NEW YORK Going about my flaneuristic rounds in New York, I witnessed an unprecedented number of dudes sporting a vivid variety of pants and shorts: mint and seafoam, a lot of grass and Astroturf, some lime and spinach-leaf and haricot vert and Shamrock Shakes shades. And I enviously eyed bold bolts of emerald, which the forecasters of Pantone, issuing a prediction that has the force of a decree, have declared the 2013 color of the year.
I look at this all as vivid evidence of an intriguing development. Historically, men have tended to avoid wearing a lot of green unless obliged to do so for work – unless, for instance, they are employed by the U.S. Special Forces, as a player-coach in Boston, an emergency-room doctor in Chicago or a garbageman in Paris.
In general, respectable men have subscribed to the position of an 1875 etiquette guide that lists “bright green” alongside red, yellow and sky blue as a hue to be shunned: “Perhaps only a successful Australian gold digger would think of choosing such colors for his coat, waistcoat or trousers.”
Even so flashy a dresser as Benjamin Disraeli considered bold green to be beyond the pale, with a biographer noting, “one of the few occasions on which he troubled the newspapers was to refute the slander that he had, when young, appeared in green trousers.”
The most notable exceptions involve the arena of WASP leisurewear, where they rank as the opposite (across the color wheel) and equal (in their insouciance) of that staple of the trad wardrobe, Nantucket Reds. In his biography of Edward Bennett Williams, Evan Thomas observes that the white-shoe lawyer, disdained “the green-pants set” – “the preppy men with lockjaw accents and Pucci-dressed wives who populated Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard in the summer.”
But in recent years – and this is the crux for my theory explaining this season’s sprouting of verdant slacks – preppy dress-sense has gone mainstream. The vines of the Ivy League Look have crept across the land and entwined themselves with the more general recent male tendency to preen and floss and peacock in ways unknown to recent generations.
This summer, a record number of dudes are expressing themselves by strutting about on limbs clad in this most expressive color.
But how to wear it? Lightly snide and dryly bitchy, Maggie Smith cracks relevant wisdom as “Gosford Park’s” Countess of Trentham: “Difficult colour, green,” and eminent amphibians agree. It is not necessarily easy to trust one’s taste in the matter of how to wear green pants, and the clotheshorses of pro sports are not reliable guides.
Endeavoring to explore the phenomenon, I hit the boulevard with photographer Christina Paige, and I think we found helpful hints on proper green-pants deployment.
“They’re manly, but they’ve got a soft side,” one of our subjects observed, greenlighting the look as a fresh alternative to traditional summertime garb.
Troy Patterson’s Gentleman Scholar is Slate’s advice column for the modern man.
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