The problem with resolutions is they begin with a fuzzy recognition of a shortcoming rather than a stark admission of a failing. I mustn’t eat so much, as if the overindulgence is an affliction of environment rather than an individual weakness. The promise to exercise is my favorite, as it inevitably leads to giving oneself gifts: a gadget, a trainer, a wardrobe of the latest technical gear—these all seem to appear long before a single pushup or jumping jack. The promise to exercise should begin, right there and then, with real exercise.
But if we are going to reward ourselves for our failures, then I say do it properly. I, for instance, have callously neglected my shirt wardrobe in pursuit of tweed and worsted, shoes and silk. This is an egregious mistake; what should all the rest hang upon if not an honest shirt? What good is a dark double breasted, as refined as it is louche, without a pressed white shirt? And how cruel to deny tweed its choice of tattersalls, or a foulard a complementing dress stripe?
The problem is one of categorization. Shirts are, historically and practically, underwear. This is an honest and crucial role in the male wardrobe, protecting our greater investments in tailored clothing from the indelicate fact of sweat and dirt. We launder these barriers, hopefully with common sense, and expect the cycle be repeated in perpetuity. But shirts have also been elevated from their working station in recent years, becoming solo items of fashion. I don’t deny the beauty of a good shirt, nor begrudge the impulse to make a handsome one the centerpiece, but we ignore a shirt’s original role at the peril of the group: a handful of expensive, coddled shirts will perish prematurely in grayed over and fraying ignominy.
Shirts, then, must be plentiful, not too wild in color or pattern, and of a cut and design that causes no hesitation when running a quarter of an hour behind. There is vast choice, which is itself a pitfall. Whether buying off-the-rack or having them made, a man must be resolute throughout the process, avoiding frivolity, continuously circling back to what works. For me these are: a few french cuffed white and cream; bales of barrel-cuffed blues; dress stripes, bengal stripes, and awning stripes; subtle checks and frightening tattersalls.
But planning new shirts for the year is not just a chore. Within the tension between choice and resolute vision is an opportunity to fine-tune personal style. Perhaps last year’s chambrays proved less useful than anticipated, or maybe a row of solids, though sober and classic, made for rather dull wearing. This is the time to reflect not just on shirts, but on the very underpinnings of one’s motivation to be well dressed. There is no better metaphor for beginning anew then planning a fistful of fresh shirts. New year, new shirts.