How to wear white trousers with dignity

NEW YORK • Etiquette guru Miss Manners issued "the White Shoe Edict" in 1990 - the only time it is correct to wear white footwear in the United States is in summer, when the hotter weather calls for comfort.

But that rule now lies crumbled under the weight of a billion pairs of sneakers.

When it comes to certain staples, such as T-shirts and button-up shirts, white is never controversial any time of the year, as Miss Manners again notes.

White symbolises purity, but no one would call it demure when it is the colour of your trousers.

Instead, it conjures the flamboyant jauntiness of pants worn at the seaside, perhaps with a boater hat.

Or the New England rakishness of former president John F. Kennedy on a sailboat, maybe with blue socks or a summer-weight, navy sweater.

Worn with a field jacket, a pair of white pants can lend you the subtropical glamour of a character in a Graham Greene novel.

But a pair of white trousers is often a cause for distress among those inclined to wear them.

Sometimes, the distress comes from merely being witness to them.

A US$1,000 (S$1,380) pair of ripped white jeans from the brand Fear Of God indicates the general state of affairs. Many clothiers are asking you to spend money on trousers without spending a moment's concern on whether their pocket bags are visible - which, in a product shot, they clearly are.

Which brings the debate back to the central shopping problem with white trousers - locating a pair that are reasonably opaque.

This is not a simple matter of getting what you pay for.

The problem can manifest even with trousers made with great care and expense by the most respected names in menswear. The only way out is to have them lined.

Edoardo Fassino, creative director and chief executive of PT Pantaloni Torino, which designs trousers, and only trousers, with a rigorous attention to detail, said its white creations are selling well, especially in Japan, where they are often paired with blue blazers.

The key, he added, to producing a decent pair of white trousers is to know that "the choice of fabric is related to the fit you want to realise".

For instance, a skinnier cut necessitates a correspondingly thicker cloth.

In PT's case, this might bring you into the realm of cotton pique.

Elsewhere, you may find yourself examining heavy twill cotton-linen blends or conversing with your tailor about the versatility of winterwhite flannel.

You may also decide that you are willing to settle for a slight bit of sheerness to look the way you want.

Good posture also helps one to wear white in a way that highlights its healthy and wholesome vibes.

It is certainly crucial to the sartorial success of sailors visiting New York for Fleet Week, in their "service dress white" or "summer white service" uniforms.

The sharpness is essential. When it comes to white, crisp is ritzy, rumpled is potentially chic in a bedheaded, beach-bum way, but wrinkled is dicey.

Stained is awful, obviously.

The main reason that wearing a lot of white imparts an aura of luxury is that it indicates your strong relationship with a first-rate cleaner and your privilege not to sit anywhere grubby.

If you want to wear your white trousers with dignity, Fassino said, use a trick that, at first, feels counter-intuitive: Do not pair white trousers with white underwear. 

"Everyone thinks you have to wear white underwear, but this is not the right trick," he noted.

"Even if you are white, your skin is not white."

Try something closer to the general colour of your skin tone when seeking to blend in at the non-stop white party of the season.

Who else is betting big on white trousers this summer?

In some John Varvatos window displays, it is the only thing to see.

California denim brand Frame has added "blanc" as a choice for its l'homme straight jeans.

Historically, Ralph Lauren's Purple Label gets high marks for doing white trousers well.

And white could well be a mass trend strong enough to sway even the big boys in fast fashion.

Zara is heading into summer by proposing a "weekend getaway" look that combines high-waisted, wide-legged white jeans and a slightly stretchy, "denim-like" white trucker jacket.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 01, 2017, with the headline 'How to wear white trousers with dignity'. Print Edition | Subscribe