Seventy Years: The History Of Murray’s And Its Famous Nantucket Reds

 

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A summer memory that always makes me smile was the one morning when I escorted my son on to his school bus. I was standing at the front of the bus when I heard a precious pipsqueak bellow, “That man is wearing pink pants!” As the bus monitors tried to shut him up, he continued to shout, “Someone please tell me why he is wearing pink pants!”

I would have loved to have told him, but the adult nuance would have been lost on him. And in truth, he had a point in an emperor’s-new-clothes sort of way.  Pink pants, in this case canvas Nantucket Reds, are something one swears by or swears at. I became a convert after seeing them featured in the December 1993 issue of Cape Cod Life.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Murray’s Toggery Shop of Nantucket. But there was a time when I did not know what Nantucket Reds were. In the world of classic clothes, the trouser I first associated with nautical history was the white duck, from a corruption the Dutch word doek. Duck at one time was linen and even today sometime appears as a blend, but for the most part modern duck is considered to be a type of cotton canvas.

White ducks’ more flamboyant cousin are the red sail canvas trousers in the color known as Breton red. In Brittany, France, sails were dressed red as a rot resistant measure, and the local seafaring folk also wore trousers and smocks in red. Red trousers would be adopted by yachtsman, as evidenced by the day uniform of the New York Yacht club and other non-commercial sailors. The red trousers, along with Breton striped shirts and espadrilles, would make up a resort uniform for those who frequented the coastal areas of Europe, such as the French Riviera and Costa del Sol.

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City Clothing Company was a Nantucket Main Street store founded in 1908 and owned by Philip Genesky. According to the local paper, the Geneskys were a “pioneer Jewish family” from New Bedford. Philip’s son Emile managed the Nantucket store. This store was later torn down, and in 1916 a new store opened at 62 Main Street called the Toggery Shop. Emile was married in 1924 and moved back to New Bedford, but kept a summer place on the Cliff until his death in 1957. Genesky hired Phil Murray Jr. to manage his Main Street store, an easy choice since he had been working in retail since he was 14. Murray’s other occupation was that of a scallop fisherman, which he gave up to run the store. It’s worth noting that red sails are also anecdotally associated with The Nantucket Scallop fleet.

Philip Murray, Jr. was born in 1890. The Inquirer & Mirror describes his father as a “stowaway from the Azores” who “arrived on the island as a coal shoveler on a steam boat that ran between New Bedford and Nantucket.” Trish Murray Bridier, current vice president of Murray’s Toggery Shop, does not recall her great-grandfather being a coal shoveler, but did tell Ivy Style that he was from Graciosa and at age 12 stowed away. “He came to Nantucket to work as a day laborer when the cranberry bogs were being built off the Polpis Road,” she says.

circa1910

The depression took a financial toll on Genesky, leaving his Nantucket store as his most significant remaining asset. Genesky sold the Toggery shop to Murray in 1945. Murray borrowed money from his brother Herbert, who owned a package store, to finance the purchase. The shop had traditionally been where island workers bought their clothes. Murray’s Toggery Shop carried such staples as footwear, waders, and hunting clothes and outerwear. The shop which is now where the current men’s department is was a dimly lit room with a linoleum floor and filled with wooden cases with glass tops. The red trousers at the time were made by the firm of M. Hoffman of Boston, a name largely forgotten but which still resonates with vintage workwear aficionados.

Philip C. Murray, the son of Philip Murray, Jr. and Alice Murray (neé Chase), was born at the Nantucket Cottage Hospital in 1921. Philip grew up on the island and graduated from Nantucket High School in 1939. He worked nights at the Steamship Authority to earn money for college. He made the trip off island to go to the small liberal arts college of Oberlin, in Ohio, where he studied economics. Murray was a veteran of World War II, having served in the Philippines. He met his future wife Elizabeth R. Cumby of Blackstone, Virginia, while he was in the service. They went on a blind date and later, while in training, he called her to ask whether she thought they could live on a lieutenant’s salary. “She thought he was crazy,” recalls Murray Bridier. But they were married in 1945 and spent 61 years together. After the war, Murray spent five years in Richmond with the American Legion, helping veterans transition to civilian life.

Nantucket was calling its native son back home, and Murray returned with his family via the steamboat from Woods Hole in 1951. Philip C. Murray went to work for his father at the Toggery Shop. The first job his father tasked him with was to sweep outside the store. His thundering voice and gregarious laugh rising from the pavement, it was a job he performed with vigor until his retirement. Murray bought the store from his father in 1959, with Philip, Jr. dying in December of that year. Philip C. got rid of his father’s deadstock and bought the neighboring Louis Coffin Dry Goods Store in 1963, which became the women’s department. The men’s department also was renovated in the 1960s. To promote this, he bought a pony, led it up into men’s window on Main Street, and raffled it off, says Murray Bridier. A curious bit of retail history is that Roland H. Macy got his retail start in a storefront located somewhere on Murray’s Toggery property. Historian Edouard Stackpole wasn’t sure if it was on the Fair Street side or the part between the ladies men’s area, according to Murray Bridier.

Iconic items and apocryphal tales go hand in hand. General manager Gilles Bridier once found several customers gathered around salesman Ed Walton. They listened intently and chuckled as Walton spun the tale of Murray getting the inspiration for reds by falling into a Cranberry bog while wearing stone-colored trousers. What is true is that before they were called Nantucket Reds, the summer girls who worked in the shop called them Hulbert Avenue Reds, in the same way Belgian Shoes are called Foxcroft slippers. Murray preferred to go with Nantucket Reds and his greatest business coup was recognizing the potential of the store’s red trousers. Over the years Murray launched a whole line of red products and had the foresight to trademark Nantucket Reds in 1980. What was once private-label trousers have become a recognized brand name. Orvis, for example, encourages its catalog readers to “own the originals,” and has been selling Murray’s Toggery Shop products since 2011. Some readers might be surprised by Murray’s own preference. “My dad wore the Nantucket red caps, shorts and sometimes the long-sleeved shirt, but not the pants,” Murray Bridier confesses.

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In the late 1950s, the trousers were made by the British sail company Rockall. Traditionally, red sail cloth loses color and fades to a bricky pink. It is this shade that has been coveted over the years. It is a process that naturally happens, yet it did not stop resourceful individuals from doing boat drags and salt water soaks, followed by a dry in the sun to hasten the process. When the trousers were sourced from Berle and made in Georgia at the Gips plant, the tags came with a warning — as if anyone needed it — that the trousers were designed to fade. Interestingly enough, the trousers shed color even unwashed, which can be seen if one has ever examined an unworn vintage pair that has turned the white lining pink.

Five years after Tom Wolfe observed Boston men wearing what’s now referred to as air-mail red trousers on Martha’s Vineyard, Murray’s Toggery and its Nantucket Reds were officially canonized in 1981 with the publication of “The Official Preppy Handbook.” Murray’s was designated the official outfitter for all island activities, while Reds were number five on the approved trouser list. They were to be worn any time, and were “de rigueur at country and yacht club affairs with a blazer and club tie.” When Business Digest asked Murray about the endorsement in 1986, he laughed and said, “We got a lot of business because of that book.”

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Nantucket Reds are curiously much discussed on the Interwebs. There is anxiety expressed by some because new they are not red enough, even though they still want them to end up pink. Then there is the outsourcing debate, which has been ameliorated to some degree with the new American-made M Crest line by Gitman. The fashion press also speculates over whether red trousers are in or out, and hand-ring over the signaling of privilege. And yet Murray’s Toggery beats on.

For a trouser that causes such consternation, It has not stopped mass-market retailers from offering up their own alternative version. I am not going to address the big names, but will say that there are some contrarians out their who have sourced red trousers from places like Nobby, Haul Over, Puritan Cape Cod, Brickmans, and Mark & Fore and Strike. Over the years, some these retailers have offered canvas, but a twill seems to be the offering of most of Murray’s current competitors. Regardless of the brand, if an individual is wearing red pigment-dyed clothing that throws color, he owes a tip of his Breton cap to Philip C. Murray for being such a relentless champion of what you might call red-y-to-wear.

Philip C. Murray died in 2007, followed by general manager Gilles Bridier in 2010. Although their loss was felt immensely on the island, the Nantucket Reds legacy continues, and visitors will still find a family shop now in its fourth generation, which also includes the Castaway Clothing brand. Philip Murray’s son John explained their retail philosophy to Business Digest thusly: “We always have a member of the family on the floor. We want our customers to know us… We try to know them, too. We want our customers to feel comfortable here and come back.”

Red trousers are a fault line. They are loved and hated, a badge of honor and a thing of derision. Some wearers are sincere, while others are ironic. As with Mickey Mouse ears at Disneyland, I suspect some island visitors buy them because it is the thing to do. Which might explain the barely worn Nantucket Reds that show up on ebay. Others may be swept up with emotion and the seductive lure of island life.

I don’t really blame them: romanticism is a gentle persuader. I was reminded of this recently when after surviving the brutal winter, I rushed into wearing reds on the first warm day. It was before a matinee performance of the local opera company. A friend spotted me across the room, walked up, and said, “I like your reds, you look like you should be in Nantucket drinking a G&T.”

I smiled and said, “I wish.” Strangely enough, sometimes the talismanic power of things like Reds is magnified the farther one gets from the island. — CHRISTOPHER SHARP

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72 Comments on "Seventy Years: The History Of Murray’s And Its Famous Nantucket Reds"

  1. I love very much red sport trousers in summer.

  2. Perplexed Senior | July 3, 2015 at 12:50 pm |

    I’m trying to understand what makes unquestionably heterosexual men think that it’s cool to choose trousers in a color that many people would automatically associate with men of the other persuasion.

  3. Funny, I’m wearing my pair of reds today on a very quiet day in the office with a blue blazer and white button down. I bought my pair nearly 10 years ago while on a weekend trip to Nantucket with friends…it’s certainly a must-visit if you ever make it to the island.

  4. Perplexed Senior, perhaps it’s because the only people that would associate Nantucket red trousers with homosexuality are lowbrow nitwits?

  5. DCG
    I’m offended, not all of us lowbrow nitwits associate Nantucket reds with homosexuals. 😉

  6. Ward Wickers | July 3, 2015 at 5:05 pm |

    I’m offended, too, but I’m too lowbrow a nitwit to know why I’m offended …

    Let’s see, yesterday my trousers color was black. I guess that means to others that they associated me with being a manly man. Today, my trousers color is pink, so now the association is girly man.

    Wow! That’s powerful. Just by pants color alone I can change my sexual orientation, at least in the eyes of others, which, of course, is sooo important. I wonder, does the color change trick with other clothing articles?

    Like, if I wear a blue shirt on Monday people will see me as a Democrat, but on Tuesday I could wear a red shirt and be a Republican. Would that work? What color shirt would I need to wear to be a Tea Partier?

    How about socks? I’ll bet I could change my entire gender with the color of my socks, right? Brown and I’m a guy. Powder blue and I’m a woman!

  7. Perplexed Senior | July 4, 2015 at 3:43 am |

    I’m even more perplexed by the fact that readers of a men’s clothing blog are unaware/unwilling to admit that we judge and are judged by others on the basis of what they wear.

  8. Perplexed Senior | July 4, 2015 at 3:46 am |

    Before WFBjr chastises me for my grammatical ineptitude:

    I’m even more perplexed by the fact that readers of a men’s clothing blog are unaware of (or unwilling to admit) the fact that we judge (and are judged by) others on the basis of what they (and we) wear.

  9. chris fletcher | July 4, 2015 at 4:19 am |

    Here on the Isle of Wight the sight of what we term PRTs is common around Cowes with a navy blazer and white or pale blue shirt and club tie.

  10. Bags' Groove | July 4, 2015 at 6:58 am |

    @ Ward Wickers
    Red socks and you are eligible to become a junior member of the LAMFRTs club.

  11. That was a wonderful article, full of detailed history. Thanks to C. Sharp!

    A silly association came to mind. The old song, Red Sails in the Sunset. Was the reference to actual red canvas sails, or to the reddish light from the fading sun? Probably the latter, right?

  12. @RJG Thanks.
    “Red Sails in the Sunset” is a popular song.
    Published in 1935, its music was written by Hugh Williams (pseudonym for Wilhelm Grosz) with lyrics by prolific songwriter Jimmy Kennedy. The song was inspired by the “red sails” of Kitty of Coleraine, a yacht Kennedy often saw off the northern coast of Ireland and by his adopted town Portstewart, a seaside resort in County Londonderry.[1]
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Sails_in_the_Sunset_(song)

  13. I play that tune at the piano all the time!

  14. My experience growing up was that “we” wore colorful pants in the summer, which included pink ones. People who weren’t one of “us” didn’t quite get that, but that’s OK. We didn’t really expect them to. And by not understanding this, it just reinforced that they weren’t one of us.

    But when it comes to Reds from Murray’s, I have to say that I’ve never quite understood their appeal, but not because of their color. Maybe they’ve changed a lot over the past few decades, but they used to have legs that were just way too big.

  15. Ward Wickers | July 4, 2015 at 10:29 am |

    @Perplexed Senior

    The point of my post was that when you get right down to it, it is quite foolish to judge others by their appearance. We are much, much more than our clothes, no? But if you want to hold onto that, then party on, mate …

  16. There’s a terrific National Geographic program on Netflix I’ve been watching lately called “Brain Games.” It shows just how limited our information about the world around us is (chiefly through the sense of vision), and how the brain is constantly filling in the blanks to process what it thinks it’s seeing, and how it’s always looking for shortcuts.

    There’s a segment on clothing and how the brain makes very quick judgments based on appearance as a means of navigating the world around us. For example, the brain makes many assumptions based on context. The show had a guy in a suit posing as a TV reporter, followed by a cameraman. He stopped people on the street and asked for their opinion on some piece of breaking news, which was completely fabricated and quite absurd, as in, “How do you feel about Texas announcing it will secede from the nation?” Because of the context — and the reporter’s suit — everyone assumed that what he was saying was true.

    Another segment showed that you can reliably guess who won a political race just by looking at the candidates’ faces.

    http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/brain-games/

  17. Ward Wickers | July 4, 2015 at 11:11 am |

    @Christian

    Haven’t seen this program, but will watch.

    The mind is always filling in and also making up stories, which we accept as true. Here’s an example of what I mean: Have you ever been late for a meeting, rushed to get there, maybe taking risks while driving or jumping ahead of others because your mind was telling you can’t be late, people will think ill of you, your boss will be pissed, etc? Then, you get there and no one cares. The mind creates a parade of horribles, and you believe it hook, line and sinker, and all your actions are based on a false set of assumptions. We do this all the time.

    Yet no matter how often we do this (to ourselves), we continue to believe what the mind is telling us.

    Psychology and neuroscience are beginning to look more deeply at this. The ancient practice of mindfulness is seen as especially helpful in this regard. Mindfulness teaches us that thoughts need not be taken so literarily and that it pays to step outside of our minds (mentally) for a more accurate view of reality. Running helter-skelter to a meeting, assuming a guy wearing pink is gay and believing an absurd story because someone in a suit with a camera asks about it are examples of mindlessness. As the world becomes more complex and nuanced and more and more encounters are made with people from different cultures and backgrounds, mindfulness may become one of the great mental skills of the 21st Century.

  18. @WW,

    Saying that it’s foolish to judge others by their clothes actually seems like a rather foolish statement. Seriously. Let me explain.

    If you’re familiar with the work of Paul Bloom (and others), it looks like human brains are hardwired to work in certain ways. We might not like it, but that’s just the way we are. And having biases towards our own social groups is apparently just the way that our brains operate.

    That was probably very useful from the point of view of evolution. The biggest threat to us are another humans, and it’s been this way for quite a while. We’re very optimized to quickly and accurately size up other humans and assess how much of a threat they are to us, and a big part of this is understanding exactly how the social groups to which they belong relate to the social groups to which we belong. And clothing can be a good indicator of membership in various social groups, can’t it?

    So by saying that we shouldn’t judge others by their clothing seems roughly like saying that we should intentionally try to act in a way that’s counter to our fundamental nature. You might just as well say that we shouldn’t have a bias toward taking care of our own families. That’s also just part of the way that our brains operate.

    There are exceptions to this, of course. Humans are one of a select few species that engage in organized, lethal violence against members of our own species. (The most notable other species is also our closest genetic relative.) But the fact that we’re apparently hardwired to fight wars doesn’t mean that we should encourage it.

    But I don’t think that the natural reaction to judge people based on their clothing (or other aspects of their appearance) is that extreme. I’d say that it’s just another example of how we’re hardwired to identify and favor members of our own social group.

    To put things like this in perspective, I often try to remember what SVB wrote: “There was sadness in being a man, but it was a proud thing too.”

    (If anyone wants serious references for this topic, I’d be happy to post some. I actually just published a paper on a similar topic. I wasn’t talking about clothing. I was talking about other aspects of the business world, but the fundamental research is still the same and seems very applicable. But in general, sorry about what might be an inappropriate level of seriousness for a fashion blog!)

  19. C Sharp — So they were actually red sails. Thanks a second time!

    Im — Actually, it seems to be both. See Daniel Kahaneman (a Nobel Prize winner) *Thinking, Fast and Slow*. We need both the quick intuitive (and sometimes wrongly biased) perception, but also the slower more discursive process of thinking things through that counteracts wrong assumptions. I suspect this is probably similar to what Wickers is calling “mindfulness.”

    Don’t tell me you have never misjudged someone on the basis of false assumptions arrived at on a first impression. On the other hand, first impressions are not always wrong. So we need both to work in tandem.

  20. @RJG,

    Indeed. The conclusion to what I recently published is roughly that although people may think irrationally, organizations shouldn’t, so we need K’s System 2 to prevail over System 1 in the business world.

    So when it comes to fashion, feel free to be as judgmental as you’d like. Sneer at pink pants. Sneer at people who don’t wear pink pants. Sneer derisively at sport coats with the wrong number of buttons on them or other such trivial stuff. Just don’t let it affect your judgement when it comes to maximizing profitability.

    And it’s probably good to understand that your fashion judgments have absolutely no basis in anything substantial.

  21. Ward Wickers | July 4, 2015 at 12:38 pm |

    @IM

    Of course our brains are hard-wired, but only in certain respects. We are not hard-wired in terms of plumage, and that’s because we aren’t birds. In other words, the color of trousers isn’t hard-wired. And, yes, we do have affinity with our social group, and, yes, that does have a survival value. But that doesn’t mean we automatically accept unwarranted prejudice and bias and say it’s justified because that’s the way nature made us (even though it didn’t). Remember, we do have a brain and it does think, or should try to think.

    C Sharp makes a good point. We have a quick, intuitive part of our mind that makes near-instant judgements. As Daniel Kahaneman has shown, that often gets us into big trouble. Called cognitive bias, we frequently make miscalculations and careless judgements but as we do, we think we are right and correct. (This is one of the main reasons we get ourselves into such deep do-do so often). Is this because of the way the brain is hard-wired? No, not really. We also have a more thoughtful, deliberative part of our mind that is excellent at making judgements, though slow and plodding, and feels at least mildly aversive to engage. We don’t engage deliberative mind as often as we should, says Kahaneman, because our minds are generally lazy. Basically, because it is much easier to come to a snap decision than to trudge through a problem and actually think about it, we like snap judgements.

    So, when it comes to pink pants, it’s not that we are hard-wired to view pink pants as “not us” (Crikey, just think about it, Nantucket Reds haven’t been around long enough to become a heritable trait), it’s just easier to assume the guy wearing pink “isn’t us” because we make a quick, unstudied association based on some weak past experience (probably that other people had and told you about third-hand). But that is a bias that comes from being mentally lazy. And, yes, mindfulness seems to hold some promise in helping us think more clearly and deliberatively. If we had the thought, “Hey, that guy is wearing pink pants so he must be gay” (an intuitive judgement) we just might be able to be a little mindful and say to ourselves, “What a stupid thought. Let’s say ‘hi’ to this fellow; he just might be interesting to know.”

  22. @RJG Your Welcome
    @Ward W-I think your giving me credit for a comment that’s not mine.

  23. Ward Wickers | July 4, 2015 at 1:10 pm |

    @C.Sharp

    Yes, you are right. Sorry. It’s RJG.

  24. This has been an interesting conversation. I heard a speaker once whose name I have forgotten now. I am not sure if I can do him justice but he had us do an exercise in which you look at someone and say “I perceive X I Imagine Y” The person he had up on stage said to the speaker “I perceive you are wearing a necktie I imagine you think you look good.” Everyone burst out laughing. As you can guess what people imagine runs the gamut from benign to prejudicial. It is an exercise I someone times use to slow down my thinking so I am not imaging wild things.
    I can sometimes run it in reverse. I can imagine that someone is going to perceive me in red trousers and imagine that I am a dick. Knowing that I can be mindful to be friendly, kind, considerate etc.

  25. Bags' Groove | July 4, 2015 at 4:08 pm |

    Forget red trousers, number of buttons on jacket, absence of tie, and all the other above-ankle ways of assessing if the human standing before us is sartorially/socially acceptable, because it’s all in the shoes, baby!
    Shoes maketh the man – or as Marilyn Munroe once famously said “Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world” – and say everything anyone ever needs to know about us. It must be true, because I’ve seen it written far more times than any other item of wardrobe.

  26. Son of Ed(period) | July 4, 2015 at 4:32 pm |

    I’m currently at my cottage “on island” and the place is rife with reds. I never have, nor ever will, wear them. I simply don’t like them. I’ll tell you this though, in reference to the above flame war: I doubt you’ll find many members of the Lavender Hill Gang rocking Nantucket Reds on Nantucket. It’s definitely old salts, yuppies, and dads wearing them here.

  27. @BG,

    More than one woman has told me similar things about shoes – that the shoes are the first part of a man’s outfit that they check out. But there seems to be an odd tradition in menswear of dressing to impress other men instead of impressing women, a philosophy that probably explains why the word “inexplicably” is part of the English language.

    Women openly drooling over me because I’m well dressed?

    Fun.

    Men noticing what I’m wearing?

    Bah!

  28. Judging by appearances is inevitable as we’ve all acknowledged, but if you think Nantucket reds imply something about sexual preference you’re on a wrong tack. Compare NR trouser sightings in Chatham with Provincetown.

    To certain slobs, tucking your shirt in comes off as effeminacy.

  29. Ward Wickers | July 4, 2015 at 7:13 pm |

    @C.Sharp

    That’s a nice exercise.

    Since first becoming consciously aware, we have been relying on what our mind tells us. Clearly, this is generally a good thing. We can negotiate our day to day challenges, solve all kinds of difficult problems, find cures for diseases, invent useful things, build better mouse traps, put people on the moon, and the like. All is done with the mind. It’s advanced our race. But we can be over-reliant on our minds, and this may be the bane of being human. For whatever reason, we equate pink pants (or pink shoes—that one’s for you, Bags’) with being gay and immediately assume anyone who comes into our line of sight (or into our imaged line of sight, as is the case in this discussion) wearing pink as having a homosexual orientation, and we believe it. It’s the uncritical believing that gets us into trouble and the way in which we over-rely on the mind. The mind has become so good at helping us figure things out that we believe it unquestionably, but that seems to be our Achilles heel.

    I’ve always worn my shirt tucked in. But now, because of DCG’s comment, I could be effeminate. Heck, I work out four times a week and drink beer with the guys on Friday nights. I don’t want to be effeminate. That’s like being a girl! All kinds of similar stuff runs through my mind, including biblical references (e.g., “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 22:5). Shit, I’m screwed! So what do you think I do when I leave the house? Untuck the shirt, of course!

    Your exercise stops the crazy, uncritical believing of what the mind tells us because it engages deliberative mind (System 2) and makes us think a little about what we are thinking. It’s a nice way to be mindful. Cheers!

  30. @WW,

    My impression of Christianity has just gone down a notch or two! According to the prophet Google, you’re not making up the Deuteronomy 22:5 quote, and I have to say that I find women in menswear to be extremely hot.

  31. @Im

    Historically men have always put on their most elaborate and power-signaling clothing for precisely those spaces (the church, military) where women were completely excluded.

    How did I learn that? From “The Peacock’s Tale,” by fashion historian Pearl Binder.

  32. Ward Wickers | July 4, 2015 at 9:58 pm |

    @Im

    Sorry to lower your impression of Christianity. And for the record, I would never make up anything from Deuteronomy. That just wouldn’t be kosher. Also for the record, I find women in menswear to be hot, too. (Deuteronomy must have been a prude.)

    @Christian

    It is notable that men use clothing as a symbol of power. I would guess that the military uniform is the most power-signaling of men’s dress. Ivy Style adopted regimental ties and maybe one or two other military characteristics (e.g., we do see badge-type emblems on blazers), but overall, doesn’t seem to be too power-signaling a style of dress. Are we so understated that symbolic power for us comes from elsewhere, or are we all closet gays who feel it safe to ‘come out of the closet’ only during the summer months with our Nantucket Reds, or do we just don’t give a damn about power?

  33. A wonderfully written article by Mr. Sharp that’s obviously sparked a lively discussion — much deeper than what I would have expected.

    Clothes and perception (right or wrong)? I think sizing up people (in Murray’s pants or not) is an entertaining pastime. Universal, in fact. Sort of like figuring out a crossword puzzle.

    Experiment: first run around in bib-overalls and a “Skoal” mesh baseball cap (available at any Interstate Highway gas station) and see how strangers react to you, and then change into a Savile Row pinstripe and John Lobb wingtips. Notice anything different? Apparently, on this irrational planet, if you don’t want to be judged by what you wear then nudity seems the only rational alternative.

    I like Nantucket Reds and have worn them for many summers, but recognize their geographical and cultural limitations. For example, I know that wearing them into any Country and Western Bar in America would be tantamount to suicide. They staddle the line on being true go-to-hell pants, but are enough to stir outrage in certain unenlightened quarters.

    @DCG Our society is so obese that tucking one’s shirt in now seems arrogant and snobby. How dare you be in shape.

    @Ward Wickers Your fine comment reminds me of a passage in one of the Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago’s novels: “Needless anxiety is nearly always like this, a man torments himself, frets, thinks the worst, believes that the world is about to demand a full explanation, when in fact the world has moved on, thinking about other things.” And another insight: “The dangerous thing about appearances, when they deceive us, its always for the worse.”

    I guess it all comes down to wearing what you like and being prepared to face the consequences.

  34. Quoth “Ward”:

    “Ivy Style adopted regimental ties and maybe one or two other military characteristics (e.g., we do see badge-type emblems on blazers), but overall, doesn’t seem to be too power-signaling a style of dress. Are we so understated that symbolic power for us comes from elsewhere, or are we all closet gays who feel it safe to ‘come out of the closet’ only during the summer months with our Nantucket Reds, or do we just don’t give a damn about power?”

    OK, you’re taking this too literally, that military-derived motifs such as regimental ties are the only means of signaling power. Likewise, it’s completely false to suggest that so-called GTH clothing is an abandoning of power, for it’s quite the opposite.

    Wearing pastels and wild patterns is a class prerogative. The mere ownership of them suggests disposable income for such non-business attire, while the wearing them suggests one doesn’t have to go to work today. It’s similar to the function of the white suit in the early 20th century: you had to be rich to afford clothing so easily soiled.

    So go-to-hell clothing is actually a sartorial signifier of class belonging and economic power. The farther down you get from the classes, castes and geographic locations in which these clothes are worn, the more they are misunderstood, and likely to be misread as a sign of sexual orientation.

    Today, when shorts and t-shirts are abundant in any color and easily purchased at Wal-Mart and other discount stores, bright colors are not so rare, so the class issue comes down to the actual colors themselves, the cut and cloth, and the context.

    In addition to the “damned dapper” article, here’s a post from five years ago that maybe should go up today as this week’s archives post:

    http://www.ivy-style.com/preppy-week-alison-lurie-on-being-rich-and-dull.html

    See also blogger Reggie Darling’s post on Belgian Shoes. I shouldn’t have to point out that whether or not you would personally wear the shoes is not the reason for my sharing the link. The point is that these shoes are only worn by a specific segment of the monied class, and only in certain contexts and geographic locations. No one else would understand why a guy is wearing these dainty little shoes and what it really says about him.

    http://reggiedarling.blogspot.com/2010/06/belgians-bandwagon.html

  35. Ward Wickers | July 5, 2015 at 11:48 am |

    @Christian

    Ah – class and caste belongingness makes much more sense. I suppose there is also a sense of power that goes along with that, but showing that one belongs to the caste would be a strong motivator. The irony pregnant within this is that it is really only known to the caste. As you say, the farther down you get from the classes, the more they are misunderstood …”

    I am fascinated by the fact in ivy style that it’s the subtly (e.g., cut, color, quality of natural materials) and dullness that is used to draw the caste together. Lurie describes it as a look lacking in imagination, with little freedom for personal taste or expression. That certainly describes a strong pressure for conformity to the group, which is at odds with the American ideology of individualism, and which, paradoxically, it seems, also comes from New England.

    I’m especially intrigued by this statement of Lurie: “The aim was to look as if not only you but your family had been rich and dull for several generations denying, and at the same time of course suggesting, a deep-seated social anxiety.” I am wondering what the “deep-seated social anxiety” is all about. Has the caste so segregated itself from the rest of the world that it now feels threatened by it?

    @Groton76

    I appreciate those quotes, especially Saramago’s.

  36. Interesting stuff.

    Clothes are worn to call certain affiliations to mind. From an historical/evolutionary perspective, I’ve no doubt that others-as-potential-threat thesis is at least somewhat valid (“Let’s see. He’s wearing pink pants. That must mean he summers on Nantucket. Which means he’s richer and therefore more powerful than I am!”). While it may be true that a few old-line New England WASPs wear Nantucket Reds on occasion (I’ll venture a guess that most don’t care), it’s equally true that, now that pink pants are being sold and bought by a variety of shops (some of them nowhere near a New England island), they’ve mostly lost any reasonable affiliation with old money, summering WASPs. The democratization of preppy has rendered some of the more outlandish stuff as vulgar as a new Ferrari.

  37. Bags' Groove | July 5, 2015 at 4:16 pm |

    @ Ward Wickers
    Apart from the elite and patrician, many suffer “deep-seated social anxiety”, and are consequently threatened by class. I get invited to a few swanky charidee bashes in Old England, and it’s not until I’ve downed a glass or two that I can forget the fact that I’m a lad from plebeian stock who’s happened to make enough money to get invited to said bashes. Nevertheless I can never help feeling that the types I’m confronted with can sniff out my lack of breeding from a hundred paces. Thus it’s always great comfort to know that my garb looks the equal of any of ’em, even if it’s not from the Savile Row tailor used by my family right back to my great great grandfather’s time Shoes, to return to what Marilyn M had to say about them, are no problem of course, because Northampton’s finest always opened any door.

  38. @BG,

    If you want to see deep-seated social anxiety on steroids, come live in Silicon Valley. People here come from many, many different cultures, so what you might understand about UMC New Englanders, for example, is absolutely useless with almost everyone that you interact with. They understand how things work in England, Australia, India, Egypt, Russia, China, etc., but have typically have absolutely no idea of the social conventions in the other cultures. So essentially everyone feels like a clueless buffoon when it comes to social interactions. (The fact that it’s also ultra-competitive probably just makes things worse.)

    And it’s why I absolutely love alumni events. Prep school events are the best, because we went through those formative years together and ended up pretty much all the same a few decades later. College events aren’t as good for finding people who understand the same social conventions that you do because the more recent graduates are just as diverse as the general population of Silicon Valley.

    So if you’re into judging people or categorizing them based on the clothes that they wear (and I suspect that many people who read this blog do exactly that), the diversity of clothing out here will probably confuse the heck out of you.

  39. Bags' Groove | July 6, 2015 at 1:32 am |

    @ Im
    I’m a few decades too old for Silicon Valley. And there lies the rub, because we’ve a much younger family member who flits out there occasionally, and he seems to have little problem fitting into the mix.

  40. Back to Nantucket Reds. Just why does Murray’s tag say Do Not Dry Clean? What is the harm.

  41. Here’s the thing about wearing Nantucket Reds. You put them on and don’t give a sh*t about what other people think about you. They are classified under the go-to-hell category.

    And hey, perplexed senior, there’s nothing wrong with being gay OR being mistaken for someone who’s gay. My Reds called for you and they said “GO TO HELL!”

  42. Perplexed Senior | July 6, 2015 at 2:39 pm |

    People who claim not to give a sh*t about what other people think about them and then advertise that “fact” to those very people by their choice of clothing? Sounds pretty disingenuous to me.

  43. @W85,

    I believe that the problem with Reds is that the dye used in their manufacturing comes off fairly easily, like when exposed to some dry cleaning solvents. (My wife tells me that clothes that are red or orange are particularly prone to this.) So if you dry clean them they’ll fade a lot, and, perhaps more importantly, they have a good chance of adding an unexpected pink color to other garments that they’re dry cleaned with. The owners of those garments then can then be mistaken for being gay by the proles, and all sorts of unpleasantness can follow.

    @Dave,

    Being perceived as gay can definitely be be bad. Like if you’re a single, heterosexual man trying to meet single, heterosexual women. (Note that wearing pink and meeting single, heterosexual women are actually two things that seem to work well together. Or did when I used to worry about these sorts of things.)

  44. After doing some reading here and on a menswear forum, I’ve learned that the fit of Murray’s reds pants and shorts are voluminous. I recently acquired a pair of shorts and agree that the leg openings are wide and “flare” outward. For those of you who enjoy wearing Murray’s reds, do you have them altered or just enjoy the roomy fit as-is?

  45. @Gamma

    Did you order Murray’s Standard-Fit or their Slim-Fit Shorts?

  46. @J Kraus

    I ordered the shorts through Orvis. I don’t know the fit and wasn’t aware there are two different fits.

  47. If you wear Reds, you have crossed that invisible “GTH” line were you (should) no longer care what other people think about the way you dress. I wear Murray’s Toggery Shop Nantucket Reds for one reason, I like the color and the way it fades over time (okay, that’s two things). Murray’s has been in business for 70 years; it seem like other people like Reds, too.

    And if you were a single man, gay or straight, would you want to be with someone who did’t like your Nantucket Reds? I wouldn’t.

    And gay men don’t have the market cornered on style. I think the menswear boom on the internet has proved that to be a false stereotype.

  48. “You put them on and don’t give a sh*t about what other people think about you.”

    Seriously??

    No one who goes out of his/her way to find and wear pants of any shade of pink–“Nantucket Red” or otherwise_–can be accused of not caring about what sort of impression he (she) is making. Most people don’t care enough to wear clothing that tells others to “go to hell.” So, what can we say about those who do? That not only do they care, but they care immensely.

  49. If I may interject, I’ve always felt that it’s a misunderstanding that Wolfe was using the term “go to hell” to mean that the outrageous clothing was meant to sartorially tell non-tribe members to go to hell.

    The context of his piece is about the insular tribe of WASPs, who would have little interaction with nor care what hoi polloi thought of its clothes. Knowing Wolfe’s writing style, I think he was using “go to hell” to describe the colors the way you would say outrageous or over-the-top.

    I think it’s an 8 year old Ask Andy Trad Forum canard that GTH is a message intended for people who don’t get it.

  50. Roy R. Platt | July 7, 2015 at 9:09 pm |

    There are some who call men’s clothing that is (in their opinion) beyond “GTH”, “FU” clothing. On the other hand some women call certain styles of women’s shoes “FM” shoes.

    I had never heard of women’s “FM” shoes until recently, when it came up in a discussion in our Class Of ’65 Facebook group about what the girls were going to wear to our 50th Reunion.

    Those of you far more clever than I am can draw your own conclusions about the differences between men’s and women’s fashion terminology (as well as what girls who were born during Harry S. Truman’s first term as President are still thinking about).

  51. I was talking to a woman that I went to college with a while ago, and the topic of GTH pants came up. She said that the women in her sorority were quite amused by how silly we looked in some of the over-the-top pants that we found and that they had many a good laugh about it at our expense.

    We were, of course, totally oblivious to this.

    “Why didn’t you tell us?”

    “I think that you’ll find that women are much more honest about things like that after we figure out who’s going to marry who.”

  52. Watch out: “WFB Jr.” is going to correct your who & whom.

    Speaking of watching, I’m going back to the Copa America. Our men’s national soccer team has its first game tonight, just days after the women won. International soccer is my favorite spectator sport.

  53. Soccer is indeed fun to watch (which I have to say because my wife played soccer in college), but the new and improved America’s Cup has to be the best spectator sport ever invented.

    Ever.

    As in the entire four billion or so years of history of the planet Earth.

    We used to watch the AC in Rhode Island when I was a kid and it was roughly as interesting as watching paint dry. Honestly, most people who sail recreationally probably never end up sailing much faster than they can walk. But the AC 72s in the last Cup changed that in a huge way.

    I was lucky enough to go out on a cruise that parked right by the course, but it turned out to be a bad time to do it – it was in the days when Oracle was losing every race. Even the free drinks didn’t make up for seeing Oracle lose so consistently.

    But then things changed.

    Definitely the most exciting few weeks in sporting history.

  54. In NYC, we called them “Jackass pants”, as attested to by John Tinseth:

    “I remember back in my college years we called them “F–k You Pants”—referring to the message you sent by wearing them. After graduation I moved from the South to NYC, and packed inside my sole piece of luggage, an army duffel bag, was a pair of madras plaid trousers. They were Polo and they ate up half my monthly GI Bill stipend, and I was not happy to learn that in NYC they were called “Jack Ass Pants”—referring to the wearer himself and not his ballsy attitude.”

    http://www.gilt.com/giltmanual/2011/06/go-to-hell-pants/

  55. Yes, it seems the intransigent Whos down in Whoville have grown inexorably tyrannical & territorial over the years. No room left in the English language for the Whoms. Long gone are the prescriptively trad dictionaries and usage books of yesteryear. I have a collection of them to comfort me in times like these.

  56. Ward Wickers | July 8, 2015 at 6:52 am |

    For all you sports fans: In addition to great soccer, there is also Wimbledon on right now. Tennis is my favorite game, but I know people can be nuts over soccer. This seems especially true in England. Last year during Wimbledon, I was in Brighton for a few days. One night when Andy Murray was playing, my friend and I went to a pub to watch the game. I sat between my friend and some random bloke. All those two could talk about was soccer. They couldn’t care less that is was their UK countryman playing. I tried to watch, but could only hear soccer commentary sitting between these two. Not knowing anything about what they were talking about (or caring, rally) I finally gave up trying to watch the tennis and just drank my beer.

    Speaking of GTH pants and tennis, Bud Collins, the famous tennis commentator, is renowned for his pants. Now retired, he was totally shameless in wearing what he wanted where he wanted, including on camera. He would find wild-colored fabric in his global travels and then have the Andover Shop make custom trousers. Murray’s were probably too tame for Collins. My point from all this: If you really want to see GTH pants, forget soccer and start watching tennis!

    http://budcollinstennis.com/a-retrospective-look-at-buds-colorful-wardrobe/

  57. Perhaps WJGjr is similarly dismayed by the way “there’s” is now ubiquitous in places in which “there are” is called for. Or how the distinction between “less” and “fewer” has been eroded with “less” being used promiscuously while “fewer” is left by the roadside.

    It’s like the dress code situation. Nonetheless, language never stops changing and nothing can stop the flow. Maybe the best that can be done is to be aware of the different registers of formality and informality — a high style, a medium style, and a low style — and use them appropriately (inc. mixtures) for times and places.

  58. Errata — “WJBjr.”

  59. Ward Wickers | July 8, 2015 at 8:13 am |

    The Elements of Style – Strunk & White

  60. I, of course, blame the fact that people don’t quite understand the proper use of the word “whom” on the fact that Latin isn’t required in high schools anymore. That’s where we learned our grammar, including cases, moods, etc. When we all took Latin, you had things happen like the incident described here:

    http://www.powell-pressburger.org/Reviews/57_IllMet/IllMet08.html

    Today, kids learn Spanish or Chinese instead. Yes, my high school actually offers Chinese now, perhaps one of the best situations to use the term “WTF?” that I’ve ever seen. And certain aspects of the world have clearly gone to heck. Coincidence?

    My wife, who is a product of American public schools, really has no idea of how homogeneous WASPs are. We all had French in grade school. We all had Latin in high school. Etc. Decades later, we’re still pretty much all the same. Her experience was extremely different, and I’m afraid that I really don’t understand what it’s like to grow up in that world.

  61. Ward Wickers | July 8, 2015 at 9:24 am |

    And WTF, exactly, is wrong with Chinese? And how exactly does that turn the world to heck?

    I have to wonder, do you ever stop to think about prejudice and how you might be not only influenced by it, but encourage it’s continuation?

  62. @WW,

    It’s not a question of Chinese being bad in absolute terms. It’s about changing things that haven’t been changed for a couple hundred years. Before you know it, they’ll be admitting girls!

    (And please try to remember that this a clothing blog, and totally off-topic comments in which people pretend to be much more curmudgeonly than they really are probably shouldn’t be taken too seriously.)

  63. Charlottesville | July 8, 2015 at 10:24 am |

    Speaking of GTH, I am reminded of a friend who refers to my patchwork madras pants as “clown pants.” This from a product of Choate who summers in Nantucket and has worn reds since the cradle. I suppose that one man’s GTH is another’s Bozo.

  64. @Ward

    A few years ago I had lunch with Bud Collins and Charlie Davidson of The Andover Shop, who makes his pants. Delightful gentleman. He was about to embark on a trip to Easter Island, of which I was very jealous.

  65. Ward Wickers | July 8, 2015 at 10:50 am |

    @Christian

    You lucky dog! I am pretty much a nut about tennis and have always admired Collins for his love of the game, the way he promoted it by giving life and personality to the players, and his wild clothes. To have been there with him and Davidson would have been a real treat.

  66. Old School | July 10, 2015 at 12:43 pm |

    “Identity is a public phenomenon, a performance or construction that is interpreted by other people. This construction takes place in discourse and other social and embodied conduct, such as how we move, where we are, what we wear, how we talk and so on.”
    (Benwell & Stokoe, 2006, p. 3)

  67. “That you are here—that life exists and identity,
    That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”

  68. Flash Gordon | July 14, 2015 at 6:34 am |

    In the future, will men take those blaze orange baseball caps that hunters wear and decide that they are an aristocratic symbol? That wearing one proves a person doesn’t have to have a day job and can instead spend all their time hunting and shooting on their estates? (Especially if the stiffener has broken down, giving it that almost used up sort of look?) That’s basically what has happened to cheap safety-red cotton sailing pants where the dye has bled out…

  69. Flash
    Who would wear a blaze orange hunting cap on their own estate? 😉

  70. Very possible Flash, it’s the same basic story as tweed, long-legged trousers, neckties, button downs…what’s your point?

  71. Jon Smythington | April 17, 2016 at 5:57 am |

    Lovely article, but I wish the American standard of “pants” was used, rather than the more pretentious “trousers.”

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