So you’re just getting into this whole quality menswear thing, huh? It’s an entire world out there and if you’re stepping out into it for the first time, it’s hard to know where to start. Thankfully, we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you and compiled a list of some of the better-quality basics to get your closet stocked with longevity and craft in mind. These aren’t pieces that are the epitome of artisanal craftsmanship, but they’re all upgrades from your usual fast fashion fare, and that’s a step in the right direction.
For some more in-depth reading and to keep the snowball rolling, check out our 101 Primers section and nerd out all you want. Just be warned: the more you know, the more you realize you know nothing.
Levi’s 501 Shrink-To-Fit
You may not know jack about jeans, but you might actually be living under a rock if you haven’t heard of the Levi’s 501. If you’re just starting to get interested in raw denim, you should definitely take a look at the Levi’s 501 Shrink-To-Fit. With a mid-rise and a classic straight leg, this jean flatters most body types and ages surprisingly well. While they’re not super high-end, the 501 STF is a really good entry point to the world of rigid denim. To figure out how to size these shrinkage-prone pants, check out this guide.
They most typically retail for $60, but you can often wait for a sale. Available at Levi’s.
Another popular entry-level jean comes from Unbranded, the no-strings-attached selvedge denim brand. Unbranded avoids (as you may have guessed) unnecessary branding. So if you want something tough without being too conspicuous, this is your stop. Unbranded offers several different cuts, all for about $80 in their classic rigid, selvedge denim. It’s got a handful of features that bolster its quality above the Levi’s 501 STF, which makes the price even sweeter.
Available for $80 from Clobber Calm.
Epaulet Rivet Chinos
There’s nothing worse than crappy khakis, so you’ll definitely want to get the good stuff. Epaulet‘s flagship Rivet Chinos come in a variety of fabrics, but this particular chino comes in Cramerton Army Cloth, perhaps the most famous chino fabric of all time. This was the same cloth used to outfit American soldiers in WWII and later civilians when the surplus yardage was sewn into everyday getups. You can expect these kinds of chinos to get better with age, just like a good pair of jeans.
Available for $135 from Epaulet NYC.
Stan Ray Military Style Chino Pant
If the thought of paying more than $100 still isn’t a palatable one for you, Stan Ray is a classic pant that’s an easier pill to swallow. Family-owned since the 1970s, Stan Ray of Texas has been blowing up lately, cutting their trademark military-style fatigue pants into new, trendy cuts.
You could go with their classic fatigues, but their Military Style Chino Pant is a bit more versatile, so you’ll get more bang for your buck here. Lightweight and very comfortable, they’re the perfect warm-weather alternative to jeans.
Available for $56.10 from All Seasons Uniforms.
Expensive tees can be another source of skepticism, but you’ll never regret the purchase. Velva Sheen‘s t-shirts are tube-knit so they don’t have any side seams to annoy you with. They’re all made in LA, will last you years, and feel great the entire time.
The two-pack is available for $78 from Brooklyn Tailors.
Button Up Shirts
It doesn’t get any more classic than this Oxford Button-Down from Gitman Vintage. Keep it casual with your Levi’s 501 STF jeans, or have it pressed and pair it with those Epaulet Rivet Chinos for your next job interview and you’ll be unstoppable. This fall is actually Gitman’s 40th birthday and, with four decades in the garment business, you know you’re in good hands in one of their shirts.
Available for $165 from Black Blue.
If you prefer a Japanese interpretation (and who does Ivy style better than the Japanese?) then you may want your first high-quality Oxford to be from Kamakura. Hand-carved shell buttons and single-needle stitching throughout make this garment a serious contender on any OCBD list. Made in Japan and available in a few different fits, the Kamakura Oxford is another excellent choice for someone ready to up their shirting game.
Available for $79 from Kamakura.
Sweaters and Sweatshirts
Don’t be distracted by that guy’s amazing fades in the above picture, focus on his torso and his heavyweight sweatshirt. Tellason is one of the power players in the American manufacturing game and they make the hell out of a sweatshirt. Made from 100% cotton and engineered to last, their heavyweight crewneck sweatshirt is exactly the garment you’ll want and need as the temperatures cool down.
Available for $120 from Tellason, you’ll never go back to cheap-o sweatshirts ever again.
Harley of Scotland
For those of you in colder climes, a cotton sweatshirt just won’t do the trick. Luckily for you, Harley of Scotland brings the warmth of lambswool to that classic gray crewneck sweatshirt. A blend of cotton and wool to avoid itchiness, the above sweater will keep your heritage look on point even when winter’s chill arrives.
Made in Scotland, this upgrade is $175 from Brooklyn Tailors.
If you don’t already have a chore coat, you’ll definitely want to pick one up. As dressy or as casual as you want to make it, it’s a piece that’s versatile as it is functional. Vetra is a French brand that has made these classic jackets since the 1920s. Fun fact: they destroyed their sewing machines during the occupation when the Nazis tried to force them to sew their uniforms.
While you could go with the very French Hydrone Blue, navy will pair with more, and this particular coat is available for $154 from Flatspot.
Converse Chuck Taylor 1970s
There are a handful of classic sneakers out there and you almost can’t go wrong with going simple, tried and true models. You’ve got your Vans Authentics, Converse Jack Purcell, Adidas Stan Smith, among others.
It’s tough to beat the Converse Chuck Taylor. But if you get any, make sure to spring the extra twenty bucks for the 1970s version. Modeled on 1970s Chucks (duh), these shoes feature beefier canvas, better arch support, higher foxing, sturdier laces, and a longer-lasting sole. These take a little breaking in, but once they’ve softened up, you’ll never take them off—until you buy your next pair.
Available for $90 from Lost & Found.
Shoes Like Pottery
When you’re ready to upgrade a step above that, Shoes Like Pottery has Japanese-made variations on a sneaker theme. Made in Kurume, Japan in a factory known for it’s sneaker-making, their shoes are kiln-fired and will last you a few more steps than your normal sneaker.
You can find these White Low Top versions for $155 at Lone Flag.
Red Wing Heritage
When it comes to boots, don’t go for the cheap stuff. Good boots will run you over $300 and it’s best to avoid blowing your cash on lower-end pieces (that you’ll inevitably grow tired of) and save up for something that can last.
Red Wing Heritage is the best intro boot brand out there. Thorogood, Wolverine, and Chippewa will all take your money for slightly less, but it’s best to hold out for these babies if you can. The above Iron Rangers are one of the most classic Red Wing pieces around and they were actually designed for miners in the early 1900s. And if for some reason the sole gives out, you can have it replaced and keep on wearing the boots. A purchase like this, when properly maintained, can be passed down to your grandkids.
Available for $320 from Freenote Cloth. And if you were wondering about the shoes in the featured image, they’re Red Wing’s equally loved Moc Toe 875, and you can get them for $270 at Freenote as well.