Lessons Learned: The Casual Conundrum

I am not a particularly creative person. My right-brain functions are sorely underdeveloped (nb.:  alas, the same could be said of my left-brain functions, but one thing at a time). I take comfort in structure, routine, pattern, and certainty. When the creative impulse does occasionally strike, my chosen profession, the practice of law, allows me to exorcise it within a set of parameters defined by the Civil Code, statute, and jurisprudence (or, for the common law attorneys, precedent).

My natural inclinations extend to my taste in clothing. In general, I focus on traditional, conservative menswear. I take comfort in the enduring success of the business suit, little changed over a century’s use. I enjoy the nuances of fabric, fit, silhouette, and proportion, and how subtle tweaks to each alter the impact of a particular garment. In short, with traditional, conservative menswear, I am able to express a smidge of personality within a defined set of parameters. While some men view the business suit as a straightjacket (or worse, as the frequent analogies between the necktie and the noose suggest), I enjoy the simplicity of the suit.

I have never, however, found much joy in my casual wardrobe. 

In the winter, I am a paint-by-numbers dresser. I live in my trusty Barbour jacket, well-worn raw denim jeans, flannel shirts, Shetland sweaters, and field boots. I feel like I have an established, if rote, command of the situation.

Not so in spring and summer. Until recently, I was befuddled by warm-weather clothing: elasticated pants, tunics, shirts with funky collars, etc., fell well outside of my comfort zone. So, I did what every blue-blooded male does when he is outside of his comfort zone—I avoided the problem.

I don’t mean that I avoided clothes entirely. Rather that I approached my warm-weather wardrobe as though it were a “diet cool-weather” wardrobe. I dropped my Barbour jacket and Shetland sweaters, kept the well-worn raw denim jeans, exchanged my flannel shirts for lightweight chambray shirts and my field boots for Tyrolean shoes and leather sneakers, and hoped no one would mind.  
For some time, I was content. However, a vacation to Europe last year exposed the flaws in my approach.

My trip started in Munich, where it was often cool and drizzly. In the evenings, I was glad that I had packed my trusty Barbour jacket. Further, as we hiked our way up to Neuschweinstein, that jacket fought the nip of the mountain air with ease.  

We then wended our way south, and the weather became significantly warmer.  The first casualty was Trusty, which was stowed away after passing through the Dolomites.  


The second casualty was my long-sleeved chambray shirt, which was drenched in sweat by the time I carried our luggage to our hotel in Florence (perhaps I should have splurged on a hotel with an entrance that was not located at the top of two flights of stairs).

The third casualty was my well-worn raw denim jeans, too heavy for even the minor hike to the Civita di Bagnoregio (fallen among the Etruscan ruins along with the jeans were my Tyrolean shoes).

Worn down, desperate, and out of options, I succumbed to the uniform of my fellow countrymen traveling abroad—a t-shirt, Ralph Lauren shorts, and running shoes (nb.:  please, do not revoke my authorship privileges at the No Man blog for my sins). I even succumbed to wearing the Columbia PFG fishing shirts that I had packed as loungewear, never imagining I would have to appear in them before actual Italians.

In the months since, I have been haunted by certain pictures of the vacation—which are displayed with a degree of permanence in various picture frames in my living room. In each, I look sweaty, awful, or sweaty and awful. I compare the pictures of that vacation with the pictures from my wedding—again, displayed in my living room—where I am wearing a bespoke tuxedo and look about as good as I can without major elective surgery.

I learned a valuable lesson from this experience. In my traditional, conservative menswear wardrobe, I have garments that I wear in the fall and winter, and garments that I wear in the spring and summer. I do not wear a cold-weather suit in July by dropping the jacket. Likewise, I cannot expect that my casual wardrobe, intended for the cooler months, will stay photogenic when I am hoofing it from Monterosso to Vernazza.

So I am forced to abandon the usual set parameters. I have embraced, among other items, easy pants (which, nomenclature notwithstanding, are notoriously “hard,” as Styleforum member Mr. Six noted [Ed. note:  to clarify, the "€œhard"€ here is not, in fact, a boner joke. I know because, wanting to keep the No Man blog a family publication, I asked. Being assured by the author that no prurient jokes are in any way implied here, I have let the Mr. Six comment stand, though accompanied by this note to insure that no readers are confused.]), which are the first elasticated trousers that I have worn since childhood, camp collar shirts, and a light-weight fishing jacket. And most importantly, I am enjoying these experimentations, my trepidations overmatched by the satisfaction of retiring the fishing shirts from public consumption.

Later this summer, I will be embarking on another transatlantic journey. This time, I will be prepared.

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