Normally, when you hear the word "versatile" in the world of menswear, you think of something very simple and minimal. Grey chinos. Dark wash jeans. White and light blue button ups. Minimal white sneakers, CP-style. Gray and navy overcoats.
But is that what versatility is really about? For me, a key part of versatility is being able to wear something in casual, business casual, and somewhat more formal contexts. It also helps to have neutral colors and other details that pair well with a variety of options, but minimalism isn't actually required.
And versatility isn't just a nice idea. It allows you to invest more in a smaller number of higher-quality pieces, which is always a great thing.
As you move from a basic wardrobe to a more mature one, you will want some more unique pieces that stand out, or help you stand out. In this article, I intend to explore a few ways you might choose to build on your basic wardrobe while still keeping each piece versatile.
In 1953, Aldo Gucci had a weird fucking idea. The history of menswear has always been linked to horseback riding, but he wanted to try something new. He took a metal horse bit—the thing they put into a horse's mouth to make sure it turns when you pull at the harness (yes, this is kind of horrible)—and he put it on a loafer. The original—a moccasin-style loafer in black calf with gold hardware—was an instant hit.
Mind you, a moccasin-style loafer is generally a very casual dress shoe. But the bit loafer was an expensive shoe in 1953, when the wealthy men were mostly white bankers and stuff like that—the types of men who wore suits. So that's how it was worn, and it's maintained a niche there as a different way to take any suit and make it a little bit flashier.
But they still work great with shorts! See this pair in suede from /u/Obcdmeme/, and these Carminas from /u/nipplemonger. The latter is an apron toe and a sleek last, but it still works!
I own the above Meermins in brown calf, and I love them. They're a statement piece, but one I'm never afraid to wear to work, to parties, on the weekend... I can wholeheartedly recommend bit loafers.
Playing with texture is fun. Corduroy is chino's softer, tufted cousin, with a striped wale texture. It's velvet, except much more wearable and easier to maintain. And although denim, chino, and wool are treated as the most basic and common trouser materials, there's nothing Corduroy can't do. I'm generally recommending "corduroys"—that is to say, corduroy trousers—but of course, these are just ideas, and a corduroy jacket or shirt might take you far.
Dress it up with soft tailoring, or down with knitwear or a flannel. Pair it with suede. Seek inspiration from /u/thisishirokisamerica, who made two inspo albums on the material—CorduRoy G. Biv, organized by color, and Corduroy Boy But Make It Spring/Summer. It's no wonder reddit has fallen in love with them.
Just choose your pair carefully. Color is the obvious factor: corduroy takes on color well, enabling things like a bright orange, but an orange pair might be less versatile than a navy blue. But also consider pocket layout. Slant pockets are probably more versatile, whereas the five-pocket layout forces a casual appearance. It might also be worth considering wale width. Trousers generally use a wider wale, and jackets and shirts a narrower wale, but again, this is up to you.
With that warning, I arm you with knowledge: use these brand recommendations wisely.
A safari jacket can, likewise, be dressed up or down. You can't really wear it over a suit or blazer, but it can look great with a tie, an open collar, a turtleneck, or a jaunty scarf. Fashionbeans called it 2018’s Most Stylish And Practical Menswear Item... although the article currently says 2019, and I assume it will say 2020 soon enough, because they think they'll sell you more if they lie and pretend they just wrote the article five minutes ago... But still, Safari Jackets are interesting and cool.
The above "field jacket" from Stoffa features a beautiful cinched waist. A safari jacket generally also has four pockets, and might also have lapels with large notches, or a few other features—the definition is certainly a little ambiguous.
Chambray—denim's softer cousin—is one of the menswear crowd's favorite magic tricks. It echoes workwear, making for a shirt that looks perfectly good untucked in the summer, but just watch @thedressedchest wear it with a tie under corduroy above. Or check here to see it under a denim blazer. Crazy!
Chambray is one of those textures that can provide complexity without taking up too much attention. See this take by /u/debonairegamer. Pay attention not only to shade and drape but collar style, pocket layout, plackets, stitching, wrinkling, and body length.
There's a reason Put This On called chambray a "workhorse." And Ethan Wong got a little obsessed. Maybe you can be too. Here are some recommendations. Be careful.
Have Fun Exploring!
Remember, I can't tell you how to branch out. I don't expect you to buy all of the above—I don't have everything I listed above myself. These were just ideas to help get your creative juices flowing. If you're branching out past your basic wardrobe, it's important for you to branch out and make your own choices.
So hopefully, I've gotten you thinking less about the exact styles above, and more about interesting textures, metal hardware, a cinched waist, and wearing things you haven't worn before. Good luck, and have fun.