At just about any wedding or garden party you’re bound to see “go to hell” pants.
The brightly colored slacks – in vivid hues ranging from red to lime green – give men a more refined means of saying “go to hell” to the fashion mores that restrict them to boring pants in neutral shades. GTH pants inject a pop of color into men’s wardrobes, and in the South, they’re becoming more popular than ever.
“I think the South has always embraced fashion in a slightly different way,” says Barton Strawn, creative director of Raleigh-based Lumina Clothing, “and bright-colored pants is no exception.”
Origins of GTH
While Southern men have certainly been wearing bright colors along with their seersucker for generations, the term “go to hell pants” wasn’t coined until the 1970s, when writer Tom Wolfe used the phrase in an Esquire article to describe the attire of Boston preppies on Martha’s Vineyard.
“The trend really established itself in the Ivy League community with colors that were just a slight jump from navy or gray,” says Strawn. “With the fraternity scene in the South building off of this, it makes sense that the trend would grow down here and establish itself in a different way. The fact that it gets so hot here, and guys are looking for lighter weight pants to wear, also builds into the bright colors, which for some reason seem to go together.”
The trend hit its stride below the Mason-Dixon line.
“We think the popularity in the South can be partly attributed to weather, and also to a slightly more playful attitude when it comes to dressing,” says Ian Murray, co-founder and CEO of Vineyard Vines, which has a store at SouthPark mall. “That being said, we love to sport colorful pants throughout the summer on Martha’s Vineyard, and we see the look in the Northeast a lot, too.”
‘Having a little fun’
The pants are about more than fashion. They make a statement about the wearer, and his attitude about life.
“We try to not take ourselves too seriously, and I think anyone sporting colorful or patterned pants is probably thinking the same thing,” says Shep Murray, co-founder and CEO of Vineyard Vines. “It’s all about having a little fun.”
Fun certainly describes some of the newer takes on GTH pants. Along with the bright colors, many companies are making the pants adorned with everything from tiny embroidered animals to funky patterns like the oyster shell-printed “Shucker” pants from Atlanta-based Southern Proper.
Where to wear them
Go to hell pants make a bold statement, and the wearer must be careful to pair them with neutral colors and understated accessories so as not to look clownish.
“If you are wearing a bold or bright color on the bottom, balance it with a solid, typically white, or simple shirt,” says Emmie Howard, co-founder of Southern Proper. “Let the pants speak for themselves. There is also no substitute for classic navy blazer – it pairs with any and every go to hell pant ever made.”
Knowing where to wear the pants is just as important as knowing how to wear them.
“I think the South has decided that they need to be versatile, but in my opinion they shouldn’t be worn for quite as much as they are,” says Strawn.
“Football games and weddings are always good opportunities, as well as summer cocktails and beach parties. I think that any time you have a more formal event, you should think twice about them, though. I love a splash of color, but it is not always the best idea.”
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