Easy and Elegant Life

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

Sartorial Surrender: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Dress with Aplomb.

He was indeed the most striking example we remember of the two extremes described by Lord Bacon as the great impediments to human improvement, the love of Novelty and the love of Antiquity… .

William Hazlitt on Shelley, quoted in The Neophiliacs: The Revolution in English Life in the fifties and sixties, by Christopher Booker.

Mrs. E., Buddha Boy and I had just returned from a weeklong jaunt to our happy place on the beach outside of Charleston, SC with a stop to visit SCAD in Savannah, GA. It was far too short of a break as usual.

This has been the longest trip that we’ve taken in about a year and I had to rethink the way that I pack. Most of my recent travel is a quick overnight to drop off or pick up the eldest child at college. A Mystery Ranch 3 Day Urban Assault pack is my choice for those trips. It holds a change of (merino) boxers, (merino) socks and (merino) t-shirt or polo, a (merino) sweater, and my Dopp kit in addition to a few items to secure a hotel room, the phone charging cord, some snacks, and a water bottle. “Easy,” “efficient,” and “grab-and-go” are my watchwords.

But for this longer trip involving at least one decent restaurant, I felt I needed a bit more. Given my native “Gemini-ness,” my travel wardrobe has to serve two masters. Those two sides of my personality, the stylish and the survivor, are constantly at war. Or at least that’s been the case since the children were born. (I wonder if it all goes back to the CPR classes that a soon-to-be parent takes? Be ready for anything!) I also hoped to avoid the nine pieces of luggage situation that I pioneered when moving to and from France with Mrs. E. those decades ago. The nine pieces of luggage were mine. Mrs. E had two.

At any rate, I did well enough, but on reflection, there are a few things that I could have done better to continue to be true to my Preferred Personal Aestheticâ„¢.

My “new” kit had to:

  • Balance doomsday with dapper.
  • Use a bag that was less “GO!” and more “traveler.”
  • Take into account EDC practicalities, but remain stylish.
  • Go from beach to banquette.

In other words, be “really smart casual.”

First mistake. I didn’t travel with a blazer and while this separated me from the business men in the lobbies and restaurants, I should have. Always travel with a blazer or equivalent, the trick is finding one that travels/packs well. I don’t mind living with a few wrinkles, but I rarely travel with linen, preferring wool. I have seen some knit blazers that might be worth checking out and I don’t know what stretch cotton would wear like. Too warm, I suspect.

The “equivalent” would be a chore coat, a pub jacket/sweater or even a safari type jacket. Keep in mind that nothing really beats a good sportcoat or blazer though. I’m currently obsessed with securing a good unconstructed example.

The trousers I got right. Khakis. Specifically Agent LST or the Gentry NT Officer’s khakis from Triple Aught Design. True confessions… I carry a lot of stuff in my pockets. To wit: keys with small flashlight, car key, pocket knife, pen, small notebook, handkerchief, phone, cash in a money clip, and a wallet. The TAD trousers are built like tactical pants and look like khakis (albeit, the Agent LSTs have an articulated knee.) Inside each front pocket is a sort of gear panel that has three little pockets sized perfectly for things like keys, pocket knives, small notebooks and cellphones. The back pockets on the Officer’s chinos are flapped and buttoned. On the LST there are two pockets on the seam above the back pockets that are made to accommodate pistol or rifle magazines. I use them for a card wallet and to stow my Field Notes notebook. They are made with a bit of stretch and are lightweight for travel to the southern climes. A pair of five pocket natural colored (stretch) canvas trousers that dress up or down would be a good substitute.

Shoes give me fits. I have quite a few pairs, but I have yet to stumble upon the ultimate travel shoe.I won’t wear sneakers/trainers. I feel as if the perfect travel shoe should be an oxford or blucher instead of a loafer, in case you have to run in them. I’d like them to be as comfortable as a pair of MAC-V 1’s from GORUCK, since I do a lot of walking. I prefer suede, but weather always plays an issue. Then there’s the color thing. Black? I rarely wear black shoes during the day, and I think they are a bit jarring when worn with khakis. Come to think of it, I think that lace up shoes look weird with khakis. That could be a hold over from my school days when penny loafers or boat shoes were the order of the day. This trip, I opted for sand colored Clark’s Desert Boots. Cheap enough if I ruined them, they straddled that smart casual line. They were…. ok. Maybe I should have opted for a darker version? For beach days, flip flops gave way to a pair of Birkenstock clogs that were given to me at Christmas. They covered most of my feet and alleviated some of my “not another melanoma” fear. They were also very comfortable, if a bit inelegant. My espadrilles might be a better choice in terms of packing though.

I mentioned merino t’s and polos. Great for day. I layer a sweater over them when it gets cool. Instead of packing a crew neck, I should have gone with a 1/4 zip since it looks better over a t-shirt. Lesson learned. I also brought along a new pink OCBD from Proper Cloth. On the first wear I spilled some salad dressing on it. I tried to spot clean it with the dish detergent that was at the rental house…. there are two small blue stains now where the salad dressing stains had been. Lesson learned. Dawn liquid or bust. (Spots since dry cleaned out.)I also packed one of my Columbia UPF-50 shirts. Layered over a merino t since it was too chilly to wear on its own, it still made me look like I was going on safari.

For this trip, I had our bags sorted. Our luggage consisted of two canvas and leather Gladstone bags neatly packed with packing cubes. Since we weren’t going to be hauling them around too much, they worked very well and made me feel less like a nomad. For our overnight to Savannah, the smaller of the two was repacked and easily made the trip in and out of the car and up and down the elevator to the hotel room. For a day tote, I used the camouflage CaB-2 from Prometheus Design Werx which is the size of a grocery store paper bag, but far studier and with outside pockets. Good for the beach and grocery store runs. Success all around! This is one area in which traditional trumps modern, although I wouldn’t want to travel for too long and through numerous airports with them. And who wants to risk checking a bag?

My travel book was Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit That Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War, by Ben Macintyre. Alas it didn’t get hot enough to remind me of the desert. Still a really great adventurous read and one that I’m glad hadn’t been written when I was of enlistment age.

All of this overthinking was entirely unnecessary of course. It was nearing St. Patrick’s Day and there were a great many revelers-in-training spilling out of every bar, and an equal number of tourists dressed in typical fashion.

The moral of the story is wear what you like and like what you wear.

2 thoughts on “Sartorial Surrender: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Dress with Aplomb.

  1. How did you like the shirt from Proper Cloth? I’m in need of some dressier shirts for work. I most often won’t be wearing a tie, but want t a collar large enough that it doesn’t look goofy when I do wear one. It’s harden then you would expect to strike that balance.

    My Hyde Park oxfords from Lands End are great, but collars and cuffs are fraying. Which is also a look I also love, but not great for in person work.

  2. Hi Nick, The Proper Cloth OCBD is pretty good. Heavy oxford and I really like the pink. I’m not sure there’s that much difference to the Hyde Park, which was a good shirt the last time I bought one, but I like that I can monkey around with the measurements. I hear you on the collar conundrum. I’d like this one to be a touch larger, but it has a wonderful roll!

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