together in others.”
Now that we’re working from home, the rules for dressing may be slightly more relaxed, but it doesn’t mean you should completely give up, on dressing up. That’s where a good set of basics come in handy.
“You can absolutely accomplish a professional look with basics,” Borrelli says, “but it’s all about fine-tuning the rest of your outfit. You can’t throw on a plain white tee and expect praise for your put-together ensemble. You can, however, take a high-quality white tee, tuck it into a nice pair of trousers and lace into a dressier shoe.”
“Most people don’t want to hang around their house all day in jeans and a button-up,” he adds, “but spending the day in your pajamas doesn’t work for everyone either.”
We’ve rounded up nine essential items (or “basics”) that you should stock up on for your wardrobe. From tees to sweats to jeans, these items work as well for the weekend as they do for your video conference calls. Above all, they’re easy to throw on and comfortable to wear, no matter the time of day or occasion.
“You can feel comfortable while still looking put together,” Alaimo says. “Are there interesting design elements? Does it fit? Most importantly,” she adds, “Does it make you feel good? If you can check those boxes, then you should feel confident that you’re buying a well made basic.”
1. Uniqlo U T-Shirt
Uniqlo’s our go-to pick for elevated basics, and their “Uniqlo U” collection, designed by former Hermes artistic director Christophe Lemaire, reworks everyday pieces into date night-ready staples. Case in point: this crewneck T-shirt, made from a thicker, substantial cotton jersey, and cut with a relaxed yet trim silhouette. It’s an obvious piece for the weekend, but with its weightier feel and more tailored cut it’ll work for the office and outings too.
2. Everlane Performance Jean
Wearing jeans to work is pretty much acceptable at most offices these days, but that doesn’t mean you can throw on that too-loose pair you’ve been wearing since college. For a more professional pick, we recommend these Performance Jeans from Everlane. It’s got a skinny (but not skintight) fit, with a wash that goes with everything.
This pair earns points for sustainability too. It’s made from organic cotton, with just enough stretch to not make you feel constricted. Wear it with a polo or oxford shirt (see below) for work, then pair it with a T-shirt (see above) for the weekend.
3. Todd Snyder Italian Cotton Silk-Tipped Polo
You can’t go wrong with a classic Lacoste polo, but for something a little more sophisticated, we like the retro-inspired styling of this silk-tipped ribbed polo from Todd Snyder. Made from Italian cotton-silk yarn, it’s got ribbed stitching at the front, with contrast-color piping on the collar, pocket, waistband and cuffs.
This polo is soft as a sweater but lightweight enough to not feel stuffy. We like the Sixties-inspired look of the shirt, which works as well at the office as it does on vacation. And if you still want a Lacoste polo? Todd Snyder’s site sells an exclusive version of that one too.
4. Bonobos Riviera Chambray Shirt
Bonobos may be best known for their pants (and we own multiple pairs of their skinny fit chinos) but lately, we’ve been stocking up on their button-down shirts. This Riviera short-sleeved shirt is available in more than 40 prints and patterns, so you can go with something classic — like this chambray shirt — or choose something a little more… expressive.
Bonobos is the best site to find clothes that fit, with a ton of options for every body shape. This shirt is available in four different fits (slim, tailored, standard and athletic) and three lengths (regular, short and long). Unsure of which one to pick up? We like the tailored fit, which keeps things neat and streamlined without hanging too loose — or squeezing too tight. The 100% cotton shirt is machine-washable and only gets softer over time.
5. Dockers Alpha Men’s Jean Cut Pants
Jeans are a staple in every “basic” wardrobe, but so is a pair of casual, well-fitted cotton pants. Whether you call them “khakis,” “chinos” or cotton trousers, these pants can be worn exactly the same way you’d wear a pair of denim, but look immediately more professional for a meeting or big event.
These “jean cut pants” from Dockers deliver exactly as described, cut to fit like a pair of your favorite jeans, only in a cotton blend material with just a touch of stretch for extra comfort. These are a decidedly modern take on the classic Dockers pants that guys have been wearing for generations.
6. Levi’s Made & Crafted Crewneck Sweatshirt
We own a couple of denim jackets from Levi’s, but when you’re working from home, wearing a jean jacket just seems excessive. Instead, throw on this super comfy sweatshirt. It’s made from a brushed cotton and polyester blend that’s soft and cozy, with a great lived-in look. Throw it over a white shirt (like the one below) for a casual workday, or layer it over the chambray shirt (pictured earlier) for a conference call-appropriate look.
What we like: this sweater holds it shape through repeated washings and will only get softer with time.
7. Cuts Crew Split-Hem T-Shirt
Cuts has succeeded where so many brands have failed, by somehow managing to improve on the classic white tee. This version is buttery soft and moves comfortably with you, whether you’re on a run or reading in bed. That’s thanks to Cuts’ unique “PYCA” tri-blend fabric content, which stays smooth and wrinkle-free.
We like the split-hem design of this shirt, which drapes a little longer in the back, for a slightly more design-oriented take on the traditional tee. Wear this as a layering piece or on its own.
8. Club Monaco Camp Collar Tencel Shirt
Every guy should own a white oxford shirt, but if it reads too formal over your Zoom or Skype calls, we like the look of this white camp collar shirt from Club Monaco.
It’s less stuffy that a button-up shirt but more presentable than just a plain white tee. The open collar and boxier fit give it a relaxed, rocker vibe, while the tencel material feels silky soft against your skin. Wear this for your next video chat while you’re stuck at home; take it on vacation with you when we can finally go out again.
9. Richer Poorer Terry Trouser
Leave it to socks and underwear brand Richer Poorer to make a pair of sweatpants you’d actually want to wear out in public. The sweatpants are cut like a pair of trousers (completed with faux pleating and a cuffed hem) but are comfortable enough to sleep in too. They’re made from a lightweight and moisture-wicking material, with a drawstring waistband and side pockets to finish off the look.