The spring over there takes you by the throat, the flowers blooming by the thousands over white walls. If you walk for an hour in the hills surrounding my town, you would return with the odor of honey in your clothes.
—Albert Camus, The Misunderstanding
Welcome back, spring. We say this with snow on the ground, but we’re hopeful. Soon we can all celebrate the return of warm weather by burning our sweaters and petrograde synthetic coats in a foul-smelling pyre on the front sidewalk, and stroll off for an afternoon of shopping. First, however, we’ll need a shopping list.
Clean Out Your Closet
It’s time for the seasonal rotation. And what you find in the back of your closet will seem like a relic to you—even though you were sporting it twice a week this time last year. So why does it look so crappy now? One reason: Warm weather is tougher on the clothes you wear close to the skin. After all, when it’s nicer out you do—and sweat—more. You eat more sandwiches with mustard on them. You drink more grape-ade in the park. You accidentally light more collars on fire with bottle rockets.
All that, and every September men around the globe are consistently guilty of balling up their still-warm T-shirts and still-wet seersucker pants and tossing them, a thousand wrinkles to the inch, in the back of a drawer.
So, yeah, that blue-and-white striped Lacoste does look like shit right now. Time to get a new one? Probably. Or you load up a duffel bag of precious, short-sleeved material and head over to your preferred dry cleaner. While you’re going, bring your winter coat(s) and good sweaters, and store them for next year in the cleaner’s bag when they’re returned (coats and jackets should have their arms and shoulders stuffed to retain their shape in hibernation; if your cleaner doesn’t do this, get a new cleaner). And though we’re heckled for this on a daily basis by sartorial ding-dongs who won’t admit their mistakes are inherited from their ding-dong fathers who never knew better, our dry-cleaning advice for all shirts says no starch. Ever.
Or perhaps, instead of dry cleaning, you’re considering chucking the blue and white stripe and going for red? Even better.
Keep It Casual
That is, it’s short-sleeves time. And T-shirts count. T-shirts with ring-around-the-collar and pit-stains, however, don’t. Neither do undershirts. Can’t tell if your favorite T-shirt is soiled beyond hope? Then you’re just blinded by nostalgia. It’s gross. We can practically smell it from here.
Short-sleeve shirts are appropriate to offices that allow them, but crappy short-sleeve shirts are appropriate to crapheads. Keep them clean and ironed; even the finest-aged vintages—a 1977 remnant of a sailing contest, say—can be worn down the hallways of industry if the hems are straight and free from puckering.
Collared dress shirts with short sleeves are fantastic; Steven Malkmus and the engineers of NASA have endorsed them. Despite your own yearnings for cropped sleeves, however, you’ll want to avoid ripping the sleeves off your long-sleeved dress shirts. Instead: purchase. Buy a fitted shape, but nothing too tight. Larger men will want to err on the looser side. Button-down collars say unbuttoned personality. Details on either side of the placket—cute little boxes, illustrations, zippers—went out when Matthew Perry went to rehab. If your short sleeves are at all rolled up, you’re looking to get laid, not promoted. Plaids almost always work; patterns rarely ever do. A straight hem on the shirt will make it look like a cheap jacket, especially if the fabric’s at all waxy; stick to flap-tails. Like capri pants, three-quarter sleeves belong on women. Pockets are good for anything but storage. Bowling or gas-station shirts are good for bowling or gas stations, or demonstrating the only known proof for the argument irony is dead.
Did we mention Hawaiian shirts are now being shown in the Smithsonian? Leave them there, unless you’re surfing. And don’t think we’re ignoring a discussion on the merits of oversized silk shirts bearing dragon images or popular comic-book heroes. We simply think anyone who wears these types of shirts, and wants to have a discussion about them probably will explode from the sheer mind-fuck of multiple universes of logic co-existing in their cranium.
Golf shirts are great. Stick to bold, solid colors (better for larger men, but never pastel) or thin stripes (good for skinny guys). Wear your proper size. Keep the collar down. Realize that if you’re wearing a T-shirt underneath, people will either think that you’re younger than you are (and not in a good way) or that you don’t know how to do laundry (and are trying to get an extra day out of your shirt). Avoid wearing golf shirts to work, and certainly never to a meeting, since the fabric will crinkle and go slack (stretching out from humidity and your nervous tugging) after a few hours. If you must, try to wear a superior specimen that will look good in the late afternoon; Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, and Patagonia make excellent, sturdy shirts. Banana Republic does not.
Shirts Lose Arms, Pants Keep Legs
That’s right, no shorts until summer. And even then, you’ve heard our case: unless there’s a swimming pool nearby and you absolutely must, otherwise no. Never.
We also recommend you keep the Nantucket Reds, seersuckers, linen trousers, and white chinos on hold until Memorial Day. A good rule of thumb for chinos in warm weather: you always want them to look starched, never thin or flimsy. Achieve this by frequent washing, ironing, or application of boat wax.
Belts with embroidered flags, whales, lobsters, scuba or golf gear: not if you’re under 50. Pants with embroidered flags, whales, lobsters, scuba or golf gear: not if you’re under 70.
A Suit for Special Occasions
(The following tips should be taken as additions to our general rules on suit shopping.)
Spring, in itself and as a prelude to summer, is a sure sign you either need to be happy with your current favorite three-season suit, or consider purchasing a new one. After all, you’ll probably go to a wedding—maybe even your own if you play your cards right with a bridesmaid.
When shopping for a suit, know that spring gives you newfound leeway in what you wear. But you should still pick the suit based on where you will wear it most often. First off, only two-piece suits are applicable for spring, and no double-breasts. The extra layer’s a waste unless you’re in a barbershop quartet, then may God help your children, because he’s obviously skipping you over. Cotton and linen suits work in the hottest weather, but a light wool is perfect for coolish nights—heavy enough to keep you warm and glad you RSVP’d. Two buttons is the right jacket for right now; peak lapels also look swell with a trim waist.
Color also presents more options. Not anything goes, of course. Although all permutations of cream, stone, and khaki are suitable, so are the darker blues (step away from the seersucker, Matlock—it’s not June yet), grays (all shades), and black. No suit in pink or mint green should be eyed with any real consideration of purchase. Light-colored suits look more formal in heavier fabrics, and keep their shape better when it’s hot and you’re dripping (wrinkled linen always looks bad).
The jury’s still out on white suits unless you’re selling cigars or in The Flaming Lips. Plus, the grass stains are a bitch, and we know our wives would wipe your ass all over the lawn if you showed up at their wedding in white.
Remember, lighter colors reflect sunlight. Wear a cotton khaki suit and you’ll deflect heat. Wear a heavy wool in navy blue and you’ll be a dark spot on the veranda in an hour.
Shoes, shirt, tie, and pocket square should be chosen for the suit, but spring does allow for new colors, especially around Easter: yellows (be careful), greens, pinks, and baby blues are all encouraged. No wool ties. Wide-check shirts are perfect, subtle stripes (not bright) are smart, a crisp white shirt, no tie, one button undone under a stone-colored jacket: all perfect.
Spring is also the season for light sport coats, though avoid any tweeds thicker than a napkin. Blue blazers: fine, but they better be tailored (no inherited Sunday-School aesthetics) and no gold buttons. Black blazers: no. A subtle pattern, light wool, possibly in an olivey-brown: hell yeah. Kelly green: only for Tiger Woods.
White shoes: Only for tennis. Jean jackets: As long as you don’t mind looking like a roadie, or everyone else. Shoes without socks: Fine. Sandals: Not yet. Sunglasses: Always, but avoid colored tints, gratuitous logos, or cheap frames that snap when you sit on them—cheap is good; cheap in a Roman flea market is better. Argyle socks: Always. Docksiders, with or without barrel knots: Didn’t we go over the no-inherited-Sunday-school-aesthetics rule? (Fashion is the worst place to test irony.) Baseball hats: Only for baseball or hangovers. Mesh baseball hats: Only for truckers, field hands, and others who actually work (and we mean this with true respect) for their money. Braided belts: Unbraid, strangle self.