EPISODE 15: SUMMER SON
One morning not long ago, I awoke to a vision in white - namely my seven-year-old son Nicholas wearing white jeans, a white Lacoste shirt and a blue pair of Crocs. If his schedule for the day included jetting to St Tropez for a play date with P Diddy, I had missed the meeting request. The more logical explanation was that school's out for summer and Nicholas has been putting together his own wardrobe every morning.
Watching his experiments - some hits and others misses - has got me thinking about why looking great in summer can be problematic for otherwise well-attired guys.
Part of the reason that summer - ostensibly a more relaxed time of the year - demands a bit more thought is that you can't hide beyond your regularly scheduled programming - be it a grey flannel suit or school uniform. Toss in the factor that warm weather causes grown men to revert to a time in their lives when the sun was always shining, the waves were always breaking, and Mr Tommy Chong was a role model not a prostate cancer patient. This is a perilous path. No one wants to see a sailor, golfer or GI Joe on the subway, yet I've shared the platform with adult versions of all three in the past week.
One of my bosses turned up in a denim fun suit - a work shirt and acid-washed jeans. 'Dungarees', he called them. It was hard for me to make eye contact with him after that
Perhaps the answers to how to get summer dressing right and where so many grown men go wrong might be living in my house.
"Nicholas, how do you decide what to wear each morning?" I asked.
"I have a list in my head," he responded.
"What sort of list?"
"I have a list of the clothes in my closet and then I look out my window. If I see blue sky, I wear a blue shirt. If I see green trees, I wear a green shirt. Orange sky; orange shirt," he explained. It made sense, sort of.
His system was no better or worse than the dress code ("No shorts in a skyscraper") I've developed over the years after witnessing my share of career-killing summer outfits. Sadly, I am old enough to have been working at a large media company in the early 1990s on the first casual Friday. A moment I prefer to call The Day the Music Died.
The range of outfits among my male colleagues was incredible - everything from the elegant guy with a Loro Piana sweater effortlessly coiled around his white dress shirt to a member of senior management who arrived ready to play for the LA Lakers. One of my bosses turned up in what could only be called a denim fun suit - a work shirt and acid-washed jeans ensemble. "Dungarees", he called them. It was hard for me to make eye contact with him after that.
I'm not immune to derailing my own career thanks to a wardrobe malfunction. In my late twenties, I rolled into my first corporate retreat wearing camouflage shorts, Keds hi-top sneakers and a thrift-shop shirt whose pattern was repeating Budweiser labels*. At that fateful August barbecue, I may even have added insult to injury by greeting my editor-in-chief with a fist bump and a "Booyah". It took a year, but that gig ended with a pound and an explosion.
The key, as Nicholas has been showing me these past few weeks, is to change your palette but not your personality. The best-dressed men merely swap tweed for linen, charcoal for dove grey, a Savile Row tailors for a Neapolitan one. When James Bond went to Jamaica in search of Dr No, he didn't go all crazy on the batik and madras. He still wore a shawl-collar dinner jacket to the casino. He didn't ditch the Capri-cuffed Turnbull & Asser for a wife beater with a Hey Mon! logo.
In my late twenties, I rolled into my first corporate retreat wearing camouflage shorts, Keds hi-top sneakers and a thrift-shop shirt whose pattern was repeating Budweiser labels
A few mornings after Nicholas appeared at the foot of our bed in his White Party-worthy ensemble, I joined him as he was getting dressed for a play date with his girlfriend. He was wearing a sky blue polo shirt, khaki shorts, and his Adidas Sambas. (The sky was bright blue that day.)
Our chat began with Nicholas explaining his and his GF's relationship to me. "Dad, Emily is my ice cream," he said. "That's what you call the person you like to sit next to in class or have as your partner on a field trip." These past few years, the two have been at separate, single-sex schools. They see each other less frequently, so their dates take on a sense of occasion.
The last time Nicholas had seen Emily was when she had invited him to watch her portray a Munchkin in her school's production of The Wizard of Oz. He dutifully donned a navy blazer, white shirt, polka-dot tie and loafers for his Saturday afternoon at the theatre. (My wife dutifully sat through the performance with him.) After the show, Nicholas greeted Emily with a bouquet of flowers. After that kind of gallantry, she would undoubtedly have been disappointed had he shown up for their summer assignation in a hoodie.
As he dressed, I realised there was little I could teach my son about the importance of sartorial consistency from season to season. He was already shifting from navy to sky blue and loafers to Sambas. So instead, I asked him what are the qualities that a seven-year-old, man of the world prizes in a girlfriend. "Well, she is a very kind person," he paused for a moment before adding, "She's very good at finding places to hide in hide-and-seek. And she's really good at tying knots."
May all his relationships be this complicated.
*In case the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute is interested, I still own this garment despite several stealthy attempts by my wife to donate it to a less fortunate person.
To read Mr Brodie's previous columns, click here. Follow Mr Brodie on Twitter @jbrodieny