30 November 2012

Casual, not Sloppy

The word "casual" gets bandied about in reference to clothing or the situations in which we wear clothing so much that it's definition tends to get blurred. For a guy like me who actually enjoys clothing and dressing to suit the occasion, it's all but become a dirty word. It shouldn't be. I may have a habit of being what many consider "overdressed" much of the time, but I'm not such a stiff that I don't know how to wear casual clothing in casual situations.
The outfit above is something I consider to be casual, but adult. A striped button down shirt, favorite vintage wool crew neck sweater and soft flannel pants. In it, I am comfortable and warm, but I also feel like a grown man to be taken seriously. A younger fellow, or someone more fashion conscious, might try the same thing with dark jeans and come off just fine. Topped with a Barbour jacket and tweed cap, this outfit saw me through taking a small child to a doctors appointment, lunch and ice cream to follow, a trip to a thrift shop, after school pick up, playground time, and a night shift at work. I was comfortable and appropriately dressed for each of these situations.

I'm not about to go on some silly rant about how "casual" means a tweed jacket and tie with cords and loafers. There was a time when this was true, but we simply do not live in that time anymore. Ranting about things like men who wear brown shoes in the city and the fact that we no longer wear black tie to dinner at home is not only pointless, it marks one as an out of touch curmudgeon with little better to do than complain about what everybody else is or isn't doing. However, it's not a bad idea to remind ourselves that casual doesn't necessarily mean sloppy. You won't see me out of the house in my pyjamas, and the older I get the less likely it is you'll see me even in jeans. For men who care about clothing, it can be challenging these days to dress in a manner they consider appropriate while not looking like a stiff. As unfortunate as this may be to some of us, it helps to remember that you can be casual and well dressed simultaneously, despite what the world at large may be telling you.

This is my kind of casual:

p.s. If only Ralph Gleason would get off the stage. It's embarrassing.


Mark said...

Oh come now...would you have gotten off stage if you were there? :-)

Anonymous said...

Uncommon common sense. (And, thank you for spelling pyjamas with a "y". Don't see that much anymore.)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for setting the tone of adult dressing.

NaturalShoulder said...

I appreciate how eloquently you expressed this idea and agree with your thoughts on the matter. When I show up to my son's soccer game in khakis and and old OCBD, I get comments about how I am so dressed up. I just smile and explain this is how I always dress. I refrain from stating that I only looked dress up because everyone else is wearing flip flops, cargo shorts, and tshirts.

Tanner said...

I think it's a great distinction you make about younger/more fashion-conscious guys being able to pull off the same thing with dark jeans.

Too many of us in the style world believe our way is the best or only way of doing things, but there is quite a bit of room for adaptation given your age and lifestyle, even while adhering to the point that casual is not the same thing as sloppy.

NCJack said...

So many people seem to equate sloppy with "comfortable" that I wonder what their parents made them wear as children..yak cloth tuxedoes?

Roger v.d. Velde said...

I agree with your basic position concerning well-dressed and casual occupying the same spot.

It might depend upon where you live; what land; city, town or country etc. Tweed cap and Barbour jacket might be considered a bit corny worn around e.g. urban London - like someone dressing up as a stereotypical gamekeeper.

I happen to live in a mediaeval, rather provincial European city and a tweed jacket, tie and cords is still 'smart casual' wear.

jc919 said...

Greetings from England. I am 21 and at university, I frequently receive comments such as; "Why are you so suited and booted today?", or "You're looking very smart today", when wearing an inherently casual OCBD shirt with cords or jeans, and perhaps some shoes that aren't trainers, or sneakers as you call them in the US.

Old School said...

There are still those of us who believe that "casual" does indeed mean a tweed jacket and tie with cords and loafers, and dress accordingly. The tie, of course, should be silk knit or woolen.

Ian said...

I see your nemesis was peddling "no brown in town" as the gospel truth just the other day:


Boston Bean said...

By wearing a jacket, tie, cords, and loafers we are not just dressing casually but making a political statement protesting the general sloppiness we see around us.
I can assure you that the tie and the jacket add to the strength of the statement.

Young Fogey said...


What Will actually wrote is this:

"No brown in town" is a not unreasonable guideline

I'd hardly call that "peddling" "gospel truth."

Roger is spot-on: what's casual, and even what's acceptable, depends on the location. I would feel uncomfortable conducting business in a large city while wearing brown suede shoes, brown trousers, a corduroy jacket, and a casual tie; however, the exact same outfit is something I wear quite a bit to work in my smallish backwater town.

(Because I am a reactionary and dress as a rebuke to the slovenly, I wear the same outfit sometimes on weekends, too.)

Ian said...

Fine. I'll stand by peddling though. For the record I enjoy asw too.

Thing is, 'no brown in town' based on the country/business split seemed fair enough (for the 19th Century, or anyone with a country estate to go back to) but am I alone in thinking that trying to update that to the size of a city (and how do we benchmark that population, square miles?) is a decent criteria for choosing whether to wear brown shoes or not? You may as well say "no brown on a full moon"...but y'know these blogs might be less fun without 'the rules'.

Young Fogey said...


The rules for dressing have a hierarchy of importance, and top of the list is dressing for the occasion. Next down is dressing for the location.

If the occasion is a court date, you wear a suit, even if you're in Podunk. If the occasion is washing the car, you wear your grubbies, even if you live in the heart of a metropolis.

But then comes location. In large conurbations, gray concrete, black asphalt, and blue glass predominate, so those colors are the city colors. In the country, the brown of the earth and the green of the plants predominate, so those colors in clothing let the wearer blend mellifluously with his surroundings.

As Will said, this "is a not unreasonable guideline" (emphasis added). Using it as a guideline helps us dress better. For meetings, or business in a large city, black shoes, though unadventurous, will never be out of place. But that doesn't mean you can't wear other colors. Having said that, using the city vs. country dressing conventions as a guideline, you might choose dark brown or burgundy shoes to wear in town instead of black ones. Most people won't notice, or even care, but some will notice you look good, without necessarily being able to put their finger on why.

Go ahead and wear whatever you want, but part of wearing clothes is consideration for others. By being aware of the conventions for dress, it's easier to express our consideration via what we wear. And regardless of what we think "ought" to be, what is is more important, and it is the fact that we are judged by what we wear.

Marc said...

You're not alone Ian. 'No brown in town' is an outdated pseudo-rule which seems to be clung to by people attaching themselves to an bygone dress era aesthetic. Or perhaps to an off-the-cuff remark that applies to little more than a London winter. It just doesn't make sense.
There are many many 'towns' or cities around the world that are brown in tone - and some that appear brown under summer sun and foliage. Both shoes and clothing in brown work in such places. How can a town or city comprised of rich tones of red and brown bricks not complement browns in clothing?

I declare this 'rule' deceased. It's a poor rule of thumb.

2Stoics said...

Unasailably sharp.

Young Fogey said...

Talk about a tempest in a teacup! (But I will admit to being the biggest blowhard in said tempest.) When did a "guideline" become a rule that needs to be pronounced dead?

Yeah, sure, historically it was a rule. As it turns out, even now there are some cities where black is the shoe color for business, and anyone wearing something else would be considered odd, or out of place at the least, for wearing brown (I'm looking at you, Tokyo and Seoul and, according to rumour, the City of London). However, in our post-Cultural Revolution anything goes world, yeah, sure, you can wear a T-shirt (underwear), sweat pants (athletic wear), and flip-flops (beach wear) in a city and hardly anyone would bat an eye at you.

Then again, they won't take you seriously, either.

(BTW, argument ad absurdum, so don't get all lathered up about it—I know no one here is advocating the sloppy look.)

Ian said...

Young Fogey: "I know no one here is advocating the sloppy look",

Hear, hear. At least we can agree on that.

BlueTrain said...

Dressing casually is not as easy as it seems, though dressing sloppily certainly is. The problem is, you have to dress to fit in. That doesn't mean you have to wear flip-flops if you'd rather wear boat shoes. I don't even have any flip-flops, or shower shoes, as we called them in the army. My boss at work (almost) never dresses casually but his boss, the owner, does--sort of. This time of the year he wears a suit but (almost) never a necktie. It's pointless for me to wear a suit but I wear a necktie four days out of five and I'm the only other one who does.

We were in London a year ago last August and I carefully observed what people were wearing. Suits were very much in evidence, yet neckties were scarce. Hats were equally scarce and I saw a grand total of one bowler, just outside Buckingham Palace. Fashions do indeed change but one can rarely tell if things are getting better or worse. Either way, one should not confuse "well dressed" with "suitably dressed," though I will admit, it's easy to do.

I'm also one of those who will usually be the one who is overdressed, though you should see what I wear at home, if anything. When I am ready to run errands on a Saturday morning, even my wife will comment sometimes on how dressed up I am. I will not wear shorts outside and a t-shirt is just underwear (and should not show at the neck). But I've always been a little eccentric in matters of dress.

Anonymous said...

"Town" in the "rule" refers to the government or business center of the city.

Central Park, anyone?