White Suits – The Longest Season

Men’s fashion is a topic that I hardly ever write about, except when circumstances require urgent notice. Such a situation has occurred. This year Easter was the earliest it will ever be in our lifetimes and that means that the season for wearing white linen suits is the longest we’ll ever experience.

By tradition, white linen suits are worn in New Orleans from Easter to Labor Day. The season may be good news for dry cleaners but it’s a challenge for the klutzy among us.

It is not the suits per se that are the problem as much as that they are white and therefore highlight any crumb or smudge that comes their way. The best rule for dining while wearing a white suit is not to, for fear of a sleeve coming too close to a sauce.

There are some men who are very adept at wearing white suits but that might be a matter of genetics. I once attended an Uptown society wedding. It was summer so I thought I was de rigueur by wearing a blue cord suit. Instead, I could’ve been mistaken for the backwoods cousin. All of the gentlemen were in white, comfortably standing and chit-chatting while balancing a glass of champagne and precisely maneuvering caviar on a cracker. This, like yachting, was a gentry-based skill that the rest of us have had to develop on our own.

My original white suit came from Terry & Juden, the late downtown purveyor of gentlemanly fashion. It was the place where the guys from the law firms used to shop. I bought the suit off the rack in a close-out sale during the store’s final days, so it had the extra burden of historical significance: one of the last with the Terry & Juden label. The caviar-on-a-cracker fear factor was even greater.

Because I feel like I should, I usually wear the suit at least twice during the season. One of those times, on occasion, has been the Chase Zoo-To-Do. For that I actually like wearing the suit because in that setting there’s a rebellious quality to it. The event is black tie but somehow white suits, which are clearly in the minority, have become acceptable. Curiously, even more in the minority are ties that are actually black. The guys in the tuxes tend to wear multicolored ties for the event or ties with images of giraffes and emus on them with matching cummerbunds of a zebra motif.

Those in the white suits are more likely to be wearing an actual black tie than are the ones who are dressed in “black tie.” Being fashionable can get complicated,
Tie color, incidentally, is critical to properly wearing a white suit. Under conditions of confidentiality, an Uptown gentleman once lectured me on the proper accompaniment for the suits. The shirt must be white, not pastel (which he compared to looking like an Easter egg) and not striped. The tie must be conservative, perhaps a subtle stripe for the wild and crazy, but certainly no pop art, images of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, bottles of Tabasco® or anything that makes a statement. The advisor was critical of the misconception that white bucks were the proper shoe for the suit. He lectured instead that the shoes had to be black – and so did the belt.

I think of his words those times a year when I prepare to wear the suit. Though there’s one question I would like to ask him; I’ve wondered how he would feel about my spraying it with Scotchgard™. It’s going to be a long time until Labor Day.

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