photo: Citizen in Downtown Havana, Havana, Cuba, 1933
by Walker Evans
The white linen suit may well be the pinnacle of classic Summer style, but good luck pulling it off. Even if I found one for a pittance at a thrift shop, I'd probably think twice. In a world where something as simple as a navy blazer and khakis is so often seen as overblown and pretentious, a white suit will mark you immediately as an insufferable dandy. Besides this dude in the photograph, our man Toad is the only person I can readily think of who gets a pass. Even ADG might have a hard time with this one.
And in case you're still on the fence about that straw boater hat you've been considering, think twice. This dude may be proof that the boater is not only acceptable but perhaps even bad-ass. But you are not this dude.
Don't get me wrong, I love the past. I understand it in a way that I'll never be able to grasp my present. I surround myself with old things, live with them, wear them, breathe them and learn about them. I'll even admit to having what most people may consider a bit too much nostalgia and fondness for the people and things that existed well before my birth. But despite all this, I don't really want to live in the past. I only wish people dressed better and had better manners, really. That, and I like a good bow tie.
I'm all for playing with the past, but a man has to be careful. No one wants to wear a costume all day.
It may be down to where a person lives and how much one cares about what other people think. I've worn my very light cream linen suit four times on hot days this summer and it's gone down well.
Now I'll admit that it's not glo-white, but it's different than all the beige jackets about, where people chicken out and pair it with darker trousers.There's only one guy I know here who wears a white suit (or several identical ones) and he wears it all year round. He's also a local weirdo though.
I keep daydreaming of some extremely light cloth I saw once for this +90 weather, but I can't remember what it was called. I would wear a white linen suit. If nothing else, it is a sign of resistance.
I still think it's doable without looking like a costume. However, I've only worn my white cotton jacket and pants separately this summer so I must have some reservations.
It is a comfort though to live in NY where no one gives a shit about my clothes or my cheesy little life for that fact.
Hey man, we still wear white linen suits in New Orleans! Some folks still wear them to business, too.
They are an absolute pain in the ass to keep clean. In the good old days the construction was a good bit simpler--wash & wear-- but today because it's made like every other jacket one can't just wash it absent making into a darling kid's suit.
Perlis still sells hundreds of them a year.
I have 3 white suits and love and wear them all often. You are quite right about the skimmer. Unless you're over 70 they are a costume item, always and everywhere.
thanks for the nod
It does depend on where you live. Where I went to school (somewhere between the Old-Money South and the Deep South) Seersucker was the style, and a linen suit would have been seen as slightly eccentric, but basically unremarkable.
Many years ago, my sister got married and the bridesmaids work sailor-style dresses from Laura Ashley and the groomsmen wore blazers and khaki pants AND straw boaters. It was such fun and looked great.
I think is all comes down to your own confidence and the aura or presence that it creates. If you lack that aspect then people will pick on it and assume you are trying to be something your not and it becomes a costume. I have a white suite that I wear out once in a while with a straw batter hat and I get complements on my attire, I like to think it is my confidence, my wife tells me it is because I am 6 feet tall, 275 pounds and a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter that makes people think I look alright. I think she might be right. Great post, really dig this blog.
A great picture of a bygone era. I’m sure that is a 100% pure Irish linen drill 100 a popular choice of the period. If you put attention to the bystander individual, he was probably wearing a tweed suit, a dichotomy of styles choices in a heavily influenced European population-- mainly of Spaniards—on a minimum 72 degree temperature and no air conditioner.
I think the problem with some people's outfits is explained here very well: They're costumes. I think a linen jacket (with unmatching pants) would be ok, especially with a madras tie. The hat? Never. A panama hat would look good, though.
I used to wear a white linen jacket. As someone mentioned, the jacket was hard to keep clean. Although it was lined, I used to hand wash it.
Costume is simple another word for the clothing we choose to wear. As you get older you find you don't give a damn what other people think.
...an insufferable dandy or an arrogant slob? Is there really a choice?
I have a white Guayabera shirt with matching pants that I bought some years ago after a visit to Mexico. I have worn the shirt many times but have yet to wear them with the shirt...because it's hard to stay clean.
I have always wanted a white (or cream colored) suit but I worry about keeping clean with all of the white. The man in the photo pulls it of because he has sprezzatura...something that I am striving for. He seems unphased about being a dirt magnet in that white suit!
I think I really would have a hard time trying to get past worrying about staying clean with that much white on! Maybe Tom Wolfe could tell us how to do it!
Anyway, I dig the straw boater!
I have to diverge with you on this. As a former New Orleans resident, I's say there's still room for linen suits, at least among people of decent sense in hot weather. I'm a seersucker guy myself, but I respect those who can pull it off. As to the boater, mine generally makes it out only for Easter, Derby Day, and July 4th. It's certainly not for daily wear, but it has its moments.
The way I figure, if you're trying to blend in, then break out the jean shorts. It's a pretty arbitrary line your drawing between spiffy and silly (dare I mention the dreaded espadrilles?!?).
If my boater helps to make the world safe for somebody's "safe" Panama straw (another favorite of mine, so much the better. The trick is doing it right, ditching the club band for a solid one and wearing the hat with confidence.
The London flaneur and writer Dickon Edwards is often seen wearing one. It goes very well with his hair
I will show off mine when the weather actually justifies it - London hasn't seen a glimpse of summer since the end of February
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