A Menswear Memoir

The Present and How It Got That Way

 

Sport Shirt Notes: What Goes With What?

Howdy!

Howdy!

The cultural significance of Saturday morning TV has been overlooked by sociologists, to say nothing of the historians of dress. The Roy Rogers – Howdy Doody influence is enormous, and terribly underestimated.

Roy in his pre-restaurant persona.

Roy in his pre-restaurant persona.

             Whereas while Pierre Cardin may have had Jean Cocteau for a style muse, and Armani dreamed of Al Capone, America’s designers in their youth were down with Howdy and Roy. Now the patterned sport shirt is everywhere. It is appropriate in all places and for all occasions; can be really casual or dress-up; works in any season, in short or long-sleeved versions. It may have shed the stitching details, pocket flaps and pearl snaps that Roy and Howdy favored, but the basic look of it remains, and it has become the heart and soul of American Business Attire. You may have an opinion about this; may celebrate or lament it, but you cannot deny it.

           Wearing neatly pressed trousers and a patterned cut-and-sewn “woven” sport shirt says, I care about my appearance. I am not casual. I am thoughtful and I am comfortable. I am ready for work but I am also modern, unpretentious, and down-to-earth. This is the very essence of Level 2. 

             Always? 100%?  Yes, with some important qualifications.

No neckerchiefs to complete the cowboy image, but just the same...

No neckerchiefs to complete the cowboy image, but just the same...

            There is one important, even challenging characteristic of the sport shirt. It is made to be coordinated with the rest of your outfit. Regular Guys hate this. It is erroneous to assume that you can just grab any patterned shirt and wear any old trouser, although we are not saying that this is seldom done.  The range of colors and patterns available in shirts is infinite, and so are the possibilities for error. Thus is Mrs. Regular Guy’s assistance sometimes required in the buying stage, as well as in the remembering stage, as in: “Honey! Which shirt did we say went with the green pants?”

           It is dangerous to own clothes that “go” with other clothes, for the obvious reason that they require different kinds of care and may not always be simultaneously available. It is even more dangerous to buy a bunch of stuff without being sure that it makes a cohesive wardrobe. That shirt in the weird brown check, which we thought might go with those moss-colored pants, which last week we gave to the Ladies’ Auxiliary Rummage Sale; that kind of thing happens a lot.

          This is why we have come to accept that a very wide range of tan shades, from off white to almost brown will go with anything, and a wide range of grays, from pearl to nearly black, are basically neutral. Pink regatta stripe shirt with sand color chinos or grey flannels? Fine. Even baggy, pineapple-printed, short-sleeved Hawaiian shirts (dare I admit it?) go with tan. And a purple plaid shirt with acid green highlights from that famous London shop can be worn with charcoal whipcords or off-white cotton gabardine slacks. It makes one wonder whether the colors have some underlying commonality that makes them agree, or whether it’s just convention. We’ve seen blue and grey and tan together for so long that we agree they go together. Or it may be that tans and blues and greys, the colors of the sea, he sand, the earth and sky, are just compatible because they are natural, and frequently observed in nature together. Interesting. To me anyway.

           Anyhow, choose your sport shirts carefully. Even in those Level 2 settings, like church, or in your office on a “casual” day, make sure the pattern and color of the shirt is coordinated, or, at the very least, neutral.   


FYI   These shirts are known in the business as “wovens.” An unfortunate term, perhaps, since almost all shirting cloth, even the finest dressy solids, are woven. But it serves to differentiate them from knits (which are known by the equally confusing term “cut-and-sewn,” since “wovens” are also cut, and inevitably, sewn.)