Several years ago I went back to Boston, the city in which I spent my college years, to visit friends for the 4th of July. Walking along the banks of the Charles River in 95 degree heat, I noticed that everyone I passed stared at me like I’d just landed from another planet. It took hours of uncomfortable eye contact before I realized the reason for the curiosity and confusion: I was wearing bright blue– blue the color of the Caribbean Sea. Even on a hot summer day, most Bostonians had managed to maintain their dedication to the sublimely dull color palate of black, gray, and tan. Citizens of all ages, races, and shapes comprising a people ocean of boring, boring, boring.
You might think I’m specifically picking on Bostonians. I’m not. This isn’t a Bostonian problem, it’s an American problem. Which is what I realized when I was on vacation in the hospitable land of our Southern neighbor: Mexico, and even more specifically, the Yucatan. Yucatanis have their color palates together, man. Even the ancient-seeming Mayan women who sell their wares in the market look like a million bucks in their clothes the colors of parrot feathers, sunsets, and wave caps. Between getting enough sleep, the lack of police sirens, the vitamin D overload, and the colorful fashions, my mood skyrocketed. And then along came other American tourists.
I found myself horrified to realize that many Americans seem to have some sort of aversion to looking half decent. This really stands out when you go other places and realize that most people elsewhere try at least a little bit. American men seem to love drab neutral colors, ill-fitting tan shorts and shirts the color of vomit (or shirts that advertise something), and too-high white socks paired with shoes that should only be worn while running. American women are all over the place, so it’s harder to point to aesthetic themes. Some women I saw did a great job and some looked like female counter parts of the fellows they were with. The gay men spotted were holding steady with “nicely put together,” while the two queer female-bodied people spotted were going for the consistently sporty look on par with the straight dudes out and about– can someone address this at some point?
Here’s a comparative photographic study:
Look, I could rant all day about the lumpy, off-putting, and at times embarrassing aesthetic choices of most American tourists, but what I’d like to do is to provide some options. Namely, I’d like to encourage the use of bright colors and/or simple outfits for people who don’t want to think too hard about what they dress themselves in. Luckily, that’s what this Spring is all about.
Designers everywhere are incorporating the tropical vacation look into their Spring and Summer lines. Panama hats, giant sunglasses (back again), and vibrant colors are everywhere. You don’t have to go crazy to look good on vacation (or in daily life), you just have to do SOMETHING other than a plain t-shirt, khakis, and running shoes.
Frida always did a good job. She wore traditional attire from nearly every culture in Mexico. Bright orange was a staple.
Lacoste is all up in bright orange this Spring!
Mayan women of the Yucatan were almost always decked out in beautiful white dresses with embroidered highlights.
Prada’s doing something similar with some of their pieces this Spring, though the Chiquita Banana woman design element is a little slippery. Still the dresses are easy, fun, and no doubt more comfortable than lumpy shorts.
Mayan women in Guatemala have a whole different look going on, but I think Prada knew about that, too.
Not bold enough for the boldest of colors? Not a problem. Stick with light colors, maybe all white, with a single element that pops. I myself discovered the pleasures of wearing all white while I was on vacation. It had never occurred to me to try it before, but it made me feel like a million dollars.
Celine is always good for that sort of inspiration. Eccrue cotton top, white cotton pants, bright orange belt. You have a perfect outfit without much risk or need for forethought. Best yet, this can work for almost any body type.
Lacoste also has some great all white ideas:
Speaking of taking the tropical look in an Anglo direction for the Spring, check out DSquared‘s approach:
In a rare move on my part, I’m even going to include a [very] few options for guys, since I specifically ripped on the cro magna approach that too many American dudes take to their outfits. For starters, don’t wear hideous white socks and running shoes with tan shorts. Ever. Nothing makes someone look more unhappy in life.
Umit Benan is doing a whole Cuba look for his Spring Summer line!
So, step one guys: lose the baseball hat. Replace it with a lightweight cotton “newsboy” cap if you want to wear a hat. OR you, too, can wear a panama hat, but it’s less versatile, so be skillful in your use of it.
Step two: lose the stained t-shirt and replace it with a light blue, cream, or (if you feel risky) moss-colored button up lightweight cotton shirt.
Step three: for heaven’s sake, ditch the schlumpy shorts and ill-fitting light blue jeans. Buy cotton pants. Go with a nice shade of navy, nice dockers, or shorts that have some personality. If you have nice legs and are a pretty trim fellow, go out on a limb with shorts. If you’re a bigger guy– a little round– then stick with the same idea, but a little longer (not below the knee– to the mid to lower-thigh).
Step four: NO TO SPORT SOCKS AND RUNNING SHOES! The loafers above would be uncomfortable to walk around in for hours on end, but that doesn’t mean you need to resort to knee-highs and genero athletic sneakers, or worse…TEVAS. Get boat shoes, slim canvas sneakers, or– and I never thought I’d say this– simple flip flops (looks best with the cotton pants scenario). Don’t wear socks. If it’s a foot odor thing, get that powder. Or if you’re wearing pants, buy socks with something nice happening– silk, maybe a decent color to work with your outfit.
So, go forth, Americans. Be spiffed. Be more thoughtful and less loud with your voices, but more bold with your aesthetics. I don’t want to keep seeing my fellow citizens looking haggard and lumpy in other countries.