A Minimalist’s Guide To Menswear

Keep It Simple

If, like me, you have children, then you’ll be well aware that any attempt to live a minimalist life quickly turns into a sick joke. And even if you haven’t experienced the consequences of procreation just yet, you’ll no doubt appreciate that to live that white-walled Wallpaper* lifestyle, void of clutter and extraneous life tripe, is a serious undertaking.

I can only imagine what that peace of mind must feel like as the true minimalist gazes upon his pared-back pad of pure, clean geometry rendered in white and grey tones. It’s not to everyone’s taste of course, but the basis of minimalism – i.e. the stripping away of the useless or non-essential – is a particularly enlightened way of living.

And in this day and age, who couldn’t do with a little more clarity in their lives – or wardrobes for that matter?

Minimalism In Menswear

Minimalism in modern menswear has a lot to thank Giorgio Armani for. He was arguably the first designer to popularise a stripped-back and elegantly simple aesthetic, offering straightforward suiting that defined large periods of the 1980s and 1990s.

Elsewhere, brands such as Prada, Kris Van Assche, Neil Barrett, Jil Sander, Maison Margiela and Matthew Miller have all adopted the concept and run with it to great effect. And you should too. For one, it’s very difficult to get minimalism wrong, provided you follow a few basic rules. On top of that, it’s virtually trend-free, meaning it’s not likely to go out of fashion or fall out of favour any time soon.

But above all, a minimalist aesthetic is extremely versatile and can be easily adapted to both formal and informal situations with hardly any effort at all.

The Palette

Colour can be a tricky proposition for most men. Incorporating bold blocks or flashy splashes can either work to great effect or fail miserably. The minimalist’s palette – made up notably of black, navy, grey, white, and shades of off-white – negates any potential disaster and makes mixing and matching the clothes in your wardrobe immeasurably easier, since these hues complement each other perfectly.

Canadian brand Ports 1961 offers a masterclass in minimalism, from colour to cut. Beige was prominent throughout its spring/summer 2015 collection, complementing a free-flowing and loose silhouette. Waistcoats were cut asymmetrically while white sneakers came – in minimalist fashion – laceless.

Tailored off-white leather outerwear was almost without detail and when beige wasn’t the go-to, rich copper or midnight blue took its place. Yet the highlight was a double-breasted suit jacket with its buttons hidden from view, epitomising the brand’s minimalist ethos perfectly:

At Christophe Lemaire, the palette was again focused on the nuances of black, navy, white and grey, with the designer opting for a very shapeless silhouette that looked elegantly effortless.

That is, in a nutshell, the point or at least the result of minimalism – it looks so impossibly effortless, which reminds me of that great sprezzatura-inspired quote by Hardy Amies: “A man should look as if he has bought his clothes with intelligence, put them on with care, and then forgotten all about them.”

The Silhouette

Another key aspect of minimalist menswear is that there is no standard silhouette to speak of. Unlike tailoring, which calls for a broad shoulder, nipped waist and slim leg, minimal clothing literally comes in all shapes and sizes.

Why? Well, from an admittedly lofty perspective, minimalism is not only about stripping away unnecessary forms but also removing previously adhered to concepts and ideologies, leaving designers free to experiment with all sorts of silhouettes. And so we see many minimalist collections featuring boxy oversized garments, free-flowing forms, or asymmetric angles. Anything goes.

The boxy aesthetic has been increasingly popular of late, with Alexander Wang’s sports luxe aesthetic getting a lot of exposure (more on him later), but we really can’t talk about minimalist menswear without giving credit to Jil Sander who, along with Armani, has been a pioneer of the genre.

Sander’s look has always been quite boxy, which was evident in the designer’s autumn/winter 2014 collection that featured square suiting in midnight blue, oversized mohair overcoats and a leather jacket that pretty much sums up Sander’s ideology.

The spring/summer 2015 collection, however, moved into much more fluid territory with very loose suiting featuring baggy pants, again in the minimalist’s staple non-colour: grey.

At Maison Martin Margiela (now Maison Margiela) there were cuts on both sides of the coin, from boxy blazers to a beautiful asymmetric double-breasted overcoat in navy to billowing pants paired with a waistcoat:

Given that there are very few concrete details to the minimalist silhouette, the focus is on form, which can take many shapes. It’s a liberating idea, and ideal if you’re bored by tailored or overly structured looks.

Provided you stick to the minimalist palette, you can easily mix relaxed trousers with slim-cuts, boxy jackets/jumpers with skinny jeans, and so on.

Sports Luxe: Sportswear Meets Minimalism

Two words: Alexander Wang. This New York-based trailblazer’s cutting-edge aesthetic was arguably responsible for the rise of sports luxe, even defining some of its hallmarks – including hidden zips, bonded seams and modernist patterns on a background of black.

Wang is particularly clever in his use of textiles, often mixing wool and leather to break up the dominance of the black palette:

Hussein Chalayan, although certainly not as commercially ‘street’ as Wang, melds a modern minimalist aesthetic with vintage sportswear.

Despite having earned a reputation for his more conceptual work (coffee table dress, anyone?), Chalayan also delivers plenty of wearable options like the pastel-coloured tailored shorts, layered shirts and blouson jackets from his spring/summer 2015 collection:

Another minimalist who treads the line between functional sportswear and luxury finishes is Neil Barrett. His spring/summer 2015 collection was, as he put it in a interview, all about “taking an idea and developing it in a tight palette”.

Rendered mostly in white, Barrett’s collection mixed biker jackets with oversized sweaters and boxy shorts with minimal white sneakers. Wool bomber jackets with contrast leather arms followed, which were paired with tailored trousers featuring zip details at the ankle in a display of sports luxe at its minimalist best:

The key takeaway from all these collections is that by playing within a very tight palette you have to look more closely at form and texture. Rather than being limiting, the minimalist approach allows you to experiment with these variables, and the results speak for themselves.

Minimal Sports Luxe Lookbook

Minimalist Tailoring

The minimalist movement has also lent its reductivist hand to tailoring. Think of the French placket and hidden placket, for example, both of which aim to incorporate buttons in a much cleaner way than the classic open placket.

Ties too have become less ornamental, with the skinny version now a mainstay in many men’s wardrobes. There’s even a growing trend to get rid of the tie altogether and redefine the protocol of ‘smart’.

Kim Jones does a good job of selling the end of the tie in his spring/summer 2015 collection for Louis Vuitton, which consisted mostly of lightweight tailoring paired with roll neck sweaters. The clean geometry of his double-breasted suits marked a departure for a brand that built its reputation on the nuts and bolts of luxury luggage:

At Issey Miyake, meanwhile, the double-breasted suit was pared-down even further with just two buttons, a deep scoop neck under layer and neck scarf for company.

On Savile Row, an institution with few, if any, aesthetic ties with modern minimalism, Kilgour – under the stewardship of Carlo Brandelli – is bucking the trend. Brandelli’s ‘unstructured’ suits for Kilgour come void of bulky lining, lending this house’s tailoring a minimalist easiness that marks it apart from that of its esteemed neighbours.

Minimal Formal/Smart-Casual Lookbook

Final Word

Minimalism is not so much an architectural or design concept, as a mode of thinking in itself.

The basic framework is, characteristically, simple to follow: this is about ascetic clothing rather than aesthetic, which means as little fuss as possible.

Start with a strictly limited colour palette, grounded in neutrals like white, black, grey and navy, but feel free to branch out into soft pastels come summertime. Secondly, experiment with textures and fabrics to add additional interest. Finally, remember there is no standard minimalist silhouette. Seeing as it’s not governed by the same strictures as tailoring, you can feel free to mix up shapes and subvert traditional ‘rules’.

Have you tried your hand at minimalism? Will you be taking a more pared-back approach to your wardrobe this year? What are your key fuss-free staples?

Let us know in the comments section…

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