Q&A: Top 10 Wardrobe Foundations for a Young Man

November 7th, 2007

Q: What pieces would you say are the "Top 10" essential clothing items for a teenage boy? Most lists I’ve seen for men include items that I wouldn’t need, such as multiple suits and, say, a trenchcoat (that would be too dressy for school).

A:  Here are 10 items of clothing essential for a stylish high school teen, followed by a few suggestions that you can wear to help differentiate you from the 500 other kids in your class.  I am reluctant to make a “Top 10” because what you wear depends on where you live.  I’m on the East coast now, but I grew up in California, and my wardrobe essentials changed accordingly.  In California, I could wear warmer clothes a lot more often, so I had more shirts and fewer jackets.  You get what I mean.

But first, a note on fit. GQ once said, “bagginess is for little kids.”  They’re right; the most common mistake I see teens people make is how they fit their clothes. Keep in mind fit as you buy new clothes.  A major part of being well dressed is wearing clothes that fit you.

Nuts Graphic T-ShirtThe Graphic T-Shirt   
Is there anything more defining of teen fashion than the graphic tee?  Think about it – when adults want to look younger, what do they do?  They wear a graphic tee underneath their blazer!  Young Hollywood often wears interesting graphic Ts – open up a People magazine and check it out.

Nuts Tee | $15 at Threadless

Diesel Strude Military Woven ShirtButton-Down Shirts
Great for a date, dance or just anything you want to dress up a bit, sport shirts also are an important fashion rite of passage from dressing like a teenager to dressing like a man in his early 20s.  Roll up the sleeves to casualize these sport shirts.  Higher end sports shirts can act as dress shirts when you wear a blazer or even a more casual casual suit.  Don’t try wearing it with a tie though – most sport shirts have collars that are too narrow to look good with a tie (or even support it).  A final tip?  Try flannel.  When done well (re: NOT grungy), it is refreshingly stylish

Diesel Strude Military Woven | $150 at Urban Outfitters

Have some fun here.  You can wear a plain hoodie, or you can choose one with color or interesting graphics. I personally love hoodies that aren’t particularly thick, but then again I’m from sunny Northern California.

Stock Pinstripe Sweater Hoodie | 59.99 at Urban Outfitters 

Track Jackets
I love the retro coolness of a track jacket.  Get a track jacket in cotton instead of that really athletic looking shiny nylon fabric. 

Converse by John Varvatos Track Jacket | $195 at Urban Outfitters

Diesel Stitched JacketJackets
Jackets are another fashion “rite of passage.”  Everyone wears jackets, but while kids wear fleece and nylon jackets, adults will wear jackets in wool and other dressier fabrics.  Find a balance here.  You will eventually want a dressier jacket, but for now, you can stick to sportier or casual ones.  Jackets are an investment, and feel free to splurge on a great one.

Diesel Stitched Jacket | $250 at Neiman Marcus

Belts should not be used out of necessity–that is, your pants should fit you at the waist already.  Belts are another area where you can have some fun by adding some color.  Save your leather belts for wool pants; they are too formal and will look awkward when combined with, say, a graphic tee. 

Stripe Web Belt | $68 at Brooks Brothers

7 For All Mankind Standard JeanJeans
Get jeans with a great fade for everyday casual use and wear them to school.  Get dark denim with no fade for dressier occasions like dates and dances.  Blue is great, but also try grey (or faded black).  Don’t waste your money on anything but straight leg jeans.  A word on pocket design craziness: stick to something simple and classy.  This is one area you DON’T want a lot of crazy colors.    The best (affordable) jeans I have seen, hands down, is the classic 7 For All Mankind New York Rinse.  The picture doesn’t do it justice, seriously.  Simple, dark and cool.

Standard Jean in New York Rinse | $163 at 7 For All Mankind

A great casual alternative to jeans, cords are at their most versatile when they have a medium wale.  What’s a wale, you ask?  A wale is a measure of the width of the “stripe” on corduroy fabric.  The lower the wale number, the thicker the width.

BDG Bootcut Cord Pant | $49 at Urban Outfitters

If there’s one thing to remember about shorts, it’s that they should be above the knee.  This is so important that it bears repeating.  A proper fitting pair of shorts should be above the knee.  Please do your part in ending America’s love affair with oversized shorts by buying shorts that fit – i.e., those that hang above the knee.   When spring comes around, try getting some simple light khaki and brown shorts from Banana Republic.  Forget the cargo pockets.

Converse Jack Purcell SneakerSneakers
Here’s a style tip: don’t get your everyday sneakers at Foot Locker.  You’ll end up looking like Jerry Seinfeld (read: awkward).  Get low tops instead of those all-purpose K-Swiss sneakers.  Jack Purcells are always a safe bet too.

Converse Jack Purcell Sneakers | $49.95 at Nordstrom

Have a great tip about wardrobe foundations for a young man?

Share it with us in the comments!

Style question?  We’ve got answers.  E-mail us at tips at omiru dot com, or leave us a comment with your question.

Entry Filed under: Men,Men's,Q&A

9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Martha  |  November 7th, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    yes, do all this boys and look like clones.

    why don’t you express yourself and think outside the box for a bit? don’t rely on someone else to tell you what to wear. Wear what makes you feel a million dollars in the morning, and that makes you smile and that makes you feel ten feet tall and that no one can stop you. Don’t follow the crowd for the sake of playing it safe.


  • 2. Jina  |  November 7th, 2007 at 6:11 pm

    I’m a sixteen-year-old girl and I’m looking for affordable clothing (non-designer) that is an equivalent to Urban Outfitters. While I do love Urban Outfitters, it is not in my budget; however, I would still like to adhere to the style present in the clothing there.

    Thank you!

  • 3. John  |  November 7th, 2007 at 6:14 pm


    The link for the flannel shirt picture is from The Sartorialist.

    The jeans in the "Jeans" picture are, ironically, ill-fitting. See how the jeans bunch up in a big mess near his ankles? You don’t want that. I don’t like fraying and "bunchiness," so I usually get mine tailored.

    If you want to get yours tailored, know your options: you can have your tailor cut off part of the jeans and re-sew that original piece of fabric back on (what I usually do, but it’s a bit more expensive), or you can have him cut it off and find another piece that matches in color.

  • 4. KingBob  |  November 7th, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    Don’t waste your money on anything but Straight-leg jeans…..NOT!
    Maybe for rocker dudes and nerds. What’s in style for every guy are jeans with a bootcut flare to them…. and they look good on anyone. And in the “sneakers” department one needs to stick with Nike, Adidas and the rapidly rising Puma if they want to look hip.

  • 5. John  |  November 8th, 2007 at 12:03 am

    Hmmm….I stand by what I write, but I feel as if the point is partly being missed.

    Martha: Are these clothes revolutionary? No. And I don’t pretend that they are. But are they “essential?” I would say so. “Essential” clothes are those that stand the test of time; they are staples in a man’s wardrobe, just like a navy and charcoal suit for guys. On one hand, I see and respect your point about looking like every other guy out there, but on the other hand, maybe so many guys wear these clothes because they are staples of a teen’s wardrobe.

    KingBob: By “straight” I mean “standard” not “skinny.” Sorry for the confusion. You’re right; “skinny” leg jeans are for guys with the last name Ramone. You’re also right with the Adidas; sambas are becoming classics as well.

    Also, while I appreciate your comments and respect your opinion, KingBob, these suggestions are “essential” because they are timeless. Bootcut flares may go in and out of style, but standard jeans won’t. Same with sneakers: Pumas may be “rising,” in your opinion, but Jack Purcells are timeless.

    Moreover, even if I was suggesting jeans that are trendy at the moment, I don’t know if I would suggest bootcut flares. For one thing, I don’t know if they are trendy right now. Also, they are hard to pull off with, say, a pair of sneakers and a rakish blazer.


    For more jeans suggestions, check out this article from GQ: http://men.style.com/gq/fashion/landing?id=content_4324

  • 6. blackbird  |  November 8th, 2007 at 9:51 am

    This is a perfect list – and exactly the way my three boys dress (though I don’t spring for $150 shirts and $160 jeans.
    These wardrobes just evolved – I wasn’t lucky enough to have your list to guide me, but it’s spot on.

  • 7. John  |  November 8th, 2007 at 9:43 pm

    SALE: Materialust makes what I think are cool graphic T’s for guys and girls. Their “theme” is that all the graphics are travel destinations in the world. I have shirts I bought from them last year; the destinations are Madrid, Bacelona and Austria.

    They are having a sale right now, so go check it out.


  • 8. KingBob  |  November 8th, 2007 at 11:37 pm

    Your comments and clarifications are appreciated as well. Thanks.

  • 9. Trisha  |  November 9th, 2007 at 12:49 am

    And for more info on Materialust, check out our designer profile:

Leave a Comment


Some HTML allowed:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


November 2007
« Oct   Dec »

Most Recent Posts