How to Build a Smart Suit Wardrobe

September 3rd, 2014

Building a smart wardrobe is one of the most important investments a man can make. The compound benefits over time are truly immeasurable. Like any smart investment, it should involve research, planning, and efficient execution.

I went through the Articles of Style archives and put together a brief guide to building a tailored wardrobe. The keys to success are understanding proper fit, having a great relationship with your tailor, buying quality over quantity, and making sure everything works together.

Here’s the order I would recommend building a life-long suit wardrobe.

1st Suit: Navy Blue


This is your hero. Your workhorse. Your go-to. Your three days a week, but nobody really notices. It’s also your weekend blazer and your most versatile trousers. Look for something in a 7-9 oz fabric that you can wear across seasons. I prefer a fabric with a little texture – like a a birdseye or a hopsack – since the texture makes the pieces easier to break-up and wear casually.

Shop: Essential Navy Suit.

2nd Suit: Medium Grey


This is your #2. Your back-up. Your Robin. Your Scottie Pippen. You already hit ’em with the navy this week, next comes the grey. Look for something in a light-to-medium shade, which can be worn in all four seasons. Keep in mind that both the jacket and trouser should work seamlessly with those from the navy suit.

Shop: Essential Grey Suit.

3rd Suit: Classic Pinstripe

RichFreshman-17 copy

This is your power suit. Your deal closer. Your money maker. Your Gordon Gekko. This is the suit you wear to that big meeting that you’ve been prepping for. It takes confidence to wear (especially if the stripes are this pronounced) but it projects the same emotion in equal parts. Look for a neutral pinstripe on navy or grey.

4th Suit: Subtle Windowpane


This is your European flair. Your suave side. Your lady killer. Your proof that you’re not a rookie in the sartorial department. You can rock a windowpane suit to the office and introduce some pattern-mixing to your co-workers, but it’s also a smooth look with an open collar and/or a nice knit for an evening out. Look for a neutral check on navy or grey.

Shop: Windowpane Hopsack Suit

5th Suit: Black


This is your going-out suit. Your wingman. Your partner in crime. Your late night confidant. It’s also your tuxedo rental alternative. Now that you have a solid rotation of traditional business suits, think about one for evening events and nights out. A slim black suit (preferably in wool/mohair) has you covered for formal occasions, semi-formal occasions, night clubs, and funerals.

Shop: Essential Black Suit

6th Suit: Double-Breasted


This is your sixth man. Your back-up point guard. Your workhorse’s cousin. Just when your solid navy suit was feeling over-worked, the DB comes in to give it a break. You already have five foundational single-breasted suits, time to introduce a new silhouette. The DB gives you an option to dress slightly more “business formal”. Go dark, solid, and go navy or grey.


Of course, you can wear the double-breasted jacket as a blazer, too. It should work well with the grey solid trousers from suit #2, or the grey windowpane trousers from suit #4.

The most important thing to remember when building a wardrobe is keeping synergy between all the pieces!

Shop: Navy Windowpane Double Breasted Suit


7th Suit: A Lighter Blue


This is your spinmove. Your left hook. Your energy boost. Your keep-them-on-their-toes. A lighter shade of blue is not only refreshing in the business world, it’s also the perfect backdrop to introduce more color and pattern with your shirt & tie wardrobe.

Shop: Essential Light Navy Suit

8th Suit: Khaki Linen or Cotton


This is your happy place. Your tropical getaway. Your vegetarian platter. Your coolest suit, literally. This one if reserved for those hot and sticky days, because a true gentleman is never caught sweaty and flustered in an out-of-season fabric.

Shop: Khaki Cotton Suit

9th Suit: Grey Flannel


This is your response to winter. Your cozy blanket. Your protection from the elements. When temperatures drop, there isn’t another suit that you’ll want to reach for. Your first flannel suit will probably change the way you look at tailoring and fabrics.

Shop: Mid Grey Flannel Suit

10th Suit: Brown


This is your wild card. Your secret weapon. Your Ace on the river. Nobody expects you to pull-off a brown suit, but when you do, they’ll never forget it. It also opens-up plenty of opportunities for different shirt and tie combinations. At first I had the brown suit in the top 5 – that’s how much of an impact I think it can have on your wardrobe.

Shop: Cherrywood Flannel Suit


Once you have these ten foundational suits in your rotation, you can start to get a little more creative and experience the true joys of custom tailoring. You can experiment with stronger colors, bolder patters, statement pieces, etc. But we’ll get into brainstorming ideas for your “next 10 suits” in a later post…


Thanks for reading.

Yours in style,

Articles of Style


Photography by Alex Crawford.

  • Ishmayl

    What suit is the very first blue one you posted?

  • Kallan

    I am in suit business but when ever I see men wearing suit pants an inch above the shoe, it brings to my mind images of a Islamic person’s garments.

  • Andy

    What are your thoughts on a khaki suit? Is it spring/summer only?

  • Ike S

    For the lighter blue and brown suits do you recommend an all year round fabric because it seems in the pictures shown that those two are linen suits?

  • KilbyAnthony

    Excellent read and great information every man should take advantage of.

  • jl

    where’d you get suit 3? and what do you think the seasonality of #10 is? thinking of picking up a brown one but i don’t think it’s really wintery…

  • Camino

    Great post! This is really helpful to me as I rebuild my wardrobe.

  • Chad Ludeman

    Very comprehensive post on a staple most of us should be working on more most likely. I’d argue that cotton/linen could be moved up higher for those of us striving to wear suits more year round that also don’t want to drench them in our own sweat. Would also love to see complementing posts in the future with a top ten for those in more casual/creative fields who may never want to or need to own a solid navy or grey suit…

  • nikhil

    I never thought about Pinstripe would look so beautiful. Amazing piece of article. Thanks dan

  • Ilya

    You only need that many suits if your job has a VERY formal dress code that REQUIRES you to wear a suit 4-5 times a week.

  • Rob

    Damn, this post was so good that my wallet is now reeling from a trip the suit shop! and you’re right, I’ve now seen what flannels are like, and I can’t wait to get one…

  • Harvey

    I’m still building my wardrobe. But I haven’t exactly followed this order >.<
    First suit was Black
    Navy Pinstripe
    Linen/cotton blend summer
    Brown tweed suit
    Finally got myself a solid navy suit.

  • Mike

    Hi Dan! Your blog is fantastic and this post is especially helpful as I am currently in the processes of selecting my first MTM suit for upcoming residency interviews (probably from Black Lapel based in part on your review)! I also appreciate the insightful comments from other readers, particularly Cam’s comment re: charcoal as a possible alternative to navy for the “workhorse” suit.

    As I’ve gone through the process of trying to make my selections I’ve been overwhelmed by the choices of colors, patterns, structural details, etc… I think I’ve got my fabric down to 3-4 choices: charcoal herringbone, indigo birdseye (seems closish to navy but my monitor may be playing tricks on me), or a charcoal/navy hybrid that Black Lapel has. Or course solid navy is still in the mix as well. ( I also had my eye on a mid-gray glen plaid, but I think that will have to wait.)

    Out of these options is there a clear winner or loser in your opinion as to what would be best for the “anchor” of my future wardrobe? Or at this point am I perseverating over nothing and it is it simply a matter or personal preference?

    Again, thanks for the awesome blog and advice!

    • AdamE

      I love the idea of the Navy charcoal, because it brings the best of both. I was in the same boat with my first MTM, analysis paralysis, staring at the different options and features and fabrics, etc. For something that you’re looking at wearing for interviews, I’d want to stay classic (that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with it). I would avoid things like contrast stitching, ticket pockets, freakishly wide or skinny lapels, but nothing stopping you from having some fun with some of the details. I’d say the navy or navy charcoal would make a good baseline workhorse suit if you keep the details classic (and depending on the climate go with something like an all season weighted wool)… Maybe it’s just me, but the charcoal herringbone always strikes me as a fall/winter type suit (even if the weight is all season), so it might be a good additional piece later, but maybe not your workhorse suit (I love the Navy birdseye, I have one coming from my local MTM place, should have my second fitting early next week on it, but check the weight on the fabric, if it’s wool it’ll breathe well, but, most of the birdseye fabric I’ve felt has some heft to it, and may be too much for the summer months).

  • Vali

    Hi Dan, very useful post for me personally. I am in the process of “designing” my first bespoke purchases, 3 suits and 2 blazers.

    I have a question. I am very attracted to the Tom Ford style suits so I think to make them similar, with strong shoulders, high armholes, very slim waist, longer jacket, peak lapels(though not the extra wide ones) etc. My worries are that maybe they will look dated in 2-3 years? What should I do, what do you recommend?

    Thanks in advance!

  • Alex G.

    Linen pants/ linen suit: socks or not socks, that is the question (it’s too darn hot here in the swamp DC)

  • Rob

    Love the post! No green, though? thought you loved that colour!

  • Calvin McCoy

    This post is a game changer! Being a former hooper, Dan I’m loving all the basketball references. You’re killing it bro. Keep em coming #ballislife

  • Tom

    Really great suits all around – would take any of these as my first choice!
    Although I have to say that I really missed the lack of burgundy! (maybe as an alternative to the brown suit?) Nothing pairs with navy better than burgundy :-)

  • Greg Farrell

    Inspiring post Dan!

    I’ve been a quiet observer of your page for awhile now, and this is one of my favourite posts!

    I’m only new to this suiting game of tailored clothing.. As a personal suggestion to a future article could be what shirt/tie combos work best with what suit.. Sorry if its a silly question, but we all need to start somewhere ha!

    Keep up the good work mate!

    Your friend from Australia,


  • Gazman

    No Prince of Wales check?

    • already_noted

      Glen plaid is prince of Wales….

  • Malcolm

    Fantastic post. With regards to the double-breasted, I think a mustache is key there, rather than clean-shaven or even bearded. You just seem to pull it off better with the ‘stache.

    Would I be wrong in positing that most gentleman’s first suits are black? Mine was, before I knew better. Now I’ve got light grey and tan linen. I really want a charcoal suit next but may consider the navy instead.

    • Dan Trepanier

      The stache definitely adds an old school gentleman touch. Like Cam said below, I think charcoal can perform just as well as Navy.

      Cheers mate.

  • Jason

    You keep getting better looking..Los Angeles must agree with you!

    • Dan Trepanier

      Hahaha all that vitamin D

  • Miguel

    I have to say, this is probably one of my favorites post so far, great insides, details and explained in a simple manner.

    My question is: I don’t work in an environment that I need to wear a suit but I do wear them mostly on Sundays going to church, I owed the blue, black, and I’ve thinking of getting a gray…

    What do you suggest, I need something versatile (maybe some patterns)

    • Maybe I’m missing something

      Um I’m sorry to maybe be rude here but isn’t the answer to your question what the entire article is about???

  • JoeFromTexas

    Very helpful feature. I have a question though regarding that workhorse solid navy (or not-to-dark-charcoal). Some builds benefit greatly from a peak lapel, drawing the eye up and out toward the shoulders (and thus away from the midsection), however are peak lapels too audacious for a workhorse, single-breasted conservative suit? Would peak lapels be inappropriate for a job interview for example (and thus perhaps saved for that power pinstripe and DB)?

    • Dan Trepanier

      On the navy I’d go with a wider notch for a larger fellow…it makes it much easier to wear as a blazer as well. Save the Peaks for the grey and the black…

  • Dave Coakley

    Can I give a shout out to the hand weavers of Scotland, and the sumptuous classic material Harris Tweed, as an alternative to suit 9. Flannel is superb for winter I agree, but Harris is even warmer, and I dare say even more special due to the effort put into it’s construction.

    • Dan Trepanier

      Love Harris tweed! Have a handful of them. Could certainly be used as an alternative to flannel…now you see why it’s hard to write pieces like this… :)

  • Jack

    Black suit as a tux? any tips as to how to pull that off?

    • cam

      You could refer to the pic in this article. Take black suit and add cummerbund, tuxedo shirt, silk bow tie. Oh and carry a bottle of champagne around like Diddy and give 2 shits what anyone thinks!

      • Jack


      • Dave Coakley

        I remember an article some time back, where Dan was wearing a black suit jacket/tux jacket, with jeans, the sleeves rolled up for an evening of bar hopping/out playing pool. Really showed off the versatility of smart black, and how relaxed you can take it.

  • From Squalor to Baller

    Great post, guys! I’m looking forward to the day when I own all ten of these.

  • Harrison Krupnick

    Great post! Probably one of my top 3-5 posts of all time. Really helpful!

    • Dan Trepanier

      Thx Harrison!

    • Stuart

      I have to agree. I haven’t seen something this comprehensive in a while.

      Killer post.

  • tommyjohn_45

    Very helpful post, as usual. Thinking about picking up my first MTM suit in the near future, but always want to lean towards something that has a bit of a pattern (love tweeds, ect.). Currently I have a few off the rack navy suits, a grey/black glenplaid, a collection of blazers and then a black MAB suit I picked up during one of your sample sales (still can’t get over what a steal it was!) Thankfully I have a pretty simple build (6’3, 190) so OTR generally fit quite well with a few minor alterations occasionally needed. Not a pinstripe fan (I work in a very casual environment), so grey seems logical.

    • AdamE

      Agree on the lack of pinstripe enthusiasm. I have pinstripes but don’t generally wear them, since the office is casual enough, it’s almost too overbearing (seeing as wearing a suit already stands out in a positive way over 97% of the other guys in the office)…

      If you gravitate towards patterns but looking for something more plain and classic looking, go for texture (as Dan mentions in the post). The Navy MTM that I’m waiting on is a birdseye fabric, so from a distance it looks classic solid navy, but when you get close, you can see the texture. I know you can probably get a similar fabric in grey as well…

      • tommyjohn_45

        Yeah that is a good suggestion. Thanks Adam!

    • Tod C

      I work casual too and get a lot more wear out of my casual getup. I have the navy suit but I can’t wear it much unless I have a big meeting as it is too formal. My first MTM piece was a charcoal windowpane jacket and that turns out to be a great choice.

      Solid list Dan, I have the blue and just ordered the grey.

  • cam

    Very nice Dan. I know every list out there has navy as the first suit but I’m going to make a case for a dark charcoal (which isn’t even on the list lol). Let’s assume you already have a navy blazer (doesn’t everyone?). A dark charcoal can be worn to an interview, weddings, funerals and even black tie in a pinch. Its also great for evenings out for dinner and drinks or a club/lounge. I think it’s the true workhorse as compared to navy. Thanks for the great article!

    • tommyjohn_45

      That is a good point. I would say a navy serves the same purpose, and is slightly more playful, IMO. I’ve noticed that people have started to steer away from strictly black at funerals in favor of navy/charcoal, etc., which can honestly help lighten the mood.

    • Dan Trepanier

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. I missed the charcoal grey. Cam, love having your feedback moderating these comment sections!

  • Mark

    Great collection Dan. But no three-piece?

    • cam

      Just add the vest to any of the above and, BOOM, instant 3-piece.

      • Dan Trepanier

        Agreed. I have a waistcoat with 90% of my suits. No reason not too…

      • AdamE

        Agreed… It gives you an extra piece to mix and match. Especially if you go Bespoke or MTM, it’s an easy add, and usually not too pricey… I didn’t add the waistcoat to my most recent MTM, and am kicking myself for not doing so (I may ask to add it on when I go for my next fitting…)… I personally only own the waistcoats for my MTM suits (I bought one OTR and took it back after wearing it once… exchanged it for a tweed blazer, best decision ever…), since I personally only like ones where the fabric on the back matches the suit, I hate the solid silk or bermberg backings that most have… But that might just be me…

        For example, I have a grey 3 piece MTM, I’ll wear it as a 3 piece or two piece, I’ve also worn the waistcoat with jeans, or with navy trousers… (I do tend to go with a quieter shirt if wear the “odd vest” look… because the waistcoat alone makes a statement)…

  • AdamE

    Awesome post. When I started working the grown-up job, I ended up buying, black (with chalk stripes), then grey, then went navy (but they were inexpensive OTR with cheaper materials). Since I’ve gone the MTM route, I went textured grey 3 piece, and am waiting for final fittings on a navy birdseye two piece (I intentionally went very classic, although I went with slimmer lapels, since almost all of my ties are in the 2 1/2″ ballpark, so that I can wear it very formally if needed). Since I still have the old pinstripes and they’re passable (although frankly, since I’ve got the custom MTM suits, I find it hard to go back and wear them, except for the black one for funerals…), I think when I add the next suit to the stable it’ll be something fun (on the fence between a subtle windowpane and something heavier weight fall/winter-y like a tweed/donegal or something of the like).