I’ve really enjoyed seeing Peter’s coverage of Pitti Uomo 96 last week, in particular his Instagram stories (if you haven’t seen them, they’re highlighted on the Instagram page of Styleforum). I’ve also enjoyed the photographs he’s been sending back (with a little help from his friends).
As with Pitti’s past, I’ve sifted through the images and chosen five fits I’ve liked, and found similar (or sometimes the very same!) clothes to emulate the fit.
When we think of tailoring, the suit is usually what first comes to mind. In fact, the suit is so synonymous with tailoring in the popular lexicon that even if you’re wearing a blazer with odd pants, you’ll almost certainly be told “nice suit.” Of course we know better, and if you follow my posts on Styleforum or my personal blog, you’ll know that I rarely wear suits. My personal preference is for tailored odd jackets and trousers. I love suits and absolutely would wear them every single day if my job or other circumstances necessitated it. As it is, however, I have flexibility in what I wear for work, and I like the versatility of odd jackets.
But in practice, I’m pretty repetitive with my jacket-trouser combination choices. In the warm months, the choices differ from the cold months, but the principle is the same: I basically rotate the same 3-4 pairs of pants with basically every jacket I own.
In that light, here are the four pairs of trousers I find easiest to pair with my tailored jackets in the summer:
1—Mid-Gray trousers in some form of lightweight, breathable wool
My personal preference for this category is fresco, because it keeps its shape and is so hard-wearing (which is a boon for trousers). Fresco is a trademarked name for a specific weave developed by Minnis, but many different mills have developed their own version of the cloth. It stays cool by being open-weave, but it keeps its shape by having tightly-woven yarns. There are other weaves, of course. I owned a pair of gray summer weight hopsack trousers once, which also wore fairly cool. But I ultimately did not like how they draped on me—too loosey goosey. Tropical wool is kind of a catch-all term that means lightweight wool meant to be worn in the warmer months. I say: stick with Fresco if you’re unable to examine the cloth in real life to know if you’ll like it.
2—Off-white trousers in whatever fabric you like
I personally go for cotton-linen blend trousers in off-white for summer, because I can wash them. But off-white wool trousers work, too, but I have a personal aversion to them. I have this very specific memory of a used car salesman who had a very 1970s vibe wearing some (honestly they were probably polyester) with a yellow shirt, selling my parents a 1989 Mercury Sable that turned out to be an absolute lemon of a car. That, and I am too cheap to dry clean unless I absolutely have to. But I fully endorse off-white trousers in whatever fabric floats your boat. They literally go with everything (tan jackets, tobacco/cigar jackets, dark brown jackets, navy jackets, green jackets, the list goes on).
3—Warm khaki cotton chinos
Go toward dressier versions that hold a crease and have either an unfinished seam or a finely finished seam, and you’ll look better for the office. Broken-in, more rugged chinos also can work well with a tailored jacket but will look out of place if you’re trying to dress them up more. For instance, I wouldn’t wear polished calf leather shoes with broken-in chinos, nor would I wear a tie. But with a creased pair of chinos, I’d wear both no problem. I personally think the warmer khaki tones are the most attractive—British khaki, copper, caramel, whatever the retailer you find them at calls them. I prefer its warmth over standard khaki, which is a dustier, more faded tan. That has its place, too, of course (I personally think it works best in the broken-in configuration, worn with a beaten-up OCBD or navy polo shirt).
4—Dark or slightly faded-looking denim
Dark jeans have ruled menswear for a decade or more, and I’m pretty sure there are more selvedge denim companies than there are Styleforum members. There’s a good reason for that: they are more flattering on more body types than faded jeans and worn out at night they look dressy enough to make an outfit feel put together. The lighter you go, the closer you get to the dad-jean territory, or rancher territory, or miner territory, or menswear blogger territory. So I say, stick with dark rinses or just ever-so-subtly faded denim and you can’t go wrong. In the height of summer, depending on where you live, they might be too hot to wear—but in those situations, wearing a tailored jacket might not make much sense, either.
The reluctance to wear white past Labor Day has long been debunked in the United States. But for many men, when to wear white isn’t an issue because, save for the white business shirt, they never wear it. Which is a shame, because alongside navy blue, wearing white pants (or off-white) is just about the easiest yet most stylish things a man can do.
Why the reticence to wear white outside the realm of the dress shirt? I think for many guys, there is a deep-seated disposition toward rugged, hard-wearing clothes that they don’t have to “baby.” A very practical co-worker of mine once allowed that spending a few hundred dollars on a suit might be worth it, “if it’s going to last for 10 years.” I didn’t tell him that sometimes, the more expensive the suit, the less durable the fabric. Many men wear tailoring only when required, changing into something else as soon as they can, and I believe a large part of it has to do not just with comfort, but with this mindset. It’s the same line of thinking that I think stops many guys from considering white pants.
Another complementary reason is that if you do venture into wearing them, you signal to everybody else that you care about clothes. I’m reminded of a How I Met Your Mother episode where Marshall asks whether he is pulling off the white pants he’s wearing, to which Ted enthusiastically affirms that he’s indeed rocking them. It was a leap for him to make, and he needed affirmation from a friend.
Sid Mashburn has said that his first sale to a lot of guys just getting into dressing well is a pair of white Levi’s. From there, their interest in clothing grows, but it starts with white pants. I can’t recall what first drew me to want to dress well, but I do remember that white jeans were one of the very early things I bought. My first pair were pure white denim from Banana Republic. Once I grew out of them, I replaced them with an off-white pair from J.Crew that I’m still wearing 3-4 times per week, 5 years later. They are my year-round staples because they go with literally everything I own.
Overcoming the barrier to being seen as a dandy for wearing white pants is probably the biggest challenge. After all, lots of guys have no problem wearing white sneakers—but that doesn’t signal the same things that white pants do. Yet once you do jump the hurdle, you wonder why you thought it was a big deal at all.
It turns out white pants are the easiest things in the world to wear, because they go with literally everything. Swap out your gray trousers for white and your outfit becomes a lot more fun with no additional work. They can be worn very casually—white jeans paired with a navy polo, for instance—or more dressed up—white cotton twills pressed with a crease, paired with a navy blazer and pale blue shirt.
I’ve gotten many comments from both men and women who wonder how I can keep my white pants so clean. It honestly isn’t that hard. I’ve found that even sitting on the grass won’t stain them—unless it’s very wet or I’m moving around on the ground a lot. Of course, stains do happen, whether it be from carelessness on my part, sitting on a dirty chair, or any other number of reasons. And when they do, I have had almost 100 percent success removing them if the pants are machine washable. I’ve stashed Tide pens in my car, briefcase, desk drawers—everywhere—and they often solve the problem immediately. When that’s not the case, Tide detergent works wonders, as does Oxy-Clean and Clorox color-safe bleach when needed.
This is where I must make a caveat to my enthusiastic embrace of white pants—I only buy pairs I know I can wash myself. Which can potentially put a limit on dress trousers, because even if they are made from fibers you would normally not give a second thought about washing (like cotton or linen), they are usually marked as dry clean only. The reason is usually due to the irregular results the rigors of a washing machine will produce on waistband construction or the lining (if they’re lined).
That said, if they’re made from cotton or linen (or a blend of both), unlined, and the waistband is made from the same or similar fibers to the trousers themselves, you can probably wash them. Unlike with a tailored jacket, which has been put through a lot of steaming to get a specific shape out of the cloth, trousers can be pressed back into shape. I recently bought a pair of cotton-linen trousers from Spier & Mackay and washed them right away with no ill effect. I’d suggest doing so with a new, un-hemmed pair before you get them altered, in case of any shrinkage (of course, wash on cold in a delicate cycle).
If you’re not sure if you can pull off white pants, I think the Sid Mashburn introduction of white Levi’s is a great way to try them. With their multitude of fits and low price, it’s a good way to dip your toe in and see how you feel. I’m guessing you’ll love them and will wonder how you ever lived without them.
If that happens, welcome to the other side.