Losing your pants is an old expression that you don't hear much any more. But pants are arguably the focal point of any clothing ensemble or wardrobe. Slacks, from basic blue jeans to gray flannels, are the complement that finishes off whatever we choose to wear.
Pants came to the West from Eastern Europe in around the 5th century; the Greeks and Romans until then traipsing around in their traditional togas. Something tells me the climate had something to do with this.
In a recent article I wrote about casual dress in the work place nearly everyone I interviewed remarked how lost and confused most men were when it came to selecting casual trousers for work. Most chose either khakis or corduroys and that was the limit of their creativity.
It's rather shocking when you consider all the choices in fabrics and styles there are available for both summer and winter. We've mentioned before that the Fairfield Men's Store/suityourself.com offers a selection of year-round, virtually wrinkle-free wools and microfibers. And now that summer is on the way there'll be a wide selection of cool cottons, crisp linens and airy seersuckers. And a new line from Nick Hilton.
I'm of the opinion casual pants should have cuffs just like more formal trousers.
The story that I've heard as to how cuffs got started is a strange one. Around the turn of the century a famous British aristocrat was visiting the United States. While crossing a street somewhere he encountered a puddle of water in the middle of the road. He rolled up his trouser legs in order to keep them dry while he tiptoed through the water and unconsciously left them that way for the rest of the day. Voila, cuffs! The man had so much prestige that those who met him assumed his style of dress must be all the fashion in Europe. So American men began wearing cuffs on their pants in imitation.
Now cuffs generally run anywhere from an inch to an inch and a half wide. There was a movement to smaller cuffs about 10 years ago, but the trend vanished.
There are, however, some casual slacks that come with stitched bottoms similar to jeans that are also quite stylish. As to pleats versus flat fronts, both seem to be happening right now. Pleats may be more comfortable if you're a few pounds heavy and flat fronts can flaunt a washboard stomach.
Trouser length should cover the socks and touch the shoes. Personally, I would never hold my pants up with anything but a belt. But if you remember the "Wall Street" craze of the 80s, suspenders or braces were all the rage as an alternative.
When I used to take my son to prep school I noticed the boys wore their pants two ways; either with a stiff crease down the middle or as wrinkled as having slept in them.
For casual slacks I like to start out the season with a dry cleaning or wash and a nice crease. But I like the worn look of pants as they go through the season, especially linen and corduroy when they take on that slightly roguish bohemian appearance. By the way, if you fold freshly washed chinos or khakis stiffly on a plastic or wooden hanger and dry them in the sun, you won't need to iron them.
As for blue jeans, I have a pet peeve. I HATE prewashed or prefaded jeans. Why anyone would deliberately want a fake, fulsome, fraudulent look like that is beyond me?!
Blue jeans should start out a deep blue. Then fade naturally over time like a storybook revealing how often we cross our legs, reach into our pockets and if we slouch or sit up straight. An old pair of blue jeans has absorbed the character and personality of its owner, if not a work of art then surely a fine piece of artisanship.
Another thing I never do is wear a denim shirt with jeans. It's redundant, risible, and redolent of a suburban lack of ingenuity. Too much of a good thing.
Something I like to do is downgrade pants. Every new pair of trousers are all-stars of course, first-team players professionally and socially. But in time when the whale in the corduroys gets a little thin and the bottoms in the khakis get frayed, I relegate them to around-the-house wear.
I'll go shopping in them, watch TV, write, cook, go for walks, bike. Just when they're on the last legs, I'll subordinate them to garden work, landscaping and car washing. Their final stage in life comes when I paint the house in them. Then they die for good, giving new meaning to the term rigor mortis.
Formal trousers are another matter. They usually last longer because we wear them less. If styles don't change drastically, and they haven't since the 60s and bellbottoms, they should last 10 years or so. The trick is you can't gain any weight. That is strictly a no-no if you want to maintain your wardrobe.
I have a pair of Calvin Klein brown herringbone tweeds that I bought on sale for $60 in Bloomingdale's in 1982. I wore them more this year than in most because it was colder than recent years. I'll have them dry cleaned and see no reason they won't be ready for action next winter. I've got a pair of tan, tightly-woven linens that I bought at a going-out-of-business sale on Eighth Street in the West Village in 1985. I had shopped in the same store as a teenager and it was a sad that the rents had escalated and made business prohibitive. But it's one of life's nice links that connects me with a store and my youth. It all comes back when I put on those pants. They look great with a blue blazer, by the way.
Talk about all-stars, these two are vintage trousers, aged like fine wine.
Relegated to house duty years ago, I've got a pair of dark brown Club Room corduroys, bought in Macy's circa 1986, that I can't kill. I've been trying to ever since my son said they were an old man's brown a few years back. I wear them almost daily throughout the winter, yet they refuse go away. They're thin in the seat, thin in the knees, but no holes yet.
Another pet peeve is people who wear shorts well before and well after the summer season. Just the other day, with barely the first whiff of spring (I was transplanting some snow drops alongside my driveway), I saw a man in a windbreaker, cap and SHORTS!
Don't get me wrong, I love shorts. I wear shorts and sandals to the office in the summer if I don't expect to see anyone and am just writing and editing.
Most of the comments about pants apply to shorts with an even less insistence on a crease down the middle and double the power of flat fronts to herald a washboard stomach.
But unless you're a German tourist or a transalpine yodler, for whom all must be forgiven, wearing socks with shorts is ab-so-lu-te-ly VERBOTEN!