The why, the when and the how of white pants

The why, the when and the how of white pants

Q. Are white pants something that the average man, or at least not model/attention-grabbing man, would or should wear? I see them in GQ, which certainly doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, and on a few men out at dinner. If I did, what kind do I choose and with what? 

A. White pants, especially at this time of year, are a great addition to any man’s wardrobe . . . they may “grab some attention” but in a positive way. Besides being a seasonal, refreshing alternative to the many variations of dark trousers, they are versatile, stylish, and often inexpensive.

I think of white pants as divided into four categories from most casual to near-professional: 1.] white super-casual sweatpants, 2.] white jeans, 3.] white lightweight cotton chinos or linen pants, and 4.] off-white (“winter white”) lightweight wool dress trousers. Each has its own useful place. If we look at each of these, you can get a sense of what works for you, what you will be comfortable with, and what to match them with.

White sweatpants are an easy substitute for the grey sweatpants that most guys wear for relaxed, around-the-house dressing. Of course, they go with whatever casual top you choose, and they have the advantage of not clashing in color.

White jeans are among my favorite ways to set your wardrobe apart from the rest of the crowd’s. They are usually a sign of a guy who is clothing-aware and who enjoys looking good. Incredibly versatile, they pair well with everything from a classic T-shirt or knit polo, to an open-at-the-neck dress shirt worn with or without a sweater, to a lightweight tweed sports jacket, and a near-elegant mix with a navy blazer. They even work with a dressy double-breasted blazer and tie. Oddly enough, they are not strictly limited to warm-weather wear. 

As to how to choose colors to go with your white jeans: you can completely contrast the white with a black bomber jacket or a colorful shirt, or you can match it with a white denim jacket.   

White lightweight cotton chinos or linen pants are options in a man’s standard pants rotation. But they are definitely seasonal, fitting into that old rule about only being worn between Memorial Day and Labor Day. As with white jeans, you can pair them with casual knit tops, with solid or patterned sport shirts, with button-down dress shirts, sweaters, and sport jackets. They look great with pastels. 

Off-white wool dress trousers are not something that every man would be comfortable wearing. They add a note of elegant style and fashion, and are a bit elitist in tone. The dressiest of the range of white trousers, they can be dressed up or down, depending on the style and quality of the top you choose. They can take you to an array of near-dressy social events, such as a cocktail party or an afternoon wedding, at any time of year. But they are not quite right for most business occasions.                

In summer, off-white wool dress trousers are matched with most of the same tops you would wear with fine-quality gray or khaki dress trousers (but not with casual knit tops, because white wool trousers are dressier than cotton or linen pants). They look best with a button-front dress shirt and a fine blazer to create a gentleman-dressed-for-the-weekend look. They can be made even more dapper by wearing them with a navy blazer that has had its metal, dark horn, or plastic buttons exchanged for seasonal white mother-of-pearl buttons. My regular readers know that this is a small tailoring change/alteration that I am fond of, because it is a smart, temporary adjustment that’s noticeably sharp and costs almost nothing. Women love the look!                           

Despite these advantages, white pants all do have a few drawbacks. They present the hazard of getting dirty quickly. You must be careful where you sit when wearing them and be prepared to wash/clean them more often than the others in your closet. Another issue with white pants is their relative transparency. With the lighter fabrics (not with jeans), the skin of your thighs may be somewhat visible through the trousers. You can solve this problem by buying white pants with a slightly larger/more relaxed fit than your other pants or by choosing pants that are lined to the knee.

If you are one of the world’s many men who wish there were fewer limitation on men’s clothing, adding the signature look of a pair of white pants might just be a good idea. 

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