The elements of style

Anyone with a working knowledge of Breakfast at Tiffany’s knows that the joint efforts of Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy popularised the concept of the little black dress – and, bam, a women’s wardrobe staple was born.

Add in a pair of black tights, some heels, jeans, flats and a few cotton tops and you have the basic elements needed to weather any style storm. But what about guys?

While many women picked up early tips from their mums while watching her get dressed in the morning, most dads taught their sons how to put on a tie and called it a day. Which goes a long way to explain why a lot of us don’t have a clue.

But compiling a list of the basics is a good way to get back on top of the fashion pack – so let’s get cracking.

Well suited
Once you hit 30 you’re going to need to invest in a good suit. If you work in the corporate world you probably have this covered, but even if you work in a more casual environment you’re about to run into a never-ending wall of weddings, funerals and the other odd formal occasion.

It’s best to stick to a simple, well-cut single breast in a black or navy blue – something you can grab from the back of the closet at the last minute.

Belt up
When it comes to a belt and tie, again simplicity is key. For the latter, keep it in a complimentary dark hue in a medium width as the skinny tie is well and truly done and a wide tie is better left to your dad’s generation. For the former, it’s easy as: black, leather – or pleather for the vegans among us – and, again, a medium width with a silver, understated buckle.

In the crisper
Again, if you don’t have a wardrobe full of starched shirts at your disposal, do yourself a favour and keep at least one clean, crisp – and ironed – white shirt at the ready. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve reached in and pulled out a crumpled shirt only to then draw exasperated sighs from disappointed relatives at important family functions. Quick tip: make a point of taking it to the dry cleaners the next day, as you think you’ll get round to it before the next time but you never do.

Over the top
A man needs but two pieces when it comes to outer-outerwear: a trench and a sports coat. Even though we enjoy a temperate climate here in Australia, winter and autumn aren’t entirely forgiving and a simple trench and scarf thrown over your suit or office wear will look decidedly dapper.

A sports coat is good for the occasions where a shirt won’t cover it but a suit is taking things a little too far. Keep it fitted, well cut and in a block colour so you can wear it over jeans or other pants as needed.

Pants man
Speaking of which, things couldn’t get simpler when it comes to weekend wear downstairs. When packing for an overseas trip you get used to figuring out what you really need. Though those designer trackies or distressed denim may seem like a good idea at the time (sidebar: distressed denim is never a good idea) you’ll probably never get round to wearing them.

All you need is two pairs of jeans, one in dark blue and one in black in a fit to suit your body type. And, um, boot-cut suits no one. Follow that up with a slightly slim-fit, non-aged GP chino in camel and you’re all set.

Keeping it casual
Oh, the humble T-shirt. They really can’t be beat. The best rule of thumb is to find something that is affordable, fits and breathes well, and then buy the bejesus out of them in every colour they have. You’ll always wear them.

When it comes to casual shirts, plaid and other checks work well, but if a toffy, block-coloured Ralph Lauren is more your style then go nuts.

Ditto for jumpers. Keep them simple, light yet woollen – or cashmere – and you can’t go wrong.

Putting the boot in
Keep the white trainers at the gym and go with a classic, low-rise Converse or the like. Cheap as chips and easy to replace once you gunk them up too much, they can look sharp or grungy depending on what you wear them with.

A pair of black polished shoes will never lead you astray, but save them for the formal occasions.

Any other must-have items that I missed?