Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Sartorial Sleuth: Dressing for the Southern Summer Swelter

Linen and seersucker in NOLA
It's July in Tennessee. It is hot, painfully hot. A sticky, drippy, thick morass of hot. I have friends who refuse to wear shorts, except in the pursuit of some athletic feat. I have friends who refuse, simply refuse, to be seen in public without at least a sport coat (odd jacket). There are, however, times when it's just not practical to dress to the nines, at least in our line of work. July in the South is one of those times.

We, of the [FIND] team slogged our way south to New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. It was hot, painfully hot...we scorched our way south along 65 and 59, through Birmingham, Hattiesburg, and Picayune, chasing puddles that disappeared as we drew closer to New Orleans in the peak of mid-afternoon swelter. 

Two things I always carry when traveling around the South. A good quality straw hat, and a guayabera shirt. The former is a personal style choice that, I would suggest, deserves some serious consideration. The latter, well, the guayabera is difficult.

The Hat - Lately, young hipsters across the nation wear hats again, cool hats, slick hats, hats with brims so narrow, they look almost comical. Very few of them actually pull the look off. Most, in fact, look like either a caricature of some 1950's dandy or a hayseed rube about to open a closet that will empty onto their heads in fine slapstick fashion. There are some, however, who nail it. 

My bartender gets it. Patrick rarely penetrates the out-of-doors without a top on. He wears a vintage variation on the Stetson carry hat, in black, dark grey, and a beautiful taupe. The brims on Patrick's hats  rarely exceed two inches but are never less than one-and-a-half. He wears them straight up, not cocked to the side or tipped precariously on the back of his crown. If you want to see a perfect example of a man who understands men's hat style and how to do it, just swing by Rumours Wine Bar on 12th South in Nashville. Ask for Patrick, or just look for the dapper young man in the cool hat.

I have a huge head and broad shoulders. I've searched for years for the perfect hat. I have a Borsellino that fits, is exquisitely crafted, and somehow still doesn't quite work. I have owned a number of stingy-brimmed-hipster-hats over the years, but they just look silly. I found, three years ago, at Meyer the Hatter in NOLA, the perfect hat for me. The Biltmore Milan, center crease (since re-blocked), is my hat. It fits. It looks classic. It looks nice, without looking too spiffy. I wear this hat almost all summer long. Casual or dressy, it just works - for me.

Humpreys sports a Biltmore Milan at the Cafe du Monde
The Shirt - In the last Sartorial Sleuth entry, we discussed the finer points of seersucker as a weapon to defeat the heat. Sometimes, though, especially in our business, a suit or even an odd jacket is just too much. So, the question stands: how do you look like a man of style and wear a short sleeved shirt?

T-shirts: no. Especially the ironic kind. Seriously, we're grown ups. (exceptions include: beach, boats, canoes, and most sporting endeavors)

Short sleeved dress shirts: Dilbert. I cannot stress this enough: there is no way to look like a stylish, even non-idiotic, person in a short-sleeved-bepocketed-button-down-oxford-cloth-shirt, not possible at all.

The only shirt I've found that scratches my itch for comfort and style is the classic dictator's man-blouse, the guayabera. The guayabera, like a bow-tie, takes a bit of stones to execute successfully. You kinda have to just go for it. But the benefits abound.
Hit or miss? Your call.
Style: From the fat-guy-golf-friendly cubavera (which I don't suggest) to the hand-crafted-Cuban-made custom (which I do suggest), there are colors, fabrics, and variations on the cut that can suit any man. I prefer classic white linen or a cotton blend in a subdued color (earth tone or black). I own two of these shirts, one black and one white, both purchased at Meyer the Hatter in New Orleans, both perfect for a casual night on the town. 

If you're working surveillance in the Quarter, shorts and a black guayabera blend in perfectly. If you're stepping out with your lady for a glass of red wine, black guayabera and a pair of off white linen slacks looks fantastic (careful with the red wine and linen pants). Likewise, a pair of Imogene + Willie jeans paired with a white guayabera looks absolutely stylish.

I know that some of you will disagree. I know that some of you prefer to maintain a facade of sartorial snobbery that excludes the lesser forms of style. But, there are times when it's just too &^%$#@! hot to wear a suit. It's okay to look good and be comfortable at the same time. 

1 comment:

  1. Love the guayabera. I have three, but all look out of place because of my lack of facial hair.

    But what better shirt is there to match a cigar?