Foundation Wardrobe (Part 1 Of 3): The Basics

You’ve probably read the series on Classic Menswear, and thought it’s financially impossible to build a foundation wardrobe like that. At least not all at one go. Even more so if you’re a fresh graduate, and still dependent on your parents’ allowance. Perhaps you’re a young executive with limited funds, wanting to up your game and build a favourable personal brand. Or even a seasoned veteran, trying to rebuild your wardrobe from scratch to evolve your personal brand projection. Well, the good news is that you don’t need to overhaul your wardrobe overnight.

Author pointing to the right, indicating the title card of Foundation Wardrobe.
Let’s build your foundation wardrobe. Let’s start with the basics

What Exactly Is A “Foundation” Wardrobe?

A foundation wardrobe is a collection of garments that will meet all dress codes you’ll possibly come across. Whilst the emphasis is on professional (corporate) attire, it’ll also include other facets of your life too. Some people may express this concept as a “capsule wardrobe”, which is essentially the same thing. The only requirement, especially during the early phase, is that they must all be interchangeable. Whatever combination you choose, you’ll still be able to combine them to make a practical ensemble.

Curating Your Foundation Wardrobe – The Ten Basic Pieces

The only assumption we’ll make, is that you’re on a tight budget. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve yet to earn your own income, or have existing commitments to maintain. We’ll address the most important pieces that you simply can’t do without first. Then we’ll slowly expand from there, budget permitting :-

(1) Your First Business Suit

There’s no getting around it, every man needs a suit. And not just any suit, but a foundation suit. There’ll be formal functions that you have to attend. Business meetings, corporate exhibitions, presentations, even attending weddings or taking family photos. So you’ll need a suit that’s suitable for all those foreseeable formal functions. And yes, this is your biggest ticket item in the first ten pieces. So let’s get it out of the way right at the very beginning.

A two-piece suit in charcoal grey. This is an example of a foundation suit for every gentleman.
Two-buttons, single breasted, charcoal suit, with notch lapels and straight flapped pockets. This is the no-nonsense foundation suit that every gentleman needs in his wardrobe.
Image by Author

There are only two colour options – charcoal grey or navy blue. And they both have to be in solid colours. Now’s not the time for you to experiment with fancy patterns, textures or colours. This suit will see you through all of your professional needs, and sometimes even personal needs too. If you’re a little flexible with your budget, visit a tailor and order a custom suit. If budget’s tight, just buy something ready-to-wear. Remember, this is your (hopefully) first of many suits to come. So don’t be fussy if it doesn’t fit you like a glove. Or tickle your fancy with the colour, cut or pattern choice.

(2), (3) And (4) Foundation Shirts

Remember, you can’t wear a suit on its own. You still need to layer your suit jacket over an inner layer, a shirt. Hence, your next three foundation pieces are shirts, specifically in the following order as in the image below.

Three shirts, solid white dress shirt, solid blue dress shirt, and solid pink OCBD shirt.
Left to right – A solid white dress shirt, a solid blue dress shirt, and a solid pink OCBD shirt.
Image by Author

You’ll first need a solid white dress shirt, the dressiest shirt you can ever buy. It’s the ultimate blank canvas for you to layer other colours and/or patterns to make them stand out.

The next dressiest shirt is a solid pastel dress shirt. Less formal than the white shirt, though not by much. Top choice is light blue, though other pastel colours are equally suitable. It’ll give you variations to the white shirt to rotate with. And yes, the example above is more medium blue than light blue, but let’s not start splitting hair.

And finally, throw a casual (but not too casual) shirt into the mix. The Oxford cloth button-down shirt is a great choice here. Identifiable by the coarser basket weave pattern, and its namesake, the button-down collar. Available in all colours and patterns, but best to stick to either solid white or pastel for now.

(5) And (6) Dress Trousers

When you’re not wearing your suit, you’re gonna need alternative dress trousers. You’ll want to tone down your formality somewhat, without crash diving all the way down. Hence, keep your standalone trousers to neutral, solid colours.

Two pairs of foundation dress trousers, one medium grey, and the other medium brown.
Left and right – A pair of solid medium grey and medium brown standalone trousers. You want them to be less formal than your suit, but not too casual either.
Image by Author

There’s only one requirement for your standalone trousers, they just need to be slightly less dressy than your suit trousers. Just make sure that they’re still business appropriate. The best choices are solid neutral colours, like navy blue, medium grey, medium brown, etc. With these colours, you can literally match them with all of the shirts above, and still look dashing. Remember, you’ve a limited budget, so it’s best to make them all interchangeable to maximise the budget you have.

(7) Semi-Casual Chinos

Yes, we realise that you won’t be spending all of your waking hours at the office, or attending business functions. And yes, there are times when you don’t want to project too uptight an image, especially during social events. There’s only one practical garment to tone down your dressiness without sacrificing its interchangeability – chinos.

A pair of khaki chinos.
Cotton chinos looks very much like dress trousers, but wears much softer and comfortable. And khaki is the “original” colour for chinos.
Image by Author

Usually made from 100% cotton, chinos look like dress trousers, but wears like a comfortable pair of old jeans. You can dress it up to a business casual level with OCBD shirts and sport jackets. Or you can match it with a t-shirt and denim trucker jacket for the weekend out in town. Chinos come in a variety of colours, but for the sake of interchangeability, keep it neutral. The most common (and logical) choices are khaki, beige or navy.

(8) Neckwear

For the sake of simplicity, I’ll count them all as one item. But for all intents and purposes, you’ll need at least three ties. Three different ties to show everybody that you actually own more than just one tie… But just as the other garments, you have to keep them all interchangeable, and somewhat dressy.

Three ties, solid navy, lavender with small repeating pattern, and navy with dense gold regimental stripes.
Left to right – Solid navy tie, lavender with small repeating pattern tie, and navy with gold regimental stripes tie. They also vary with formality too, going from dressiest to the least dressy from left to right.
Image by Author

Yes, I realise that you don’t have to wear a tie everyday. But for the days that you need to show professionalism, you simply can’t go open neck. And nothing beats wearing a simple piece of ornamental silk around your neck. Plus, having one for each level of formality gives you more flexibility too.

(9) And (10) Footwear

It doesn’t matter how well dressed you are on top. Without footwear, you’re never completely dressed. It’s the foundation upon where the rest of your outfit builds up. There really is just one category of footwear to consider here – dress shoes. But there’s a vast spectrum of formality for dress shoes, and they generally don’t come cheap. So it’s best to conservatively limit your choices to fit your budget. Right now, you only practically need a pair to meet your dressiest ensemble. And perhaps one other less dressy pair.

A pair of black, plain toe Oxford shoes, the dressiest of all foundation shoes.
Black, plain-toe Oxford shoes are the dressiest shoes you’ll need for your foundation wardrobe.
Image by Author

You’re gonna need a pair of the dressiest shoes to go with your foundation suit. And black is the only colour formal enough to fit the bill. Black leather shoes will literally match well with almost any combination. Then consider the shoe type. Oxfords is the only design conservative enough to fit the bill. It doesn’t matter whether plain toe or capped toe. May not be suitable to match with less dressy ensemble, but it’ll match anything above chinos and jeans.

A pair of brown Penny loafers. The less dressy option, but still a foundation piece.
Medium brown, penny loafers are one of the least dressy choices, whilst still considered dress shoes.
Image by Author

You’ve got a pair of dress shoes for your dressier combination. Now let’s pick a less dressy pair of dress shoes, something that’s not black. A happy medium would be a medium brown. Not as solemn as black, but conservative enough to be business appropriate. Just make sure you don’t get a brown that’s too light. The lighter the shade, the less dressy it’ll be. As for the shoe type, move away from the uptight, laced-up Oxfords. Hence, any loafers will do fine. My personal favourite (image above) is the penny loafers.

Complete Your Foundation Basics Within Budget

You’re probably sighing with relief right now. You’ve just sunk a huge amount of money on your foundation basics. The only consolation for you right now, is knowing that it’s not all in vain. I promise you the next level will be less painful financially. Besides, all these pieces are fully interchangeable, and will remain your foundation basics as you progress to the next level. So take a financial break, and start rebuilding your budget up from scratch. Your foundation basics should last you a good half-year, if not more. But if you can’t wait that long, come back for the next episode, where we’ll explore the foundation intermediates.

And in case you’re wondering, no, this isn’t a sponsored article. So if you’d like to financially support me, do consider buying me a coffee. Every little bit of caffein goes a long way.

This article is part of Espoletta’s CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives.

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

2 Replies to “Foundation Wardrobe (Part 1 Of 3): The Basics”

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