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5 Essentials of the Accidental Minimalist

Nobody aspires to do the minimum. To just get by is hardly a worthy goal. But when it comes to getting dressed, that’s the way a lot of guys think.

Too many guys “have to wear a suit to work” when they should want to look professional and well-put together in a suit. Too many guys are wondering whether they can “get away with” outfits for a wedding or some other event, instead of aiming to look confident and at ease in a suit. We call these guys accidental minimalists. They’re not choosing minimalist style out of a desire to look ultra-modern and chic, they’re just guys who use minimalist style to simplify getting dressed for the two or three times a year they put on a suit.

If you’re a guy who doesn’t wear a suit to work everyday, but wears one to the occasional wedding or job interview or otherwise important event: here’s the most bare bones system for getting dressed up a guy could ask for. No shirt and tie matching necessary, no wondering “am I wearing the right color with this.” No hard decisions at all. Stock your closet as follows and you will not just “get away with” your suit and tie look, you’ll crush it.

For most guys the first, and perhaps only, suit they own is a standard navy. The problem with that is, a lot of guys don’t want to take the time to deal with choosing harmonious colors when they get dressed so navy’s blue tint causes them angst. To avoid color, many men reach for a black suit with other clothes. True, matching up with black is easy, but black is an unforgiving choice for a suit color. Black can be too harsh a contrast for all but the darkest of black haired men with medium to dark skin tones. For the occasional suit wearer, we suggest a single breasted, two button, charcoal suit. Its gray color is more easily paired with a variety of skin and hair colors as well as shirt and tie combos.

What to look for:

    • Be sure to nail the fit.
    • Keep the jacket simple (straight, flap pockets, notch lapels).
  • Get the pants with a flat front without cuffs for a streamlined look that never goes out of style.
Every man should have a well-fitting, clean and pressed white button-front shirt in his closet at all times. Period. End of story. That goes double for the accidental minimalist because it takes half of the thought out of one of the decisions guys who don’t wear suits often agonize over: “what shirt and tie combo should I wear?”

What to look for:

    • As with the suit, fit is the most important feature. If off the rack shirts fit you like tents, it’s time to look for a custom alternative.
  • No button downs. Button down shirts, contrary to many people’s beliefs, are not shirts that button down the front (those are button front shirts) but shirts with a collar that is buttoned down. This New England preppie look might be okay with a Navy blazer, khaki chinos and a pair of bass loafers, but should be avoided when you suit up.
A solid black tie is an easy choice for most guys. If you are reading this because you had a dressing yourself lobotomy and you want to mindlessly reach for a tie without thinking about matching, this is your choice. For some, the stark contrast of a black tie on a white shirt can overpower their look, though. For lighter haired, fairer skinned guys, we suggest sticking with shades of gray to soften up your look a bit without having to think about matching.

What to look for:

    • Keep it slim. A super wide, 80s looking tie is a surefire way to kill this look. Keep it under three inches wide at the widest point.
  • But not too slim. On the flip side, a sub-two inch wide strip of runway down the front of your shirt screams “fashion victim.”
Yes, we believe wearing a pocket square is essential. Without one your look will be straight milquetoast. A pocket square adds that touch of visual interest and asymmetry that makes well-dressed guys stand out from the average schlubs. White is, not surprisingly, the color of choice for this look. Use a square fold. It’s not only the easiest fold (if you’re reading this we’re guessing you’re not interested in the intricacies of various pocket square folding techniques), but it’s a perfectly fitting fold for the straightforward, minimalist look.

What to look for:

  • A silk square works, but we really love cotton and linen for their ability to hold their shape when folded in a square fold.
If you’ve looked at the feet of most of the men featured on this site you’ll know we prefer brown leather when it comes to shoes. Still, we believe in a having a good pair of black NFA shoes (see our piece on five essential dress shoes for more on that). Simple black cap toe shoes finish off a minimalist look perfectly.

What to look for:

  • Skip the brogues. Minimal means unadorned. Perforations, like those found on brogues add unnecessary detail and should be kept to a minimum to round out this look.

The Accidental Minimalist Approach to Time & Money:

Watch by Martenero
An everyday watch can double as a more formal watch by switching to a black leather strap. Since all Martenero watches come with two bands (one leather and one NATO strap), you’re covered.
Money Clip by Men in Cities
Most wallets are full of pockets and slots. Minimal means only carrying the bare essentials, like cash and cards. Try one of these clips from Men in Cities for a day and you’ll wonder why you’ve been walking around with your life story in your pocket all these years.

The five essentials above are just a start. You can add to this foundation with any number of variations on the black and white theme. Or, you can slowly add a touch of color with colored ties, pocket squares and shirts. With these five essentials as your jumping off point, no matter how far you take things, you’ll always have a stylish minimalist outfit waiting for you in your closet.

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11 thoughts on “5 Essentials of the Accidental Minimalist”

  1. Pingback: Minimal Style ใส่สูทอย่างไรให้ปังแบบ ‘น้อยได้มาก’ – Woody Koo Story
  2. Dan says:

    I like the money-clip wallet from the leather guy in Milwaukee (can’t recall his name), been using it for several years now, it’s very slim and holds the bills easily. Leather coin purse for change.

    Concur with charcoal being most flexible, easier to manage than navy.

    I never wear a wristwatch, usually have a nice old pocketwatch on a chain. Much more elegant, dresses up a three piece suit or odd vest, and is a great conversation starter (especially when someone asks the time and I pull it out). If not using a vest, I carry it in my pants interior pocket that I think is made just for pocketwatches, pretty easy to reach if wearing braces rather than a belt.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      To concur with your points….

      Holding bills easily is essential.

      Gray all the way.

      It sounds like you’ve got some serious old-school cool. Maybe you’ll enjoy this story too.

  3. Hoby says:

    I’ve never used a money clip or credit card clip. I think I can find it useful but something bothers me, how do you deal with change, and by change, I mean coins. If you have a solution for that, I’ll definitely go buy them so I can walk much lighter than when I carry my wallet !

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Unless you’re carrying around change in your wallet (which we would advise against), you’ve probably been figuring out what to do with your change for a while now. So solution #1 is just to keep doing what you’re doing.

      Solution #2, carry no change. There’s a reason why places keep tip jars by the register. Cashiers know that some people would rather drop their change in the jar than in their pockets.

      Solution #3, carry just one coin, a quarter, which you go around flipping like a wiseguy. Maybe you can even stand on a street corner, leaning on a building with one foot pressed against the wall, flipping that coin and adopt a gangster nickname like Legs. Pretty cool, but not real practical.

      1. Hoby says:

        Thanks for the tips BL 🙂

      2. Sander says:

        I’ve been trying to find solutions to the bulky wallet issue for a long time. I’ve got a slim wallet now without extra card flap (carrying only 4-5 cards now) and a smaller coins slot, but it’s still about an inch thick, mostly due to coins. Problem is: in EU and Switzerland (where I live now), the smallest bills are 5 euros ($6) and 10 francs ($10), so you’d rather not say “keep the change”. Besides, the small coin slot forces me to take everything out in order to find the right coins (there are 7 different coins in Swiss, 8 in EU), and takes much longer at the cash register. Meanwhile, I come across many places in Switzerland where they don’t accept debit/credit cards for small purchases. Any ideas/suggestions apart from emigration?

        1. Black Lapel says:

          We definitely advise AGAINST emigration. Especially during ski season!

          This may be a case for a two-part system. You could carry bills in your slim wallet and coins in your pockets. Not ideal, we know, but it’s a step. Either that or you’ll just have to be a high roller and only go around with 5 Euros bills!

  4. Nathaniel says:

    My humble thoughts:

    Navy is still a good choice for guys who don’t want to think. While there is color, the Navy suit standard has created a plethora of tie options that are literally made to match a Navy suit. Finding them is not hard. In fact, it can be harder to find ties matching charcoal, unless you stick with the grey on grey you suggest.

    Minimal is the way to go, and not just because it can be easier (which I disagree with for the same reasons that a short letter is harder to write than a long one). A suit should compliment the man, not overshadow him. Not that I shun cufflinks and the like, but mine don’t broadcast Mickey Mouse, the Playboy Bunny, or the NY Giants’ logo (though I love the Giants). The proper function of the suit is precisely why you are absolutely correct that fit is paramount. Proper fit flatters the man, not the suit. Also, minimalism is sure to avoid the suit that screams, “LOOK AT ME!” Accepting that some will disagree and that there is a season and occasion for most everything, I never want someone to remember my dandy pocket square, multicolored laces, or shirt and tie combo. I want them to remember me.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Don’t get us wrong, Nathaniel, we love a good navy suit and find them extremely versatile, but in the spirit of the barest of bare bones wardrobe, we wanted to “desaturate” the look.

      You’re spekaing our language when it comes to fit. When a suit fits you’re half way to well-dressed already. When your suit fits it puts the emphasis on how good you look, not your loudest accessories.

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