Men's fashion: A capsule wardrobe for men
Swap impulse buys for key pieces that take you seamlessly into the new menswear season. A little planning goes a long way, says Harriet Walker
There's a lot of mythology surrounding the modern capsule wardrobe: shoppers are understandably wary of spending more money and ending up with fewer items.
But with more emphasis being laid on "investment pieces" than ever, the high street has got wise, and is providing a wide choice of classic, quality pieces at affordable prices. Most men have never been assiduous followers of trends anyway, and the capsule wardrobe is about making life a lot easier.
It's a core selection of pieces that won't date and that go well together to create a trans-seasonal collection of outfits to see you well into autumn. It doesn't need to be stuffy or formal – just not faddy. And of course, it's crying out to be adjusted and added to, so any impulse purchases, fly-by-night trends or quick fixes that the lunchtime shopper can't turn down will slide in easily and be diplomatically forgotten after a season or two.
Start with a good pair of straight leg jeans: steer clear of overly distressed styles (a little fraying is fine, but beware those awful bleached stripes down each thigh). The Swedes are current masters of denim: try their Nudie and Acne brands, or New York's Rag & Bone. A pair of chinos works well as an alternative for smarter occasions. They have none of the boating club stigma that they used to; Gap's modern versions are flat-fronted and don't have a turn-up.
A plaid shirt in soft cotton, flannel or cambric is a cosy weekend alternative to all those stiffly-starched workaday numbers and keeps you looking genteel rather than grungy. If collars during leisure time aren't your thing, pick a fitted fine knit in a jovial colour or a long T-shirt in a neutral colour. Your capsule should also contain a thicker jumper for layering – you won't go wrong with navy merino wool or marl grey jersey, but make sure it's a different colour from your trousers, to avoid any unfortunate Milk Tray subtexts. Avoid also any ill-fitting and baggy items at all costs: you're relaxing, not regressing.
One of your primary purchases should be a waterproof jacket or mac for autumn showers or spring dews. The traditional trench is a foolproof option, but wax jackets and nerdy anoraks are making a comeback in sleeker urban forms at Oliver Spencer and have been redesigned at Barbour, so crowbar some gentlemanlike gallantry into your everyday gear.
Accessories complete your look and should be dependable enough to dress up or down. The ubiquitous man bag should hint at your fun side but retain professional integrity; Ally Capellino's can-do designs are understated but capable, just like you. And gone are the days of imitative flattery, so bin your banker's Rolex and embrace the humble rubber wrist strap, which is much cooler – not to mention water and recession-proof. Loafers are casual but smart (note: not smart-casual) and some sporty high-tops keep you preppy and youthful. The last hit of style, for those perfectionists among of you, is a jocular pair of socks – watch out for patterns, motifs, cartoon characters or Argyle check, but spots and stripes are a nice finishing touch to make sure your reliable, sensible capsule wardrobe doesn't get too po-faced.