Easy and Elegant Life

The Search for Everyday Elegance and the Art of Living Well.

Pushing the Envelope


It’s very late summer — after Labor Day — and your eyes do not deceive you; I’m wearing linen trousers and an open collared shirt. And it’s a weekday. Many will raise an eyebrow and say that I am pushing the envelope of what is correct wear for the date.

The other evening, Mrs. E. and I were privileged to have a casual supper with our neighbours. They live behind us on Monument Avenue in a house that was constructed for Stonewall Jackson’s surgeon. The house is magnificent. Tall mahogany wainscoating, a spiral staircase, coffered and arched ceilings, bookshelves, stone walls, walk-in fireplaces, French doors, a stained glass window that looks suspiciously like it was done by Tiffany and fifteen foot ceilings take your breath away.

It is also unairconditioned. Well, to be fair, there are rooms, like the library, that are cooled with window units. The evening in question was very temperate and I was most comfortable. The son of the house mentioned that it can get pretty close on certain days… .

Can you imagine what it was like for the Antebellum inhabitants who wore far more of everything than we do today? In a way, we are lucky to have such flexible dress codes.

I struggle with this sort of thing — business casual. This isn’t it. Business calls for wearing socks, at least, and for that extra button to be fastened. In fact, there are those that will tell you, quite rightly, that business casual implies a sportcoat and odd trousers. The tie is optional.

But today is hot: 90ºF/32ºC predicted. Ugh. I have no meetings scheduled, only a phone call. And I have errands to run. I stand firm on the wearing white after Labor Day rule, and GTH/party pants aren’t really at all serious. Seersucker screams summer. That leaves me with linen. I have navy, black, and tan linen trousers that will continue to see the light of day as long as that day is stifling, Africa hot. These were made by my tailors. (Full disclosure: they have just become advertisers on Easy and Elegant Life!)

The reason that I have stayed away from this sort of casual ensemble is that it is difficult to pull off and look at all elegant. Or at least not like a clueless manager interpreting the biz casual rule. Khakis tread that line. Especially when worn with a golf shirt. Choose instead a long sleeve (preferably very lightweight fabric) shirt, and very dressy trousers. Pair with your best polished loafers.

And if all else fails, grab that Hopsack blue blazer, the Gold Bond Body Powder and smile through the perspiration.

17 thoughts on “Pushing the Envelope

  1. I agree with Mrs. B . . . on a similarly-related sartorial topic, “someone” in my office was given a hard time this morning for entering the office wearing a pink end-on-end BB shirt with a white Winchester collar (albeit with a dark suit and a none-too-wild colored tie). It is also quite sunny and warm here in Baltimore today. Is it too late in the year for “someone” to be sporting a Summer-y dress shirt?

  2. Great minds Mrs. B.!

    BMOC, pink shirts aren’t seasonal. At least in my book. I wear them year-round. And when my tan fades, they lend a little colour to the pallor. The trick with shirts of that nature is to pair them with dark conservative ties and the dark suit.

  3. You always look so wonderfully and flawlessly put together. I try to emulate, but there are days when…

    * I wear linen and it looks like I’ve slept in it by the end of the day.
    * Something dribbles down the front of my shirt or tie at the beginning, rather than the end of the day.
    * My shirt just won’t stay tucked in.
    * I wear a light colored trouser and brush against something that leaves a mark.
    * I am a walking lint trap.

    Please tell me you have those days too? Thanks for the continued inspiration.

  4. Oh, for crying out loud. Did you have a good time? Were your guests lively conversationalists? Did you always have to lead the conversation? What was served for dinner? What background music did you select? Did you laugh much? I would more fondly remember an evening spent engaged in conversation with such a handsome couple as you and Ms. E than I would remember that you hadn’t observed some twitty sartorial rule. It’s just a few days past the deadline, after all! But then, I live in Dallas, where it’s always hot…

  5. Anon 5:42, this was today’s dress for the heat. I referred to the evening spent with friends to point out that it was much worse around the turn of the century when most people wore a lot more than we do now, didn’t have a/c and had no wardrobe flexibility; that’s all.

    That evening to which I referred: dinner was wonderful, the company amusing, Mrs. E. and I tend to tap dance for our supper and so probably monopolized the conversation. There was no music at their house and yes, we laughed, as we always do when Mrs. E. is present.

    Sorry I didn’t make myself clear (the first rule of any copywriter.) I hope this reply sorts it out.

    Doug, Of course I do. The back blade of the tie, by the way, when rubbed against the spot on the front, will transfer the stain to itself. At least it’s hidden then. Linen rumples. I have a gripper put in my trousers; it is a thin strip of rubber that keeps your shirt tucked in. Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser, Oxyclean packets and those Stain pens by leading detergent makers can work wonders. A bit of tape or a lint roller is always at hand. But yes, yes I do.

  6. Just found your blog last week and have read every post. Love your style and it is so refreshing to see you taking the time to dress so carefully and beautifully. Most men your age are sporting shaved heads, horrid facial hair, baggy shorts, and sports t-shirts. You look great! I have a question for you. Yesterday I was at the library and a man came in and sat at the table in front of me. He was a gentleman of a certain age (60+?) and he looked terrific. Nice dress pants, a French blue shirt, leather belt, clean and neat hair, and a great watch. An hour later and after observing him reading, writing, and thinking (with a Mont Blanc pen tapping his chin), I wanted to say something to him as I walked by. I was thinking of “You look great!” with enthusiasm. But I hesitated and didn’t. I just wasn’t sure if it were appropriate. I didn’t want to appear cloying. But also, dressing well was obviously natural to him and I didn’t want to make a big deal of it. But seeing him was tres refreshing. I’m sure you get compliments. Do they annoy you? Do you like to be singled out? If so, what would have been a good thing to say to this gentleman? I am also a woman of a certain age and my compliment would have no ulterior motive except that I wanted him to know I like very much that he makes the effort and it made ME feel happier.

  7. For stains, I always have a wee vial of Bac-Out on me. It’s a mix of enzymes that works wonders on most spills and stains. Available at health food stores.

    Linen past Labor Day is, at worst, bending the rules; white (other than shirts), seersucker, madras plaid, straw hats and the like are all breaking them.

  8. Brent, Bac-Out. Thanks, I’ll look for a phial.

    Dear Donna, Welcome and thank you for the compliment! I do sometimes get stopped. I don’t mind and I’m always surprised. I always nod and smile at a well-dressed person to acknowledge their efforts. Tricky situation. But as M. Lane says “honesty!” Sincerity will carry the day. I’d probably try something along the lines of “How nice you look today. It’s refreshing to see someone well-dressed!” And leave it at that. It’s always nice to know that some is fighting the good fight and acknowledge it.

  9. Chris-
    Great to see you and Larry partnering !
    As a long time customer of Leviner Wood, I would attest to their outstanding selection of fabrics and equally splendid service!
    As to the “rules of dress” after Labor Day, I think it is dictated by the weather. As it is still hot in Richmond, I will continue to wear linen and gabs until the leaves start to turn!

  10. Hello Greg! Thanks for dropping in. I just left Larry; he’s going to make up a couple of shirts for me. I’m using your buttons. I always thought gabs wore too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter. I suspect I haven’t worn the “real deal.” Hmmm…

  11. Just for the record, Bac-Out comes in large bottles; I decant it into itsy-bitsy dropper-tipped vials myself.

    Also, to revist my earlier post, there is a school of thought that holds it’s OK to wear one’s cream flannel trousers after Labor Day. They say that white trousers are OK on clear, bright winter days, but absolutely wrong on gray, overcast ones. I personally remain unconvinced, but I understand where they’re coming from. (Perhaps it’s because where I live, there is so little variation in the seasons that I want to make whatever distinctions I can, and one of the few ways I can do that is with clothing).

  12. When looking at vintage suits, I sometimes see tailor made jackets that are lined only on the upper chest and back, leaving the bottom section airier and giving the jacket less weight. I don’t ever see this in summer weight suits or jackets that are currently available. I think that for those oppressively hot days, the lightest material and such a partial lining might help. September often has hot days, and those summer weight suits can look more appropriate by changing the palette of the accessories. For example, on a warm fall day, I might wear a tan and white seersucker suit with a cotton Liberty paisley print necktie in shades of brown and tan. I think the consideration of what looks good on very warm days after Labor Day is a good stylistic exercise. The time of day, temperature, occasion, degree of formality, and calendar date all must be considered before making one’s selection of what looks best. It certainly is easier for a guy! For important occasions, such as the wedding you attended this summer, it is best to have 3 or 4 options, dependent on what the weather will be and to some extent, what your partner will be wearing.
    Square with Flair

  13. SWF, off the peg suits aren’t generally built with half linings as they require finished (or at least taped) seams and are more expensive. And some swear that the full lining helps prevent wrinkles in the ultra-light fabrics popular today. Oxxford still does the half lining and beautifully finished suits in their stock line. Down here seersucker gets stored after Labor Day. I have seen some dark blue dyed seersucker that would make the transition as it has no white in it to suggest a “summer suit.”

  14. I know a lttle kid who got beat up on the playground once because another kid claimed the little boy slept in dinosaur pajamas. My point? The real problem wearing the wrong clothes? You’ll get beat you up. Or worse, they’ll talk about you.

    Remember when the Dutchess of York wore white shoes in wintertime while visiting Texas? The English later claimed they had no such rules to follow. Ever since, I’ve looked down on the Royals.

    And we all knew Fergie was trash for wearing those shoes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.