Friday, September 9, 2011

Go Out and Play

Chapter 31
Labor day has come and gone, and we find ourselves at the turning of the seasons at last. Your aloha shirts, white trousers, boat shoes, and spectators have hopefully been retired by now, awaiting the heat of next summer. Homecoming formals and autumn half-terms loom ahead for the students, and, after an exploding blaze of fall foliage, the long grim greyness of winter.

But between the oppressive melting heat and the oppressive bitter cold, a wonderful season, short though it is, unfolds to us. A season that beckons us to the great outdoors: fresh air, clear skies, and pleasant breezes that call to us as they did when we were children, and beg to be played in. Sports like golf, tennis, bocce, cricket, baseball, badminton, croquet, bowls; or less organized activities like hunting, fishing, camping, or riding -- these are the months for recreation.

Those who do not dress like grown-ups deal with the weather by layering their tee-shirts with sweatshirts, hoodies, windbreakers, or some sort of fleecy or flannelly barn jacket. But there are other options -- ones that are easy, cheap, and painless, and take absolutely no more attention or care than the kiddie clothes just mentioned.

Let's look at some historical options to deal with the early Autumn weather and outdoor activities, while remaining Dressed Like a Grown-Up.

Don't keep a windbreaker jacket by the front door as the standby when you hit the great outdoors -- just grab a sportcoat instead! You will instantly look more dashing and better turned-out. Can it be this easy, you ask? Absolutely. Let's take a few examples. These illustrations are from Esquire magazine from the mid-30s, but their elegance translates into the twenty-first century equally well.

This couple of fellows is a perfect example for you. Today, these guys would most likely be wearing hoodies, Levis, and Sketchers. Notice the tremendous difference in elegance that can be afforded by simply ditching the hoodie, and pulling on a jacket instead. The guy on the right wears a rough brown tweed jacket with patch pockets and wood buttons, the collar turned up against the breeze. Substitute denim for his cream colored wool flannel, Sketchers for his rubber-soled suede bluchers, and the transformation is complete. The guy on the left takes this look one step further, wearing a matching double-breasted suit of grey wool flannel, and monkstrap suede shoes. If this was white cotton or seersucker it would be too summery a fabric for this late in the year, but grey flannel fits right in with the season.

These looks aren't overdressed or stuffy looking, contrary to what many would associate with wearing a jacket, because both outfits are worn with crewneck short-sleeve shirts! The brown-jacketed fellow wears a Madras square scarf over top of his shirt, his grey-jacketed pal wears a white scarf under his shirt. Both options illustrate an important point: it is quite correct to pair a jacket with just a tee-shirt underneath, but a scarf tied as a day cravat is the required accessory.

If the scarf contrivance is a little beyond your ken, and in modern times it isn't a look that many can pull of effortlessly, it can be circumvented by wearing a shirt with a collar, or a high neckline. This gent is kitted out for a round of golf, but the look is universal. His grey flannel trousers are matched with a blue mock turtleneck and a black-and-white houndstooth jacket. The sporty border-checked cap and calfskin gloves should be waived if you aren't on the links, but the outfit otherwise works well. Traditional golf wear has been toned down in recent decades, but there's no reason a golf shirt or polo shirt can't be paired with an odd jacket like this one equally well, and worn anywhere, for a sporty autumn look.

The good thing about sporting clothes is that they come with a long tradition of what is historically correct and what isn't. If you're out to play some tennis, for instance, this traditional outfit looks much more correct than the usual kiddy clothes. From the waist up, he's dressed for around town, as well: by merely adding trousers of, say, grey flannel, and some real shoes, we have a sporty-casual look that is just right for the season. As for his friend in the suit, it's certainly a sharp look, if a bit more formal: what makes it outstanding for fall is the inclusion of some autumn colors -- his green flannel trilby hat and tan shirt -- to an otherwise monochromatic ensemble.

By taking that same green trilby hat and tan shirt, his look can be rusticated and sportified, by adding a sporty Norfolk jacket and checked flannel trousers. Not many associate a jacket, vest, and tie with casual sportiness, but notice that is indeed the impression given by this sweater vest and bow tie.

So make an effort in the next few weeks, before the weather turns to the need for heavy coats and outerwear, to augment your everyday outdoor wear with a sporty selection of sportcoats, tweeds, flannels, or woolens. Keep one by the front door, on standby. Instead of the windbreaker, reach for the sport coat. You'll be glad you did!


  1. Notice,too, that every jacket has a pocket square.

  2. Very true!
    The pocket square may, at first, seem like an 'overdressed blast from the past,' but once you have tried it, you will appreciate that it is a very necessary finishing touch, and a jacket without one is lacking by comparison.