Elegant, Sporty & Trad: Your Summer Big-Date Dressing Formula

Since starting this website I’ve looked at countless hundreds of trad outfits. Some on regular guys posted on the web, some in catalogs and magazines, and some on gents I’ve met around the fair city of New York.

But one outfit has stood out above all the others, and though it’s been three years since I “saw” it — in my mind’s eye that is, which I’ll soon explain — I haven’t forgotten it, since it embodies what for me is a perfect approach to dressing.

The outfit is special because it’s composed not of garments captured by a camera, but of words. Specifically, these words:

Tonight was Nathaniel’s final shot at Diana, he reckoned, and to prepare for it he spent a good portion of his summer’s earnings on charcoal-gray tropical worsted trousers, a white crash linen jacket (whatever “crash” linen was meant to be), and a sporty blue canvas belt spruced up with sailboats and anchors. He asked one of the Griggses’ housekeepers to iron his best broadcloth shirt, and she gave him the business, laughed and asked who was the lucky lady? He waxed and buffed his Bass Weejuns. He chose a skinny bleeding madras tie (he knew what “bleeding” was, and would soon know better) …

The passage comes from Geoffrey’s Wolff’s novel “The Final Club,” which is set at Princeton in the late 1950s. I wrote about it here a few years ago, and now that summer is here, the above passage popped into my mind once again.

This outfit, which the character wears to a summer dance at the country club, represents everything I love about the Ivy League Look. The fixed parameters honor tradition, yet since style is primarily determined by each individual’s attitude, presence and charisma, there’s plenty of room for personal idiosyncracies within the genre.

I think the reason why this passage resonates so much with me is because outfit speaks to all the disparate elements of my personality with a great intermingling of harmony and contrast.

Nathaniel’s white “crash linen” jacket (obviously purchased at J. Press, which used the term “crash” linen for a linen and Dacron blend) provides a dandyish elegance. This is tempered by the understatement and correctness of his conventional (presumably buttondown) shirt and his charcoal tropical worsteds. His penny loafers provide a youthful, casual sportiness, the perfect counterpoint to the jacket’s elegance.

Two all-important accessories then provide festive dashes perfectly suited to the occasion of a country club dance: summery madras tie and whimsical belt.

And as long as you don’t work in law or finance, you might be able to get away with this formula even at the office. Yesterday I wore a seersucker jacket with charcoal tropical worsteds, white buttondown, navy club tie, Irish linen pocket square, penny loafers, and a blue rope belt from Kiel James Patrick.

So when you’ve got to get dressed for a big night this summer, try this recipe. Above is a white three-button, patch-pocket linen jacket from Ralph Lauren via Mr. Porter.

Below, lightweight worsted trousers from J. Press:

Blue pinpoint from Brooks Brothers:

Madras tie also from Brooks:

Nautical needlepoint belt from Smathers & Branson:

And the Kenwood model penny loafer from Allen Edmonds:

I can’t remember if Nathaniel gets the girl wearing this outfit, but I’m sure you will. — CC

14 Comments on "Elegant, Sporty & Trad: Your Summer Big-Date Dressing Formula"

  1. What a great summer outfit. The first grey tropical worsteds I owned were bought for $ 12 before I was drafted into the army in 1971. When I came out, I recall spending $ 4 to have them altered to fit. (I lost weight during my tour.) These pants lasted forever. Could not wear them out.

    Having hoarded numerous pairs of regulation khakis, these took me into the 1980’s. After that, if I wasn’t wearing a suit, khakis became my pants of choice. Comfortable and good looking even in a rumpled state. One thing I noticed about wool worsted, tropical or regular weight, they seemed to stick to you and hold in moisture. Especially when riding in cars with vinyl seats.

    In the 60’s and 70’s that summer outfit would have impressed the girls. Now, I’m not too sure.

  2. The iconic J. Press crash linen was not actually white, but a compromise between cream and pale tan described in the brochure as “natural. The derivation of crash linen was the original Irish Linen that had a nubby texture, wrinkled like hell and look like it was in a crash.

  3. I had I great white linen sportcoat back in the early 80’s. One day I decided to frequent one of my favorite watering holes while wearing it. Funny that I too wore it with a blue OCBD, charcoal grey pants, blue/grey/burgundy silk paisley, and burgundy Weejuns.
    Someone working there had done some interior painting and forgot to post it. As a rsult, my white jacket had grey paint all over the upper sleeve. Since that time, I’ve searched but have never been successful at finding a suitable replacement. Anyone have any suggestions???

  4. Jim Kelleth | June 12, 2012 at 12:43 pm |

    This is basically the combination that I’m wearing to dinner on Friday. Tan linen jacket (J. Press), madras tie (J. Press), blue end-on-end broadcloth button-down (Brooks), tropical weight grey trousers (Brooks) and ‘Boston’ burgundy loafers (Crockett & Jones). Uniform of the day I guess.

    Party like it’s 1959!

  5. There are careers other than law and finance?

  6. It’s been a long time since I read the book, but if memory serves, Nathaniel not only does not get the girl, but is (quietly) mocked for over-thinking his clothing and trying too hard to fit in.

  7. Squeeze,

    Thanks for the edification regarding the content of the cloth, as well as the color.

    It does seem that Press has been intentional about the use of good cloth.

    The photos from older catalogs confirm the use of English worsteds, including the beloved Fresco. Did I see a tri-ply Fresco for blazers. Indeed! (probably 10 oz. or more?).

    I recall mention made of special runs of bespoke cloth for tweeds. I wonder if neckwear benefit from the same attention?

  8. S.E. — The Fresco cloth was an 11 ounce cloth, indestructible fabric considering its weight. It didn’t shine after numerous dry cleanings and was wrinkle resistant. Richard (and prior to him) Irving Press designed and colored numerous Irish and Shetland tweeds from the source, invented numerous emblematic and reppe stripe silk neckwear and six foot wool scarves for clubs and schools.

  9. Impressive, Squeeze.

    English Fresco is amazing stuff, no doubt. Minnis just released a new book (Fresco II), and a few other English weavers are making Fresco-like cloth. Maybe my favorite cloth for summer blazers and suits. That Press was offering off-the-rack Fresco goods–wow. And the doeskins and basket weave tweeds and…well, on and on.

    Where has all the good cloth gone? Long time passing…long time ago.

    How did you source shirting cloth? Acorn will do short runs of a hefty, beefy Oxford. I can only guess Press was picky about oxfords and broadcloths and such.

    He invented reppe stripes. Of course. I have this theory; unprovable, but still. It’s that Press introduced and popularized the Admiral stripe (three bars) and later Brooks “borrowed” it and eventually dubbed it the “#1 repp.”

    Just a theory.

  10. I’m confused, with all due respect to J. Press, how can these rep ties be invented when military regimental “rep” ties existed prior to J. press’ establishment? I mean a sack jacket is really just civilian military tunic in origin. 🙂

  11. Orgastic future | June 14, 2012 at 12:30 am |

    The trousers ruin the outfit for me. However, I guess dressing stuffy is apart of the trad aesthetic. And though I love Allen Edmonds, these also ruin the outfit. From the belt up is fine however.

  12. The belt, although nice, submarines the outfit. Belt should match the shoes. There’s enough action with the jacket and tie!

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  14. Todd Duclos | June 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm |

    I love the idea expressed about honoring traditions but with your own charisma. I have been wearing some new bass saddle shoes and the number of men who tell me what colors they owned them in tell me traditions stay for their timelessness.

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