A few days ago, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg shared a photo of his closet, asking people what he should wear on his first day back from maternity leave.

(In case you didn’t notice, he was joking.)

I often hear from readers about how they want to have a uniform, so they don’t have to waste time thinking about what to wear.

It sounds appealing on the surface.

Of course, there’s a tiny problem…

Photo via GIZMODO

THE SUCCESSFUL UNIFORM MYTH

Steve Jobs had the mock turtle neck, dad jeans and New Balances.

Mark has the hoodie and tee.

President Obama famously said he only has two types of suits in his closet to save his decision making energy.

You hear a lot of people proclaiming this style hack as a sign of a smart, successful person.

But let’s remember the important concept: Correlation doesn’t equal causation. Shaving 10 minutes every morning by wearing the same thing probably isn’t going to make you more successful. It’ll just let you get to your coffee a little bit faster.

The truth is, style isn’t a high priority for them. And that’s ok.

The fact that you’re reading the The Essential Man shows that you care a little bit more than them. And that’s ok too.

Ask yourself, are these kind of people you want to take style advice from? Probably not.

Jack Dorsey wears a Rick Owens Leather Jacket to the Square IPO (PHOTO VIA Newsweek
Jack Dorsey wears a Rick Owens Leather Jacket to the Square IPO (PHOTO VIA Newsweek)

Of course, if you built a billion dollar company, or became the “World’s Most Powerful Man”, you can dress however you want. But let’s not assume because these guys are experts in one area that they’re experts in another. Just take a look at Twitter/Square CEO Jack Dorsey (above), who filed an IPO on Wall St in a perfectly fitted Rick Owens leather jacket. See! It’s possible to be successful and have style!

If you want to adopt a single look uniform, you don’t need my help. Pick a look, buy 10 of the same thing and you’re set.

I have to admire the discipline and consistency. But my feelings were summed up perfectly by Esquire:

“We’ve got to say that this approach to personal style sounds like it’d get a little boring.”

Still want to save some mental energy every morning? There’s a better way to do it, let me show you.

peters-go-to-look
My “Go To” look: A Chambray Shirt, Charcoal Dress Pants and Minimal White Sneakers

THE GO-TO VS THE UNIFORM

You need a “Go To” outfit.

A “Go To” outfit is not the same as a uniform.

Having a “Go To” outfit

is going for pizza when you don’t know what to eat. You might order a cheese slice one day, pepperoni the next, whatever the topping, your go-to food is pizza.

A uniform is forcing yourself to only eat cheese pizzas every day. Nothing else.

A “Go To” is everything you love about “The Uniform” without the extremity.

The only true rule when creating your “Go To” look is this: it needs to be simple. Clean. Minimal.

The reason?

If you, say, chose a sweater with a wild print all over it to be part of your “Go To” look, the uniqueness will stick out a lot more in people’s mind. They’ll wonder if you’re having financial (or hygiene) problems. You could also run into trouble trying to buy multiples of it, should it go out of style. Compare this to a pair of blue jeans, which you’ll never have a hard time finding.

My Go-To look? A chambray shirt, charcoal grey dress pants and some minimal white sneakers, like Stan Smiths. (In case you’re wondering, charcoal grey dress pants are more versatile than you think.)

I might wear a different shade of chambray shirt, or swap out my Stan Smiths for even more minimal Common Projects, but the overall vibe is the same. That should be your goal with your “Go To”.

Casual or dressy? It’s up to you. If you find yourself in suits most of the time for work,or as a personal style preference, pick a suit, shirt, tie combo you love and make it your “Go To”

Prefer jeans? That’s ok too.

Need some ideas on where to start? Here are some of my favorite combinations. Use them as is, or put your own riff on it.

***

 THREE “GO TO” COMBINATIONS TO GET YOU STARTED

 

goto-look-tshirtandjeans
White Crewneck T-Shirt: James Perse, $55 | Raw Selvedge Denim Jeans: Rag & Bone, $175 | Dark Brown Cap Toe Combat Boots: Suit Supply, $379

THE T-SHIRT AND JEANS

Ask any female what they love to see a guy in and it’s one of two things: a tailored suit, or crisp white t-shirt and jeans.

Contrary to popular belief, the simpler the item, the more worthwhile it is to spend a little bit more. (Consider this: Steve Job’s famous, simple mock turtle necks were actually by high end Japanese designer Issey Miyake)

Think of it like steak: the better quality beef, the less you have to do with it. Just a little salt and maybe pepper. You’re not putting A1 on wagyu.

Extremely soft and Made in the USA, my new favorite crisp white tees are from James Perse. These Rag & Bone selvedge jeans made with Cone Denim will develop a beautiful patina the more you wear it, leaving you with an extremely special, unique pair of jeans.

Sure, you can wear this look with a pair of sneakers, but swapping them out for a proper pair of combat boots seems like the mature thing to do. And just like the jeans, the boots beg to be beat up and worn in.

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CHAMBRAY SHIRT: NN.07, $110 | URBAN CHINOS: J.CREW, $75 | SUEDE PACER BOOTS: J.CREW, $228

THE CHAMBRAY AND CHINO

The chino has seen a huge boom lately in men’s closets for good reason. They’re extremely comfortable, easy to wear and sit perfectly between the dress pant and casual jeans. 

This pair from J.crew in olive give off a huge utilitarian, military vibe. Pairing it with a solid chambray shirt taps into this theme even more.

Wear it unbuttoned with a white tee underneath, or throw over a field jacket on chilly days. A tan suede boot, like J.Crew’s take on carpenter boots, works beautifully with this color palette and reinforces the workwear feel.

goto-look-dressdown
VINTAGE OXFORD SHIRT IN SUN-FADED STRIPE: J.CREW, $69 | CHARCOAL GREY DRESS PANTS: SUIT SUPPLY, $189 | AIR PEGASUS TEAM RED: NIKE, $90

THE DRESS PANT AND SNEAKER

Men are always asking me how they can make their look less boring. One of the concepts I use to make my style less boring is contrast.

The dress pant and sneaker is my favorite combination for several reasons. One, I’m hardly ever in a suit. I don’t need to wear a suit to work. My personal style leans more on the casual side. Two, I love sneakers. Like many men, my interest in style started with streetwear, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it.

The real danger with this pairing is the risk of looking like you’re trying too hard. And this is where it helps to pick a classic, minimal, monochrome sneaker, like I recommend doing in my Essentials: Running Sneaker article. Going with something loud, like a pair of Lebron 13s, is just too much.

And like the sneakers, you want to go with a simple, casual shirt. This vintage oxford stripe one is versatile. If you want to make this look even more casual, throw a light grey t-shirt underneath, undo a few top buttons and roll up your sleeves.

The other danger is looking like you’re not trying hard enough. We’ve all seen him – the guy in the business suit on the train, wearing a backpack and a pair of New Balances. (And not the cool kind)

The solution: Pick a cooler shoe, like this pair of Nike Air Pegasus’ in Team Red.

Now I want to hear from you.

Do you have a “Go To” outfit? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear what it is.  

Author

Hi, I'm Peter. I spent 11 years as a menswear designer here in NYC. Now, I help some of the most successful men look really good as a Private Personal Stylist and writer of The Essential Man. You can learn more about what I do by clicking here

  • Andy Budnik

    I’ve heard of this before, but never knew it as like an actual James Bond Henchman uniform. I understand it as having a go to “style” kind of. Instead, the uniform is just pieces and you fill in the combos. Like a button down with jeans and boots – that’s my go to. Each time you can change the shirt. Or if the shirt is white, you can wear all different kinds of jeans or chinos. You have a uniform, but it’s not always white shirt, blue jeans and brown boots.

    Another thing I think of is once you have a closet full of great stuff – lots of colors that go together, everything fits – it makes everything easy. I usually stress out about getting enough wear out of each piece. Usually, it’s because I find those favorites and therein lies another trick. Find those combos you love, the times you looks in the mirror and just smile because it looks so put together. Write these down, or take pictures. Get 3-6 of those and in a pinch or indecision mode, pull up a look and put it on. Chances are you’re not wearing this alllll the time, but it’s a go to.

    I believe this is what you’re saying, I’m probably just saying it a little different. My experience has been I have found a sweater/button down combo that’s awesome and goes well with green, red, blue, khaki colored pants and can then be paired with white sneakers, boots, oxfords or boat shoes. You have one main go to, but it’s versatile enough that you can change the other parts and have a totally different look.

    PS: I reallllly don’t care for sneakers with anything other than jeans. And for me, they’ve gotta be non-athletic sneakers – canvas shoes, adidas/converse, – in white, cream or black. Basketball shoes, running shoes, etc. look sloppy in my opinion. I’ve seen some others pull the look off, but you really have to have a certain look/build/personality to make it work I think.

    • Peter Nguyen

      Haha. I love the henchmen comparison.

      Yeah, we’re basically saying the same thing. I think once you get the single “Go To” outfit down, it becomes mentally easier to “throw something together” that looks great without even trying. Looks like you got that down. Like my own example – my go to can change slightly, but the vibe is still the same.

      Totally get you about the non athletic sneaker. It’s still a newer concept for men. Give it a bit more time, you’ll start seeing it a lot more and done well.

  • drngo

    Go to outfit is

    J crew white v-neck
    Outlier slim dungarees in navy
    White or grey sneakers

    I don’t have shirts ironed ready to go at all times. if I’m in a rush it’s easier to grab a t-shirt and go

    • Peter Nguyen

      Nice and clean.

      Honestly, I mostly wear t-shirts too. Just so happens writing this article during NYC winter I’ve switched to mostly chambrays. Glad you’re liking the outliers. They’re so comfortable. I need a new pair.

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