Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring Break Experimentation!

Chapter 7
It's a dangerous trend when a firm and distinct distinction is not made between childhood clothes and grown-up clothes. When men don't know how to dress like men, they tend to not act appreciably different than children. This juvenilification is especially noticeable in the formative college years, but men of all ages can take something away from this week's installment.

Spring Break! -- That yearly 7th-inning-stretch taken by college students. Millions upon millions of young people, newly freed from parental control, woefully unprepared to deal with the action/consequence paradigm, spend several days running afoul in a beery haze, and making generally poor decisions in unfamiliar places.

So what does Spring Break have to do with dressing well? Instead of giving a straight answer, (which you know I'm loathe to do!) here's a mental experiment: send two identical university students on their spring break. They will travel to the same destination, stay in the same hotel, attend the same parties, ingest the same number of beverages, perform the same pranks, schmooze with the same sorts of ladies. One is dressed as per "The Standard," tee-shirt, cargo shorts and flippy-flops. The other is dressed in a more classically elegant and proper fashion.

At the end of the week, let us quantify which man had the "better time," assessing a number of criteria. Who appeared more self-possessed and confident? Who comported himself with more grace and dignity? Who was more likely to be admitted to private soire├ęs? Who attracted more favorable attention from the girls?  Who was more likely to be believed by the constabulary in case of an unfortunate infraction? In short -- the man who was dressed like a grown-up.

Even with all other behaviors being equal, dressing with more finesse will result in the appearance of greater decency, and will set you apart from your peers -- even when the extent of your objective is just more and better spring break action. Hopefully, though, your goal is less nefarious.

Dressing well on holiday is not beyond the scope of even the most cash-strapped underclassman. It takes no more effort to dress well, than it does to dress badly. It does involves planning for different situations: an outfit suitable for the boardwalk at noon is distinct from an outfit for casual dinner in the evening. It doesn't take much of a stretch to make the transitions, though. Here are some tips for casual vacation wear to help you on your way, whether you are a student or a retiree.

First, let me make it perfectly plain that this is vacation wear. You wear this when you are somewhere else, and it is obvious your sole objective is holiday enjoyment. You don't wear this in town, to the store, or as everyday wear. This is not everyday summer wear. Resort-style situations only. Am I clear? Good.

Sneakers are still not appropriate, unless you are playing tennis or a three-on-three pickup game of hoop. Nor are flip-flops -- EVER. There are too many other very nice options: boat shoes, suede bucks, spectators, saddles, and loafers of all descriptions are great alternatives to the same ol' same ol'.

Ditch the cargo shorts in favor of shorts of the Bermuda style, with clean lines and a proper waist. It's a subtle difference that looks much nicer. Similarly, delete the jeans in favor of light-colored and lightweight trousers. Khaki is the standby, but white or light colors add an essence of elegance.

Tee-shirts: no. Substitute collared shirts. Loose, short sleeve prints or fitted golf shirts, or anything in between. Use your ingenuity -- as long as it has buttons and a collar.

Socks; either none, or white low-rise ankle socks with shorts. Stick to light colors or patterns with trousers, with Classic Style rules -- high enough to show no leg-skin when worn.  

No baseball caps allowed. Vacation is a perfect time for light straw hats with a moderate brim, Panama style. No sombreros, hombre.

No fanny-packs, man-bags, or other silliness. You're on vacation, so leave your luggage in your room. Carry the basics and no more: it's so much more elegant that way.

Wear a jacket. WHAT?! Yeah, that's right, a jacket. Not all the time, obviously, but the use of a jacket can really take your resort attire to the next level of excellence, either paired with slacks or the "Bermuda suit" of jacket and shorts. Wearing a traditional jacket of light fabric, unlined or just lightly structured, is no warmer than a windbreaker or flannel shirt, breathes easier, keeps the sun off, looks amazingly classy, and it's just as easy to wear. There really is no downside to going with the classics, even on vacation.

Here are some illustrations by way of example. They follow all the proportionate principles of Classic Style, so they are just as correct to wear today. Some details of fashion change over time, but there is no reason these can't look just as sharp as they did 'way back when they were new.

Let's start off with the guy in the red. See just how easy it is to alter the Old Standard into a classic ensemble? By merely swapping out a tee-shirt for a light sweater, cargos for Bermudas, and sneakers for white canvas boat shoes, you simply and easily stand out from the massed legions in their mass-produced crapwear. The guy on the left sports a prime example of a casual Bermuda suit.  His shoes might as well be modern Sperrys, and the light linen blazer he wears over a short-sleeved golf shirt keeps things breezy.  A straw hat, and bandanna in his breast pocket finishes the elegant look: all are just minor tweaks to the basic outfit. 

If you're off the shore and on the streets, don't discount a light summerweight suit for strolling around town. This tan suit with madras tie, suede blucher shoes and straw fedora would certainly look good at a nice dinner or walking the local shops. Notice especially the use of the scarf with the other outfit. Don't downplay the importance of the light scarf: loosely tied as a day cravat around the neck, it enables the jacket to be worn over a tee-shirt while avoiding the dated Miami Vice vibe. Use it with a jacket over a shirt without a collar, or paired with a jacket instead of a shirt altogether -- (be sure to keep the jacket buttoned unless you are going for the Yul Brynner look.)

There's no need to be tied slavishly to the jacket, though. Notice how the use of basic white slacks with a simple striped golf shirt can be just as striking. The details, like the white suede shoes with red rubber soles, and day cravat, make the simple outfit timeless and classic. Don't fear the day cravat. The day cravat is your friend.

This demonstrates just how easy it is to make a regular "home" outfit that one might wear in the summer, into one equally suitable for vacation wear, just by swapping out dark slacks for light grey ones, a brown trilby for a white Panama hat, and conservative brown captoe shoes for flashy spectators.

Here's the other extreme in resort wear -- probably as far as you'd want to push this classic ideal without crossing over into costumery. The chap on the left looks a bit ordinary, what with the shorts and plaid top. 
By swapping the shirt for an unstructured jacket, and adding a square scarf, you get a whole different "old money" vibe that works today, right down to the blue Sperrys. Worn with no shirt and a neckerchief, the jacket becomes the primary covering. With an unlined jacket, this way is actually more comfortable than wearing no shirt at all -- you have free cooling airflow while keeping off the direct sun.

As with any of these suggestions, possessing the force of character to be able to pull off these ensembles is a mitigating factor. Let's face it, some people can do the day cravat look, and some can't. The trick is to not wear anything self-consciously. If you are uncomfortable in an outfit, others are guaranteed to be uncomfortable with it as well. If you wear your clothes indifferently and well, all others will notice is how good you look. Give the Bermuda suit a shot when you go "on holiday" this spring and summer!

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