Thursday, March 16, 2006

Surrender To Pink

If you don’t like pink, you’re wrong.

Much has been made recently, in the leading menswear forum, of the matter of pink shirts. The reaction from most falls into one of two main camps, disbelief or denial. There is a third camp, into which I’d like to recruit you, seeing as how your own innate sense of style has failed to conscript you. More on that in a moment. (photo courtesy tmlewin.co.uk)

The disbelievers simply will not abide a man in a pink shirt. They may not say so openly, but their subtext is clear: “Pink is a girly color.” They dismiss the pink shirt with despective terms, at best. They sneer in person and print. Pink is unworthy. The denialists are a more subtle crowd. Sure, they’d love to be so brazen as to tell people exactly how girly a color pink is, but they daren’t. Perhaps they are too polite, or diffident or they have someone looking over their shoulder. The fact remains they have a facile response for shunning the pink shirt. “It’s not flattering,” they whine, or “…it combines poorly with the rest of my wardrobe” or similar effluvia.

When one diligently examines the record, one cannot but realize the dandy has always been a rebel. Sometimes the rebellion causes a sharp fracture in the way gentlemen’s raiments are viewed, such as happened with Beau Brummell. Sometimes the rebellion merely catalyzes a subtle, but important, paradigm shift in Menswear as in the case of the Duke of Windsor. Regardless of whether one alters the whole concept of Menswear in toto, or one brick at a time, the fact remains the dandy is a man who forges ahead in pursuit of his own agenda of elegance. Sometimes forging ahead involves going off-road, on foot and wielding a machete through new (or perhaps, long-forgotten) terrain.

The pink shirt has had a history of benevolent neglect in the eyes of the dandy and his purveyors. The only one of note has been the pink “polo collar” buttondown introduced by Brooks Brothers. All of the great shirtmakers on Jermyn Street and the continent have downplayed them at best and shunned them at worst. In America the go-to shirt is white, in England it’s one of those striped things and on the continent (especially in Italy) we’re talking about blue as the color of choice. The few times you see pink is diluted as part of the striping, or leavened with a contrasting white collar and cuffs.

Well, dammit, I happen to like pink shirtings and I think such shirtings are flattering to most men. They actually bring some life to your complexion, they play off nicely sober suitings of grey or navy and they lighten up sedate neckwear. A pink shirt adds a certain raffish, can’t-quite-place-it something to a gentleman’s outfit. To heap yet more felicities upon the pink shirt, the civilized lady invariably happens to love a gentleman clad in such a shirt. Also, even among the most august group of hardcore dandies, you will stand out as especially elegant and suave in such a shirt. I assure you, you will reign alone atop the pyramid.

Pink shirts are not to be taken lightly, though. Like anything with so much baggage attached, merited or otherwise, one must tread in careful steps. Pink is not the sort of color —blue is— which can do no wrong. In contrast to blue, which has few wrong shades, there are many tripwires in the pink minefield. The wrong shade can make you look feverish instead of healthy, flustered as opposed serene, affected not iconoclastic. You need be on the lookout for a shirt approximately the color of a pink carnation. When it comes to dress shirts, delve not into the fuchsias or the dusty roses or the salmons or corals. Hew close to the standard light pink, even though many, in their search for filthy lucre at your expense, will attempt to steer you from the proper path. So pay close attention. Not so close, I hardly know you.

If you seek a pink buttondown to pair with a single-breasted blazer or grey-ish Harris tweed in a discreet herringbone, look no further than the very venerable Brooks Brothers’ example. First, they invented the modern buttondown (in 1896) and they “invented” the men’s pink shirt (in 1939). Over the course of time, the shirt has had a few evolutionary changes. The button at the back of the collar disappeared in the early 1980s. The cut became trimmer, gauntlet buttons disappeared and then reappeared and the option of artificial blends became a sad reality. But only Brooks Brothers has managed both the perfect roll to the collar —a desirable characteristic, you Ostrogoth— as well as the ideal pink. Jos. A. Bank’s and Lands’ End (every once in a while they offer a pink Royal Oxford shirt, which is a must buy) come kinda/sorta/maybe close, but Brooks is the real deal.

However, if you seek your Advanced Dandy Certificate, you will need to find something with sleeker, more refined lines. In these cases, the ideal fabric is a 140s pink end-on-end. You may choose the usual collar options, but three stand out: The spread (not cutaway) which is generally the most elegant of all, the tab which highlights the youthful appeal of pink, and the pin collar which is the ideal choice for an attention hound. It is my firm belief any other collar possibilities might emphasize the more precious, possibly fey aspect of the pink fabric, a contingency to be avoided. White contrast collars are also acceptable and may even extend into the territory of the desirable, but that is not what we’re discussing here. However, if you need a gateway pink shirt and have been too timorous to do so, then perhaps this might prove a helpful first step.

As a bonus, you will find, once you have added an infusion of pink to your wardrobe, those sophisticated, intelligent, clever, delightful ladies will suddenly have a better appreciation of your charm, your manners and your wit. You will wonder whatever possessed you to forswear pink all these years. Bring your social calendar, and make sure you have enough openings to meet the new demand.

You have been warned.