How to Build a Travel Capsule Wardrobe (For Men)

Dressing well should be easy for men, but most guys fail at it. I’ve found the idea of a “capsule wardrobe” to be the best way to dress well, pack light, and minimize the time and money that I spend on clothes. Think staples, not trends or, God forbid, travel clothes.

This page outlines how to build a capsule wardrobe as well as my favorite brands and products.

What is a Capsule Wardrobe?

A capsule wardrobe is a collection of basic clothing that will not go out of style. Each item in a capsule wardrobe should be functional and interchangeable.

Build a capsule wardrobe out of high-quality, investment pieces. If that’s too boring for you, supplement it with less expensive, trendier pieces.

The items I recommend below are expensive relative to their “mall brand” equivalents. Many of the products below are made of technical materials in the US, hence the higher price tag.

A good capsule wardrobe is not disposable. Fast fashion has no place in a capsule wardrobe. Save up for any items that you can’t afford right now. In the meantime, use what you already own or buy affordable basics from Uniqlo.

You don’t have to replace your entire wardrobe all at once. Experiment. Figure out which brands fit you well and look good on you. Stick with them. The wardrobe below is what works well for me.

For more on capsule wardrobes, read How to Build a Travel Capsule Wardrobe.

Bottoms

My pant game is strong. For me, pants are an investment. I wear the same one or two pairs every day until they fall apart.

Then, I repair them if possible. For $20–40, you can patch up a pair of jeans and get another year or two of wear from them.

Long Pants

Outlier is my go-to brand for pants and shorts. I wear the Slim Dungarees ($198) most days. They repel liquids and stains, dry quickly, and have just enough stretch. At 10 oz., the Slim Dungarees’ fabric is lighter than most jeans, making them easier to pack.

I prefer the 5-pocket, jeans-like styling of the Slim Dungarees, but Outlier makes chinos and other pants with similar properties. I also own a pair of chino-style Futureworks for warmer weather.

If you only wore the Slim Dungarees every other day for one year (they’ll last much longer), the cost/wear is just $1.08. Not bad for your go-to, wear-every-day pants.

Shorts

I wear the Outlier New Way Shorts ($120). The NWs are the short version of the Futureworks mentioned in the last section. As a bonus, you can even swim in them.

The Myles Apparel Everyday Shorts ($58) are my favorite gym and casual shorts. Unlike most athletic shorts, they’re understated without any huge logos or obnoxious colors. You could wear them to yoga then out to brunch without advertising, “I just worked out!”

The Everyday Shorts are stretchy and water resistant. You can swim in them, but they're a bit heavy to wear and slow to dry. When I travel, I use them as gym shorts, sleepwear, a bathing suit, and casual shorts.

Tops

Shirting is the weakest part of my capsule wardrobe. You can find more high-quality shirts than pants. The endless variety of styles makes finding the perfect set of shirts harder.

T-Shirts

I live in the Slim Dungares and t-shirts.

I used to be an American Apparel loyalist but, as they imploded, I made the switch to Uinqlo's Dry T-Shirts ($5-15). They're perfect for everyday use and come in a variety of colors and styles.

Merino wool t-shirts dry faster than blends, work well in a variety of climates, and never seem to smell. Unfortunately, they’re usually ugly, expensive, or both. After some trial and error, I landed on Outlier's Ultrafine Merino T-Shirt ($98). As you may have guessed from the price, I only own one. However, it's perfect for those long, transcontinental flights.

Long-Sleeved Shirts

For long-sleeved shirts, I favor henleys, work shirts, and oxford cloth button downs for daily use. I haven’t found the right versions of any for travel yet.

To be continued...

Underwear

First, read Snarky Nomad's in-depth guide to men's underwear and the best existing options. You will want something that fits comfortably, breathes, is lightweight (for packing), and dries quickly.

In short, don't buy cotton underwear.

The most frequently recommended choices are Uniqlo AIRism Boxer Briefs ($9-12) and ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs ($15-25). The former has never fit me well, and the latter is too ugly for my taste.

Lately, I've been experimenting with the Saxx Quest 2.0 Boxer ($33), which are excellent but expensive. I've supplemented those with Terramar Sports' Boxer Briefs ($9-18).

Socks

Smartwool is the most recommended brand. I’ve worn them for years and especially love their thicker hiking socks for wearing with boots in the winter. They fit snugly and can be cared for easily. My Smartwool socks tend to wear out near the bottom of my Achilles tendon, which may be because of my heel shape and wear patterns.

Lately, I’ve leaned toward Darn Tough socks which are of a similar quality and made in the USA. Again, try both brands and go with what feels best to you.

For no-show socks in the summer, you can beat the pricing on Uniqlo Low Cut Socks (3 for $10). All of their socks are one-size-fits-all which can be unideal if your shoe size is an outlier.

For dress socks, I wear Outlier Megafine Merino Socks ($25), which, again, are excellent but expensive.

Outerwear

Pack in layers, not in bulk. Only bring a jacket that you are willing to wear most of the time on your trip. I avoid cold weather when I travel, so I rarely need more than a light jacket. Luckily, I live in the Bay Area and have several, from cardigans to hoodies to a Harrington jacket. For a capsule wardrobe, I prefer a shirt jacket that can be worn either as a shirt or as a jacket (over a t-shirt or henley). Outerwear differs wildly by style and purpose. Versatility is key for a capsule wardrobe.

While I've worn American Apparel hoodies for years, they do make me feel like an American schlub when traveling. Lately, I’ve been replacing them with my Edgevale North Coast Shirt Jacket ($215) when the weather permits.

For colder weather, I have a Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket ($70) which can be packed into a small bag that comes with it. For rainy weather, I have a Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Jacket, though I'm looking for a lighter option for the future.

Closing Thoughts

A capsule wardrobe requires a shift away from cheap, disposable clothing to high-quality, investment pieces. Keep it simple, and you’ll look better and pack lighter.

This post reflects my personal preferences, but I hope that it gave you some ideas on what to buy and some new brands to explore.

If you have any other recommendations to share, send them to me on Twitter. I have way too much fun trying to refine my capsule wardrobe.


This page is a living document, which I update with new items from time-to-time.

Last update: Major overhaul on 5/2/17.


Disclosure: Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. If you sign up or buy something through an affiliate link, I make a small commission at no additional cost to you. I use these products and highly recommend them. If you think my recommendations can help you, use them. If not, don’t.