When I was a little boy of perhaps eight or ten, I delighted in wearing a pair of shorts executed in a wintery camouflage pattern. To my young mind, the whites and grays were superior to the muddy browns and greens of ordinary woodland camouflage. Whether this was because snow camo was considered comparatively rare or just more flattering to sunburned legs--I don’t recall. However, I do quite vividly remember pointing out to my friends the inherent humor of my shorts: when would one be required to hide in the snow and remain well-ventilated?
I think of those shorts now and again when confronted with certain grown-up articles of clothing that have attracted the ire of those gentlemen (of the internet, for the most part) who give serious thought to traditional men’s clothing. The wearable paradox is frowned upon in these circles. Propriety is, if not king, then the lofty goal. And if one item of men’s dress is condemned more vehemently than others, it is surely the black loafer.
The paradox is the fact that loafers are inherently casual but black is always reserved for formal occasions. The black loafer, however, suffers from an additional layer of condemnation; brown leather is, by this same crowd, universally preferred for its ability to patinate and appear mottled and lustrous. The same is only slightly true of black, which might develop some subtle marbleization over two decades of regular wear, but is really at its most correct when it is glossy and, well, black.
And so the black loafer languishes, too somber for most, too casual for the rest. In my opinion, this is a pity. If we really need to identify incongruities within the realm of menswear, then low-hanging fruit abounds: three piece city suits of country cloth; suede oxfords; the rough finished homburg; patterned dress hose; woolen neckties. Even the humble silk knot, a personal favorite for linking the cuffs, is in danger. Each of these (and many more) violate the same “rule” that black casuals do; they conflate genus and species.
The same list might just as well appear with the heading: “Favorite Items of the Famously Well-Dressed.” We won’t run back through ascribing each to someone notable, suffice it to say everyone from Cary Grant to that natty little resignee, the Duke of Windsor, employed one or several paradoxical articles. And if pressed, we might even point to an insistence upon suede or button-down collars as not just an element, but the beating heart of an individual’s style. What these items do so well is blur the lines of propriety; they confidently straddle adjacent echelons of formality, dipping their host into both. When one expects polished gold links, and encounters instead fraying silk knots, the effect if pleasantly jarring, particularly when the remainder is correct to the last stitch.
My black loafers are technically of the penny variety, but the details are subtle and the shape elegant rather than clunky. I wear them on warm summer evenings while entertaining at home and out to causal dinners. I don’t care for them with suits, but they do well beneath tan and grey odd trousers when laced oxfords would be stifling. Sock-less, they seem particularly insouciant. And while I don’t go about pointing out the incongruity as I once did with my snow-camo shorts, I do take private pleasure in noting the paradox.