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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Good Drunken Sleep on the Beach: A Men's Summer Style Guide

Standing at a urinal in the King of Prussia Mall, I faced a choice: to suffer certain embarrassment or run from it. And reader, I faced it.

First, I should say: if I had not visited the bathroom, the choice might've not occurred to me at all. As it was, I stood at my urinal, happily envisioning my recent J. Crew purchase, when I discovered: I was not wearing my underwear.

I admit, for me, “going commando” is not uncommon. Whatever the prevailing opinion, I prefer the graceful ease of minimal clothes. In fact, I often feel that my underwear--Stretch Cotton Sport Trunk, Banana Republic: $19.50--confines my spirit. And I need to feel free, reader, in my heart and soul--and elsewhere. But this day I was certain: I had been wearing underwear. (It was a cool spring day, about three weeks ago, breezy and grey: underwear weather.)

I suppose I should mention my purchase now: J. Crew's 9” Stanton Short in Irish Linen ($75). Color: Amalfi Blue. When worn for a mere hour, the shorts develop the characteristic rumpled look of linen--as if worn to sleep, on the beach, like Rimbaud:

“The best thing of all is a good drunken sleep on the beach.”

Each summer, I purchase a few garments to wear every single day: a simple summer uniform. The Stanton Shorts in Irish Linen complete this summer's outfit--and attitude. Last spring, around the time of my daughter's birth, I felt confident and goofy--and so I returned to the short swimsuits of my twenties (I wrote about this for The Rumpus). I spent months seeking the perfect short swimsuit, browsing both the reasonable (High Tides-Navy, Bonobos: $65) and aspirational (The Bulldog-Forest Green, Orlebar Brown: $240).

In the end, my wife and daughter gave me a real humdinger for Father's Day: the Core Ibiza Swim Short from 2(X)IST-Black ($90), a short number with functional front pockets, a back pocket with logo, and a drawstring cord. I wore the suit nearly every day--to Starbucks, Whole Foods, walking Ella around town--with blue boat shoes (Docksides-Blue Nite, Sebago: $100) and a white V-neck (This summer's suggestion: The Men’s Crew-White, Made in the USA: Everlane: $15).

This year, perhaps inspired by recent challenges, I'm feeling, at once, ruffled and reserved. I'm also feeling a keen need relax—to back away from the brash enthusiasm of the short swimsuit. And so: the Stanton Shorts in Irish Linen.

At J. Crew that day, I spent a good twenty minutes browsing shorts, asking prying questions of the employees milling around the store: two men decked in pastel pants (Sun-Faded Chino in Urban Slim Fit: $75) and canvas shoes (Vans for J.Crew Canvas Authentic Sneakers: $60), and three women in the toothpick jeans (Midrise Toothpick Jeans: $125--suitable for cross-dressing men) and ballet flats (Classic Patent Ballet Flats: $135). In my prying, I might've inadvertently flirted with a sixth employee, a tall black man in a lovely summer-weight blazer (Ludlow Suit Jacket in Irish Linen: $298)—a catch, for sure, if I were so inclined. I sensed he was so inclined, but I was merely interested in his look, how his blazer seemed to speak of Frank O'Hara’s Lunch Poems. I imagined waking in some bright hotel, wood floors gleaming in the summer light, wearing the same blazer, my wife asleep next to me—both of us free, for just this one daydream, of the dramatic, omnipotent hold of our new daughter:

oh god it's wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much

The tall black man suggested the linen shorts. I don't even drink coffee, and one cigarette puff is enough to ruin my evening, but the joy I discover in clothing is pure expression: how a garment reveals the content of my daydreams. So I grabbed the linen shorts.

I loved them as soon as I tried them on, my last option after four pairs of brightly-colored cotton shorts: smoky lilac, neon kiwi, lemon zest, deep forest (9” Stanton Short: $64.50) I threw each pair in the corner, a “soft rich heap” that had me thinking Gatsby:

“He took out a pile of shirts and began throwing them, one by one before us, shirts of sheer linen and thick silk and fine flannel which lost their folds as they fell and covered the table in many-colored disarray. While we admired he brought more and the soft rich heap mounted higher--shirts with stripes and scrolls and plaids in coral and apple-green and lavender and faint orange with monograms of Indian blue.”

I read Gatsby each May, in preparation for the summer. I love the look of this classic French edition. Thanks for the link, Suzanne! For more: click here.

Incidentally, Brooks Brother’s The Great Gatsby Collection has some dreamy numbers for the sartorially-minded literati. Top picks: The Pink Stripe Linen Jacket: $698 and The White & Brown Spectator Wingtip: $598.

Anyway, the Irish linen shorts fit perfectly. The fabric felt otherworldly comfortable, and the color, closer to blue chambray than Amalfi coast, nevertheless inspired summery visions of blackberries and sandals and blue boat shoes.


I stood looking at myself for a long time. I tend to do this. I do not believe this is vanity, as you (or my wife) might assume. It's introspection. Looking at myself in my chosen garment, I self-appraise. Who am I? Why? This day, posing for myself in my linen shorts, my examination uncovered a relatively pedestrian consideration: How might these shorts fit without underwear?

It was an important question. I hoped to wear these shorts everyday through the deepest months of summer. July and August: no-underwear weather. So I stripped naked. And here's the rub: thoughtlessly, carelessly, I threw my boxer-briefs on that soft rich heap of bright-colored cotton shorts.

This is where my underwear remained, as I dressed again, and left the dressing room to purchase my shorts.

What kind of my man leaves his underwear in a dressing room atop a heap of shorts?

What kind of man strips naked to try on a pair of shorts?

Standing at a urinal at the King of Prussia Mall, I asked myself these questions. I considered running. I devised a scheme involving a discrete phone call and my wife. I was wearing my favorite jeans: Bonobos Travel Jeans-Savannah Khaki: $98. I had woke that morning with a sharp pain in my gut. A daughter changes a guy. Style is about owning your outfit—and your actions.

Speed-walking back to J. Crew, I performed a mental inventory of the six employees. To whom should I offer my admission? It occurred to me, then, that the act of leaving my underwear in the J. Crew dressing room might be interpreted in a variety of ways, from creepy to dangerously seductive.

Just kidding, whatever variety of opinions might've actually existed, I was certain of only one: it was creepy. For sure.

To walk into a J. Crew store recently is to feel transported to the rich palette of the J. Crew catalog, the colors muted or brightened, as if by Instragram filter, from lemon to lemon zest, pink to smoky lilac, green to sea glass.

The J. Crew Catalog

The catalog itself reads like a graphic thesaurus to color—a boon for poets, perhaps. I imagine the famously churlish Rimbaud paging smirking at the light nectar cardigan. Or perhaps not. After all, it was Rimbaud who, in his poem “Voyelles”, gave the world “cow-parsley”.

Striding back into J. Crew that day, I couldn't help but stop, for a moment, and marvel at the women's Twisted Stitch Open-Neck Sweater ($85). Color: Champagne Sea. My wife dislikes J. Crew’s fits, so I rarely think about her when browsing the women’s selections. Oh, I thought instead, I would love to wear that.

Looking up, I found myself face-to-face with a tall black man in a lovely linen blazer. He smiled and opened his mouth to speak, and in that wisp of an interlude--a fraction of a second, really--between his warm smile and potentially troubling words, my embarrassment evaporated.

Clothes, of course, do not make the man--not entirely. But men, please do not underestimate the power of a well-worn blazer, and a gracious smile to boot. Style can be many things, but a purposeful smile seems crucial to me. The power to dissolve, and not amplify, another’s embarrassment is rare, indeed.

“Back again...” he began to say.

“I left my underwear in the dressing room,” I blurted. 

“Go,”  he said, laughing. “I think you're good.”

And so: I shuffled back to the dressing room, and discovered, atop the soft rich heap of cotton shorts: my underwear.

Shuffling out, all my garments accounted-for, I smiled my way back through J. Crew’s sea of color—the champagne sea, with its hibiscus cardigans and lemon zest mini-shorts—waving goodbye to my hero in the Irish linen blazer, dreaming quite realistically of some not-too-distant afternoon when I might awake from a nap, rumpled and free and healthy, to a toddler tugging at my own bit of Irish linen: my new shorts; my summer, distilled to simple hope.

Has anyone seen my cow-parsley beach tote?

My summer uniform: Bonobos Belmont Slim Piqué Polo-Light Pink: $55, J. Crew's 9” Stanton Short in Irish Linen-Amalfi Blue: $75, Vans for J.Crew Canvas Authentic Sneakers-Navy: $60