If you have been hard at work Building a Gentleman’s Wardrobe (BGW) hopefully by now you will have worked out that it is a 5-year project. If you have not already Covered the Bases, worked on Building up the Collection and given attention to Broadening the Colour Palette you probably should have a look at earlier posts.
In year 4 of 5 is where the project becomes really interesting because you are seeking to plug the gaps, prune and replace. I recognise that this hardly sounds interesting. Trust me it is.
Bear in mind that the object of the exercise of Building a Gentleman’s Wardrobe is to have appropriate attire for whatever comes your way. Whether it is an invitation to tea at Buckingham palace or the BBQ with your new boss, a winter funeral or a summer wedding, a speaking engagement or just ‘cause you feel like it, a gentleman’s wardrobe has the depth and quality to cope with any occasion with style.
By the end of year 3 of 5 you should already have built up a decent wardrobe. Clearly each wardrobe is as individual as the man building it. Nonetheless, one might expect it to contain a number of suits, ideally at least plain charcoal, navy, and mid or light grey.
If you wear suits frequently you will require rather more than 3 suits. So you might also consider brown and khaki along with striped suits in navy, grey, and possibly black. For warmer months you might have one or two suits in linen rather than wool.
If you are not a frequent wearer of suits you still need some for those occasions when only a suit will do. In any case you might at least consider some blazers.
One would expect a good range of cotton shirts and silk ties to accompany these suits. By this stage you should have at least a dozen good quality shirts. The number of ties will depend on how often you wear a tie and, of course, the number and colour range of your shirts.
For more casual wear a collection of chinos, linen trousers and dark jeans might be required as well as pullover, button up, and sleeveless jumpers.
By now you should also have put together a decent collection of shoes. Most men could do with spending a little more on shoes than they are currently. At a minimum you need formal shoes in black and brown and slightly less formal and more comfortable shoes for more relaxed occasions.
These less formal shoes should ideally not be in black. Navy, olive or grey are good options to explore along with the more usual tan or brown. Trainers are for going to the gym or for a run. Espadrilles belong on a beach somewhere, or if you’re in shorts. So less formal does not include these forms of shoes. If you must have them then they are in addition to other less formal shoes. Depending on the rest of your wardrobe you may wish a more fully developed shoe collection.
So if this is all in place by the end of year 3 what is left to be done in year 4 you might ask? Plenty. The difference between an OK wardrobe and a great wardrobe is depth. A world-class football team is evidenced not merely by quality players on the pitch; it is often the quality of the bench which marks off the great teams from the merely good.
In year 4 you have already got most of your wardrobe in place. If you’ve been building your wardrobe with some dedication you will already have a wardrobe that is above average by the end of year 3. In year 4 you have the luxury of plugging in the gaps and pruning & replacing wardrobe items. You will be adding depth to the wardrobe.
With regard to the latter, some of the things you will need to prune or replace will be poorer quality items that you bought in years 1 and 2 which by year 4 have begun to wear out. This is only to be expected. Items purchased in year 1 will have been worn with far greater frequency because the wardrobe was smaller. As your wardrobe grows items will be worn with less frequency and thus last much longer.
Other items you might wish to prune will, quite frankly, be poor decisions that you’ve made. This too is to be expected. Most of us are still learning our style and fit and will not get it quite right at some point. So items that are too large or too small, or too bright or too dull, or too adventurous or too quirky can be given away.
I recall one shirt that I bought against my better judgment in year 2 of my 5-year project. It was a lovely check shirt from T M Lewin. Blue, of course. However, it was a very bold check.
I was eyeing up another shirt (also blue) with a much more subtle check until the silver tongued assistant mentioned that younger clients tended to buy the more bold check whilst older customers went for the more subtle one.
Surprise, surprise. I immediately decided that I since I was young and hip I needed the bolder check. It was a mistake. Rectified in year 4 when that shirt was pruned from the collection and sent to the local charity shop. It was probably worn fewer than half dozen times. So I learnt a lesson.
Of far greater interest is the opportunity to plug gaps in your collection. By this stage the wardrobe will have a solid core of items that cover a very wide range of possibilities. In year 4 you get to add items which you perhaps don’t need but which you fancy adding to your collection.
If you’ve secretly fancied a pair of tan (or indeed green) brogues for years but have not been able to justify it before now, year 4 is where you get to plug that particular gap in your wardrobe.
If you’ve been wanting to sample a bespoke shirt from Turnbull & Asser but have always had other priorities, in year 4 you have the option of plugging that particular gap.
If you’ve been admiring a very stylish raincoat, even though you hardly go out in the rain, if you’ve always thought you probably could use a pair of monk straps or chukka boots, if you’ve never got round to merino wool or are intrigued to know whether M&S Sartorial is all it’s cracked up to be, you guessed it. In year 4 you get to plug those particular gaps in the wardrobe.
For some, plugging the gaps is a careful and analytical process of looking at the wardrobe as a whole and strategically filling in areas which are less well covered. Because few of these items are needed in a hurry you can afford to wait until you find the perfect item at the right price.
For others it is not at all strategic. Rather it is a chance to add stuff that you like even if it will be worn only occasionally because you already have a solid core to the wardrobe to cover most eventualities.
As in previous years your annual budget for year 4 of the project needs to be both set and adhered to. It is likely that you will need to purchase fewer items in year 4 than in year 1. So you might choose to reduce the budget in year 4. In my case the budget rose in year 2, rose again in year 3, but fell in year 4 back to year 2 levels. I am budgeting for a modest reduction in year 5.
Alternatively, you might choose to hold budget levels steady in year 4 on the basis that though you might be buying fewer items they might be at higher prices.
Be warned. Plugging gaps can be expensive. So you need to watch your budgets carefully. However, it is also where the project gets really interesting and creative. Happy hunting.