We all seek comfort in our lives in certain ways, be it in our homes, transportation, daily endeavors, etc., but with what we wear are we most conscious of the choices in which comfort plays its largest role. In the dead of summer – which is currently killing me in Florida – people inevitably wear lighter-weight pieces and even less clothing than in the winter, a time when they’d layer and wear the heaviest-weight pieces. Nevertheless, comfort should never usurp a certain standard for dressing well. Take a look at this photo:
FDR and Vincent Astor (of the famed Astor family) in these warm-weather ensembles would absolutely work today, albeit with more modern cuts to coalesce with current trends. Most importantly, both men look comfortable in a slightly rumpled and subtle sort-of-way and not at all encumbered during what can be assumed was a hot day. With some historical perspective, we know that most men wore suits or sport coats with trousers no matter the occasion in adherence to certain societal “rules,” especially gentleman of means like Astor and Roosevelt. Out of necessity, they would inject a level of comfortability into business or formalwear to compensate for the lack of available choices, imposed by unspoken rules or not. The more comfortable and less hampering one’s ensemble was, the more appropriate it would be for daily wear. There are of course more pleasant things to wear than a suit at certain times of the year, but should a man cast them aside as he too would his professionalism?
People once understood, at least to a much larger extent, the principles involved in dressing well as a daily habit. Even those on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder embodied this ideal; to wear well-made suits and jackets is to don a modern set of armor in the battle of daily interactions and personal relationships. It’s about upholding certain social standards and expecting others to do the same, no matter the conditions.
I mention this because many people often choose to wear “comfortable” clothes – t shirts, sweatpants, shorts, those weird sweat trousers with the elastic ankles – instead of taking stock in their appearance. There are various reasons for these trends: overarching value shifts resulting from the counterculture movement of the 1960s, the dreaded styles of the ’90s, or the now prevalent view that anything more than a generic shirt and jeans is “overdressing.” I don’t mean to say that there is something inherently wrong with dressing casually; in fact, it’s often what’s most apt for particular occasions. However, there is a point when being too comfortable supersedes all efforts to be respectable.
Still, one shouldn’t just wear a suit and tie every day in some archaic effort to keep strong the old guard. There of course is a time and place for everything, but there is a contemporary middle ground for which we should strive. During the warmer months a businessman whose office calls for a more formal dress code might wear tropical wool suits and lightweight jackets (silk, linen, and/or cotton) along with lightweight trousers. Instead of wearing dark worsted wool trousers and a cardboard-like non-iron dress shirt, opt for something more appropriate in a pinpoint oxford button down, some gray tropical wool trousers, and an olive silk jacket. Forego jeans and a polo and go with a madras button down and poplin chinos. Dressing seasonally is tantamount; you’ll look great, you’ll keep your cool in the heat, and you surely won’t look like a schlub.