Don’t wear while after Labor Day and other fashion rules

Don’t wear while after Labor Day and other fashion rules

Q. Q. I know the “Do not wear white after Labor Day” rule, but wonder what else exactly I should and shouldn’t wear.  Particularly now in early fall, are there some sort of rules for how to dress, especially if it stays warm?

A. Among clothing connoisseurs, you are right that Labor Day has always marked the end of certain styles of warm-weather dressing (white jeans, pastel cotton ties, madras jackets, seersucker suits, practically everything made of linen, that sort of thing). Labor Day has come and gone, nonetheless, many of us are unwilling to let go as long as the weather is still warm. Jumping directly from light cottons to dark wools seems too harsh a move during this easing-into-fall season. Even though September and October include plenty of warm, summer-like days, no sartorial swell would be caught dead in true summer attire. 

So, what does a well-dressed man choose to wear at this time of year for what the fashion industry calls “transitional dressing”? Basically, the two methods used are darkening the color palette you wear, and changing the weight and texture of the fabrics in your suits, sport jackets, sweaters, trousers, shirts, and ties.

The most obvious item, neckwear, can help make a smooth transition from one season to the next. You can switch away from light cottons into silks in darker, earth-toned ties, including burgundies, browns, and various shades of deep green. Paisley patterns, in particular, seem to suit the fall (perhaps because their tear-dropped shapes echo tumbling leaves, but more surely because paisleys are most often found in muted fall tones).

Another way to help make a smooth transition is to vary your suit fabrics. The three wool suiting fabrics are lightweight tropicals, 10-month weights, and winter weights (though this last one is found less and less these days). And don’t immediately stop wearing all tan suits. While it’s too late for cotton poplins, tan wool suits are a welcome addition to a wardrobe of dark blues and grays for as long as you can stretch the season. Phase out light-colored cotton suits and sport jackets; add lightweight worsted wool jackets to wear with the darker trousers in your closet. The reverse procedure works in early spring. 

Trousers, too, are an agent for transitional dressing. When warm weather lingers, change from light cotton chinos to cotton corduroys, worsted wool fabrics, and darker gabardines. As the weather turns cooler, continue to stress darker colors and slightly heavier fabrics over light cottons. The ultimate arrival of some English woolens and flannels in late October will not seem so abrupt.

Sweaters may be the most obvious and easiest way to slide from one season to the next. Instead of lightweight cottons, you can introduce bulky cottons, lightweight wools, and silk knits in every conceivable style from sleeveless vests, to crewnecks, V-necks, turtlenecks, and sharp non-grandfatherly cardigans. Good-looking sweaters can make a bit of a fashion statement (“I know how to look sharp without trying too hard!”) even for the man who is usually a quiet, traditional dresser.           

Shirts also offer an opportunity to span the seasons with style. Lightweight Sea-Island cottons are past their time now. Oxford cloths and broadcloths are more appropriate. And if you have several pastel shirts in your wardrobe, pinks and pale yellows, this might be the time to give them a rest. Bring them back out in a while, maybe in time for the holiday season.

Easing subtly into a different look is what this sort of dressing is all about. Nothing too unusual. And nothing flamboyant. It involves adding a darker, more sober color here and there, substituting a somewhat more substantial or weightier fabric, introducing texture and a bit more leather, say, a lizard-skin belt, a great pair of boots, or layering with a leather-trimmed quilted polyester vest.  

Don’t be afraid to experiment. This is an ideal time to join the knowledgeable dressers, the aficionados, in exploring the wonderful, tricky world of transitional dressing.    

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