My favorite off-the-rack trousers I have ever worn were a linen and cotton blend in a relatively trim Italian cut. They aged wonderfully, acquiring tufted edges with the softness of silver-belly felt. I wore them to pieces, had them stitched back together and patched over, and wore them to pieces once more. Though loved, time persevered and it was with sadness at the start of this spring that I decided they would be removed from my rotation. Mandatory and permanent retirement to my wife’s sewing scrap box, I’m afraid.
After a barely tasteful period of mourning, I set about thinking just what made those trousers beloved so as I may replace them as quickly as possible. Was it the cut? Not likely; they were noticeably slimmer through the leg and lower rise than what I prefer. Was it the cloth? I don’t think so; cotton/linen blends tend to be a compromise between coolness and wrinkle resistance, achieving neither any better than when apart. The necessity of a belt left me cold, as I prefer side adjusters, and the zipper, for one reason or another, was prone to jams. That left color—cream.
It suddenly was clear: cream trousers are practical! Of course this contradicts almost every sage piece of advice in the book, from avoiding things that are memorable to favoring colors that effectively mask the occasional mark. But it’s difficult to argue with a color that compliments so much; I challenge skeptical readers to suggest a shirt or jacket shade cream doesn’t agree with. Red perhaps? Who has red shirts or jackets? Navy, bottle green, brown, tan, gray, white—cream looks correct beneath any of these. And though some may object, I think both brown and black shoes are complimented by a cream cuff.
As anyone who has asked for a room to painted “white” knows, shades at this end of the spectrum are infinite and challenging to pin down. Some creams are yellower than others, some are near white. Few look like fresh cream. Names (bone, mayonnaise, pith, ivory, tallow) while charming, aren’t much help. Then there is the matter of type of cloth; cream linen has different qualities to cream flannel or gaberdine. The only advice I can offer is to look at many and set aside those to which you are continually drawn. For me the right cream is luminous with a glowing, happy character that reflects a lively light. Simple really.
There is one hot question amongst all this zeal for cream though. What about gray—that traditional all-purpose trouser color? As excited as I am about my revelation, I would not part with any of my cherished gray trousers. Which probably means cream trousers should be considered a finishing touch to your trouser wardrobe. Here is the distinction as I see it: cream is the useful off-the-clock counterpart to the far more serious gray trouser. Or, if preferred, expressed in a snappy little pneumonic:
Work needs gray;
Cream needs play.