It Happens Every Spring

Spring is here, and, while not quite ready to call for my whangee and yellowest shoes like Bertie Wooster, I am getting ready to pack up the woolen tweeds and flannels until fall. Sometime in the next few weeks I will get the summer stuff out of storage at the dry cleaners, and I have been thinking about when summer clothes may acceptably be worn.

When I was in school, I wore a gray Brooks Brothers cotton poplin suit for a job interview one rather warm spring day, and got a frown and shake of the head from an older and wiser classmate who held to the traditional calendar in such matters and informed me that poplin should not make an appearance before Memorial Day. At the time I had few alternatives other than gray flannel, so of necessity I did not take the advice to heart.

These days, however, I have more clothing options and am more rigorous with regard to timing. Tropical wools, of course, work in the spring, and I wore a wool/silk/linen blend tweed sport coat on Easter. I have no problem with Nantucket Reds on warm weekends between April and October, and May 15 is officially Straw Hat Day, so I will be breaking out the Panamas soon.

However, I tend to wait until the traditional Memorial Day kickoff for poplin suits, seersucker, cream linen, white bucks, madras, etc., and make sure to have them back in the closet promptly on the Tuesday after Labor Day. Some take this even more seriously than my old school chum; in 1922, the snatching and stomping of straw boaters worn after September 15 led to eight days of riots, injuries and arrests in New York.

While I am fairly traditional, I know others differ, and I am already seeing some early-blooming seersucker and madras around town along with the azaleas and redbud. I say live and let live, and reflect that there are worse crimes than what Christian Chensvold has dubbed “premature unpackulation.” Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, is absolutely rigid as to the impropriety of white shoes except between Memorial Day and Labor Day, but is more flexible on seersucker. Fellow Virginian Tom Wolfe wears white suits year-round and I would not think of either criticizing or emulating him in this regard.

Most people, however hidebound in other situations, make an exception for the Kentucky Derby, and if I ever attend I plan to wear a seersucker suit and white bucks, calendars be damned. I also sometimes make exceptions for visits to tropical climes, but the Picayune of steamy New Orleans used to recommend holding off on seersucker until Memorial Day, as I recall, so temperature alone may not be an excuse for flouting convention.

Having plighted my allegiance to the traditional calendar for better or worse, my biggest quandary used to come around the current time of year, when temperatures may sometimes be in the 80s a month before the magic date.  But, as alluded to above, I have found a solution that works well for me without transgressing the regulations. Lightweight wools or blends of wool and mohair are about perfect, and can be worn through the summer as well.  Starting in the 1990s with a gray suit, a blazer and a check sport coat of tropical-weight wool, I have built up a decent stable over the years to see me through early spring, in and out of the office. Then, a few years ago, I watched a series set in Egypt in the 1920s, and was struck by how great a tan linen tweed coat looked with a white shirt and cream linen pants. Last summer I was able to find the perfect Prince of Wales plaid in shades of brown and tan from a second-hand seller for less than the price of a new oxford-cloth shirt, including the cost of dry cleaning and alterations. It is a 3/2 sack from Brooks Brothers in roughly equal parts silk, linen and wool. It breathes wonderfully, and is almost as light as cotton. Since then I have acquired three more similar coats from Brooks and J. Press in other shades and checks, and wear them from the first warm days of April until it is cool enough for the real tweeds.

What do others think about this?  Is it kosher to wear filthy white bucks in the fall with gray flannels like a Princeton undergrad in the 1950s? Is seersucker the perfect solution for a late April day in Charleston when the mercury is nearing 90? Am I a just silly old stickler who deserves to have his hat snatched and stomped? Let your conscience be your guide, but I think it best at least to be aware of the rules before you break them so you can roll your eyes and heap withering scorn on any who dare criticize you. And make sure to stow the boater in its hatbox by September 15 if you want to avoid a riot.— CHARLOTTESVILLE

52 Comments on "It Happens Every Spring"

  1. Blue Pinpoint | April 23, 2017 at 12:42 pm |

    I stick to navy blazers in spring and summer weights.
    No poplin, seersucker, or even linen for me.
    Variety is achieved through shirts and ties.
    Trousers, likewise are grey, in the lightest weight woolen cloth.
    Don’t feel comfortable in anything else.

  2. Boston Bean | April 23, 2017 at 1:15 pm |

    Blue Pinpoint,

    “Learn what works best for you, what you like and feel comfortable with, and stick to it.”

    Bruce Boyer

  3. Charlottesville, I’m curios as to what exactly that stylish series set in 20s’ Egypt was. Always looking for fresh on-screen style inspiration.

  4. whiskeydent | April 23, 2017 at 3:11 pm |

    @Charlottesville
    I wish your schedule would work in Austin. This week, our Wednesday-Thursday-Friday forecast highs are 89, 88 and 93. There also will be an abundance of humidity, I’d expect. And none of this is particularly unusual. The linen, seersucker and madras are read to go.

  5. I love all those exotic travel in the ’20s and ’30s movies to. I seem to remember seeing a great production a year or two ago. Wasn’t there a BBC series called “Egypt” that dramatized the ancient empire as well as the modern archaeologists?

  6. John Carlos | April 23, 2017 at 3:40 pm |

    @whiskeydent I’m in San Antonio. Ditto.

  7. whiskeydent | April 23, 2017 at 3:54 pm |

    @John Carlos
    We’ll go into the oven in mid-May and come out in mid-September burnt to a crisp. Yippee. Oh, and I left out guayaberas.

  8. John Carlos | April 23, 2017 at 4:05 pm |

    @whiskeydent No guayaberas here but I’m about to break out my Nantucket Reds.

  9. whiskeydent | April 23, 2017 at 4:10 pm |

    I’m a Longhorn, so red is banned from my closet. I’m looking for a pair in Bandera Burnt Orange.

  10. John Carlos | April 23, 2017 at 6:34 pm |

    @whiskeydent I spent undergrad at TT and law school at Baylor so I’ve got options.

  11. NaturalShoulder | April 23, 2017 at 8:33 pm |

    Charlottesville – I have always enjoyed your comments and appreciate your willingness to author a full submission. I am share the same predicament as whiskeydent with the D/FW weather not much better than that of Austin. I have already worn my tan poplin at Easter and will likely wear it again this week. I usually hold off on seersucker and madras until sometime in May. I also rely on lightweight navy jackets and a light grey suit. I used to have a wool/silk/linen houndstooth jacket I picked up on used but it has since worn out. I do plan to find another.

  12. Charlottesville, I could read your writing all day and night, do you publish elsewhere? If not, you should. But that jacket at the header is surely not of your choosing. If I read you right, you’d never wear a tie clasp like that, plus I’m sure you’d know to flare the arc of your collar better than that, indeed the knot of that tie could never have been tied by a hand that writes as beautifully as yours. My way of saying, next time will you submit a photo or two of the silk/linen/wool thrift BB sack, and a screen grab from the 1920s series set in Egypt?

  13. In the interest of expediency, the editor grabbed a shot of a current silk/wool blend from the J. Press site.

    Disclaimer: images do not necessarily reflect the taste of the author. Or the editor, for that matter.

    Oh, and I’ve been egging Charlottesville to write something for ages, having noted his eloquence in many email exchanges.

    He can be a regular contributor if he wants to.

  14. whiskeydent | April 23, 2017 at 9:27 pm |

    I have a new blue-tan on white plaid sport coat made of wool and linen. It’s fully canvassed and all that stuff. However, I had the tailor line it only at the shoulders and in the sleeves. I think it’s called quarter-lined, but I could easily be wrong.

    The first time I wore it was about 85 and muggy. I am a beefy guy prone to perspiring, but the breeze blew right through and kept me cool.

    Needless to say, I was fairly proud of myself for this rare act of planning and foresight. Have any of y’all tried this or had a similar experience? Mr. Press, do you have a thought?

  15. NaturalShoulder | April 23, 2017 at 10:49 pm |

    @whiskeydent. I believe the term is buggy lined. I have had several jackets made up in that fashion and makes a big difference in the Texas heat.

  16. The photo that accompanies this article is positively awful!
    I would call it “Ivy Boring” . The plaid is bland in a heartland
    kind of way. The red tie exists independent of the other colors,
    and the tie clip is to too far up on the unfortunate tie. The combo
    looks like the work of a displaced fashionista who has been
    assigned to ” do Ivy” which is surely outside his comfort zone.

  17. I keep my linen, seersucker and madras in storage until Memorial Day, but honestly, I find tropical wool to be as comfortable as anything else in the heat. But I also live in Michigan and I might feel differently if I lived in Texas.

    By the way, Berle makes lightweight khakis in a million colors, including a deep orange. Dennis Dann stocks them. They are halfway down this page:

    http://www.dann-online.com/berle_distressed_khakis_from_dann.htm

  18. Great article, Charlottesville, and I hate the lightweight-fabrics-after-Memorial-Day-only rule. I say if it’s Spring/Summer and the weather is hot, wear seersucker, madras, linen, poplin, etc. because they are weather appropriate fabrics. Of course, I wouldn’t advise wearing any of the aforementioned fabrics on even the hottest day in Fall/Winter but I say come the Vernal Equinox, they’re all appropriate to wear.

    I wore a seersucker jacket this Easter!

  19. Charlottesville:
    I too am curious as to the name of that series set in 1920s Egypt.

  20. René Lebenthal | April 24, 2017 at 4:05 am |

    Totally agree with GS and Bruce Boyer! Wear what works for you, according to what the wheather is like, of course. But the the situation in France is different anyway, as people would stare at me wearing seersucker even in summer, as it is quite unusual.
    And nobody, of course, cares about the american “national days”, as we have different ones…. Bonne journée to eveybody!

  21. I agree with the observation about the combo in the picture. The jacket (silk-linen?), a glen check, looks pretty good. One could easily imagine it with softer shoulders, slightly narrower lapels, a soft collared OCBD, and a good-looking tie. But the way it’s presented–well, it’s as Lawrence Welk as it can get. The vibe is Chintzy Ivy.

  22. Thanks for taking the time to pen this post, Charlottesville. I enjoyed it very much even if I am guilty of the occasional premature unpackulation. However, I do try to keep to keep to the rules in the office.

  23. What a great term–“premature unpackulation”. Love it!

  24. Charlottesville | April 24, 2017 at 10:01 am |

    Many thanks to all for the kind words. If the muse should strike again, I’ll send another manuscript off to Christian for consideration.

    Eric, J. Meador and CC — I believe that the series was called Egypt, and it is certainly the same one Christian mentions. I got it from Netflix, so it should be easy to find. It was a sort of docu-drama, but better than most, and the clothes were great. Like Christian, I love that era of exotic Brit style, at least as portrayed in the movies. Death on the Nile, with Peter Ustinov comes to mind.

    Whiskeydent and John Carlos — I consider Austin and San Antonio to qualify for the “Tropics Exception” and may have to revise the Virginia rule as well. It was 48 this morning and raining, but Friday is predicted to hit 90. And Whiskeydent’s linen and wool coat sounds like exactly my kind of thing.

    Natural Shoulder — Your appreciation is … well, appreciated. And I hereby move that Dallas/Ft. Worth be added to the Tropical Exception Zone.

    Flo — You are too kind. I may blush. As Christian noted, you are correct that the photo is not me, and the high-rise tie clip is most definitely not my style. The plaids I have are a bit more subtle. If I can find a screen grab of the BBC series I will send it to Christian. He may want to post it on the Ivy Facebook site.

    GS — You may win me over to the Dark Side and have me wearing seersucker in April. Just don’t tell my old classmate.

    René — I agree that the American Rules would seem not only silly, but incomprehensible in France. In that vein, I cannot imagine wearing espadrilles on the street around here, but I am not sure I would consider wearing anything else on a lazy afternoon in Provence. Some things just don’t travel well. That being said, your recent post shows that Ivy style looks great anywhere.

    OCBD — Many thanks. I always enjoy reading your blog as well.

  25. Chewco L.P. (Offshore) | April 24, 2017 at 3:10 pm |

    Cville,

    Any advice on what to don for Virginia Gold Cup? I assume you’re going again this year. The problem is that if this year is anything like last year, the day will start at a cool 45 degrees and then climb up to 80. So, the right fabric is important esp. since I’ll be spending the entire day outside and on my feet.

    Don’t really care what time of the year it is, really; I look at the thermometer instead. This weekend in upstate NY (Finger Lakes), it was below-40 and cloudy and I wore a tweed jacket. Luckily, I wasn’t arrested.

  26. Charlottesville | April 24, 2017 at 4:34 pm |

    Chewco — I think I have usually worn Nantucket reds and a navy blazer for Gold Cup and Foxfield, but have not gone in recent years. Not sure of the best footwear, but for comfort and ability to survive mud, I wear Topsiders, but I am sure that is not the correct horsey shoe. It is generally a great time other than the traffic. Hope you have fun. If you are in upstate NY, do you go to Saratoga? I wore wool tweed over the weekend as well, and even had a fire last night. Today it is rainy and 48 and I am wearing a wintery chalk stripe flannel suit. Friday it’s supposed to be 90, so I may go with the summer tweed as described above, or the tropical weight blazer. As noted, this can be a tricky time of year.

  27. When I lived in Atlanta, I understood the rule there to be that you could wear your white bucks after Easter, which is always a over a month before Memorial day. I don’t remember for sure, but I think the Labor Day cutoff was still the same.

  28. Chewco L.P. (Offshore) | April 24, 2017 at 7:46 pm |

    Cville,

    I was in Ithaca, where carrying a sweater around your shoulders isn’t pretentious but often required: since the weather there is anyone’s guess. Definitely is a tricky time of year for sure, but quite agreeable if one is prepared.

    Aye, solid choice re: Gold Cup. Nan reds and [tropical] wool for me too maybe.

  29. Funny that you mention Lawrence Welk, S.E.. This article’s original image looked like a ’70s trad outfit.

  30. Just realized that you were referring to the original image. Never mind.

  31. Today Charlottesville submitted a photo of the jacket mentioned in the story. Updated image as it’s more pertinent than the previous.

  32. It’s a very nice jacket, I have to find get of linen/silk/wool blend glen plaid jackets.

  33. “the perfect Prince of Wales plaid in shades of brown and tan…equal parts silk, linen and wool”

    Perfect, indeed!

  34. Ezra Cornell | April 25, 2017 at 10:07 am |

    Great essay! Thanks.

  35. Charlottesville | April 25, 2017 at 10:18 am |

    Thanks for the photo swap, Christian. Whether for good or ill, the new image is the real me. Thanks also to GS, Flo and Ezra for the kind words. I am developing a big head from all of this praise, but at least it does not show up in the picture above.

  36. The Loafer Lawyer | April 25, 2017 at 10:19 am |

    @Charlottesville – Wonderful piece. I find myself cheating around the edges on traditional Summer attire, weather dependent. Central Virginia weather has been confounding this year with days hovering around 90 already followed by a quick slide back to highs in the 50s. I tend to await the calendar rolling into May before the Summer Suits appear, and cheat until the last weekend in September. I usually chalk it up to early excitement in May, and an unwillingness to let go of summer in late September.

    @Chewco & Charlottesville – you should both try the Montpelier Races, all the Steeplechase with half the crowds. See you there in November…

  37. Charlottesville | April 25, 2017 at 1:25 pm |

    Thanks, Loafer Lawyer. My version of jumping the gun sometimes happens in September, when I grab for the tweeds and flannels before the mornings are quite crisp enough. I enjoy all of the seasons, and a seersucker suit, madras tie and white bucks make up a favorite look, but autumnal tweeds, tartans, flannels, corduroys and Shetland sweaters hold the top spot in my heart.

  38. whiskeydent | April 25, 2017 at 1:53 pm |

    But, but, but…CS’s tie knot is crooked. Outrageous!

  39. Henry Contestwinner | April 25, 2017 at 2:19 pm |

    Let me jump on the bandwagon of praise for Charlottesville’s lucid, limpid prose. Kudos to you! I, too, am on tenterhooks, waiting for the next installment of sartorial musings from you.

    I have the opposite problem when it comes to seasonal clothing, because where I live, there’s only one season (well, one-and-a-half). Mild year-round, we have rain in the “winter,” but also days into the 80s in January. “Summer” is marked by fog and cool temperatures, with only the occasional foray into warmth. Even though I have linen for summer (most often worn elsewhere) and flannel for winter (often too warm to wear), the most seasonal part of my attire is usually my ties—Shantung, cotton, and mogador for spring and summer, with wool, cashmere, and Irish poplin in fall and winter.

  40. “But, but, but…CS’s tie knot is crooked.” Yeahhhh, and his collar isn’t rolled quite right, but that pocket linen reminds me of how my dad did his and he writes so purdy and, that jacket.

  41. whiskeydent | April 25, 2017 at 3:00 pm |

    I was being sarcastic about the nitpickers.

  42. Crooked knot is very WFB.

  43. Charlottesville | April 25, 2017 at 3:02 pm |

    Thanks, Henry. Sounds like San Francisco Bay weather. As you say, ties are a great way to differentiate the seasons. A rainy day in the 50s here in Virginia has given me one last fling with a favorite challis tie from O’Connell’s today. But it and the other wools and madders and sundry wintry ties will soon be consigned to storage for the season. Easter was warm and tomorrow is supposed to hit 83, so the lighter shades of silk repp are already out of hibernation, and then there are madras and Liberty of London cotton prints to look forward to. What about socks? I have a couple of pairs of cotton argyles that looks good with khakis, but most of the summery socks I see in stores tend to be a bit on the garish side for my taste. I miss the old, subtly patterned OTC cotton dress socks from Polo, and have not really found a completely satisfactory substitute for work. They were quiet, but not drab, and had just enough stretchy nylon or whatever it was to keep them up.

  44. Charlottesville | April 25, 2017 at 3:13 pm |

    Sorry for the eccentric knot and lackluster collar roll. It was the post-church outfit for the day, and no doubt I rather flung it all together in a hurry. The former is my fault entirely, but I may be able to pin some small measure of blame for the latter on the folks at BB. Let’s pretend it was all intentional sprezzatura. Someone (can’t recall who) said that a gentleman ties his tie once in the morning and lives with it for the rest of the day. Sort of the anti-Brummell.

  45. Henry Contestwinner | April 25, 2017 at 3:54 pm |

    Ah, socks! I have far too many; perhaps I will wear out a few pairs before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

    I have gone through phases with socks. In my youth, I loved bright socks, but then changed to patterns and solids that matched my suit trousers when I started working. For a while, I regret to say, I even wore black socks (*shudders*). Back in the aughty-aughts, I returned to colorful socks, but now often prefer solids that match my trousers. Even so, my favorite combination is gray trousers+green socks+brown shoes.

    I have always loved argyle socks; Fratelli Brooks seems to be the best source nowadays. As much as I like them, I find it hard to wear them with anything but chinos. I agree with you that most summery socks are garish, and many of the patterns are childish.

    I’ve noticed that many modern striped socks feature stripes of varying widths and in mulitple colors. I might have liked them in my youth, but in my dotage, I’ll stick to two colors and even spacing for stripes.

    My bugbear in socks is contrasting heels. Having smallish, narrow feet, the contrast heel always shows above the top of my shoe. What is for some a feature is to me a bug, so I simply don’t buy them.

    I know what you mean about Polo socks; you could find nice patterned cotton socks from Polo as recently as a few years ago, but now they’re the ankle equivalent of the big pony. Having said that, I love my Polo Fair Isle socks, and get a pair or two nearly every year (this past season the colors were not to my taste, but the patterns were nice).

    It’s shoulder season for socks here; I started wearing cotton socks last month, but have reverted to wool these past couple weeks due to low temperatures. We’ll see what astragalar delights the changing weather and all this talk about men’s hose will lead to.

  46. Vern Trotter | April 25, 2017 at 3:58 pm |

    The discussion about the knot reminds me of my dad who each time he bought a new necktie would tie a perfect knot with a perfect large dimple. He then would take it off over his head, the knot remaining and hang it up. He put it back on over his head; he only tied each tie once and it always had the perfect knot.

    Here in New York and New England we are still wearing winter clothes. Usually not much Spring anymore.

  47. Charlottesville | April 25, 2017 at 5:02 pm |

    Henry — Good reminder about the Polo Fair Isle socks. I need to investigate next autumn. I have a single pair at this point that are perfect with my one really heavy tweed suit (also Polo) and suede brogues. It’s brown herringbone and feels English more than Ivy, so I usually go with a spread collar shirt in a wool and cotton blend, with a largish Tattersall check in earthy tones and a challis tie. The shirts are harder to find than they used to be, but I still have a few. All are tucked away now until October.

  48. The picture changed. The new one is better.

  49. Charlottesville | April 27, 2017 at 10:40 am |

    Thanks, S.E. The new one is the real me, not a J. Press mannequin.

  50. Nice read, Charlottesville. Not to go off track, but could it be that at one time, the “Memorial Day rule” in the South was calculated from “Confederate Memorial Day,” which I understand was usually in April, depending on the state? Would be more in keeping with the climate.

  51. Charlottesville | April 28, 2017 at 2:07 pm |

    Richard — Thanks. No idea about your origin theory, but it’s possible. I think Memorial Day/Decoration Day and Labor Day had their beginnings in the 19th century, so it would be interesting for someone with a vast library and too much time on his hands (or a better Google search than I used) to figure where the rule originated. If I were making up an iron-clad, arbitrary rule for others to live by. and we internet comment-leavers seem to be pretty good at that, I would propose Easter to start and the last day of summer to end the white shoe, straw hat and seersucker season. The sensible thing, of course, is to wear whatever is appropriate for the weather, but if I were sensible I would not be paying attention to the measurement of collar lengths, trouser cuffs and tie width, to the 1/8th of an inch. But rules are all part of the fun.

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