a monthly advice column from STAG
Jonathan L. writes: I just moved to Texas, and I was not anticipating this level of heat. Is it possible to dress well in this weather?
Jonathan. First of all, welcome. Don’t get caught anywhere without sunglasses. And you’re right: it’s hotter than it’s ever been out there, but probably not as hot as is it’s going to get.
“Wait,” you’re asking. “Isn’t summer nearly over?”
Ha! The only silver lining about a Texas summer is that it’s only about halfway through when the shorts and short-sleeved shirts go on deep discount.
Here’s a good rule for both writers and stylish men: Dress like Hunter S. Thompson. Don’t write like him.
Take away his more flamboyant, signature accessories—his cigarette holder, his occasional pith helmet and gun range glasses—and you’re left with a man dressed perfectly for the heat: appropriately short shorts, Aloha shirts, and polos. Low-profile sneakers and deck shoes.
(Write like Thompson and the eyerolls start before you get to your first “crazy bastard.” Everybody sees you coming a mile away.)
Tom Selleck’s Magnum, P.I. is another great example of summer style that doesn’t violate, even in Hawaii, perhaps the first rule of menswear, which is this:
Unless you are within 100 feet of a physical body of water, swimming pools included, no one should ever see your toes. More than 100 feet from the water, flip-flops are the appropriately-named footwear choice of the man who can only commit to noncommitment. Who has conflated “comfort” with laziness, and is making us all suffer for it. Put some shoes on, Jonathan. Never surrender your dignity.
[Note: STAG sells flip-flops, and, stylish as they may be, I can assure you that they are intended to be worn only under the special circumstances outlined above. With a day pass to the Austin Motel pool, for example.]
Getting dressed for the summer is a challenge, and not just because it lays our insecurities bare. Not just because the season arrives before you’ve had a chance to prepare for it, then hangs on till Halloween. And, like Halloween, the summer requires costume changes. Because you can’t show up to the office dressed like Thomas Magnum or Hunter S. Thompson. Chances are you don’t have access to a Ferrari. On the bright side, you can probably get out of bed without the help of cocaine, Chivas Regal and fresh grapefruit.
They say it’s too hot for jeans outside (see below), but the A/C inside is cranked down to Antarctic levels, so you have to prepare for two extremes. This is what chinos are for. But they have their own set of problems.
Brenden S. asks: I've always enjoyed a nice pair of chinos, but as I ease into my 40s, I'm afraid of just looking like another dad in casual pants. What's the truth about chinos? How can we wear them without looking like an afterthought from the men's section at a mall department store?
The truth about chinos is complicated, Brenden. The pants we know as khakis got their start in American menswear the same way everything else did: as military apparel from World War II. But something happened between then and now. The pants designed for the everyman became the pants for any old sap. Symbolizing not the regular joe, but the working stiff. The pants you wear when you can’t wear jeans because you’re not allowed to. For when you get to take your suit off but then you don’t know what to do with yourself. The man in “You Can Call Me Al,” walking down the street, having a mid-life crisis, wondering why he’s soft in the middle now, that guy is wearing khakis, but he’s not sure why. He can’t remember buying them.
[Just a second, Brenden. A side note for Jonathan L., above: In Austin, even in the summer, we’re wearing jeans. As I write this, it’s 105 degrees, and I’m wearing a pair of RRL Low Straights that I haven’t taken off in two years.]
More than that: khakis are difficult to wear. I think it’s the slant pockets. Not every body type looks good in them. They tend to bow out in the middle, and, especially in the flat-front era that has dominated the khaki landscape—which is also how you’d describe a desert—for the past 15 years, make even slim men appear pear-shaped. And that’s no good.
Luckily, there are options.
The company Save Khaki appears to have been founded expressly to rescue the beloved chino fabric from the department store doldrums. Their twill trousers are a welcome update to a timeless pant. Their classic cut is classic but never boring. These are chinos as they were intended, to assume and accentuate the identity of the wearer, not to smooth out the edges of a personality. No anonymous factotums in Save Khaki.
The other option, my favorite, is wearing chinos that are cut like denim. This gives you the lightweight comfort and breathability of khakis with the fit and feel of your favorite jeans.
People in pants like these all look like they’re in on a secret, because they are. They’re the best of both worlds.
Bo Fahs is a writer in Austin, Texas
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