Let me explain. For a long time, I thought very poorly of men who wore pink shirts. To me, it just screamed "LOOK AT ME! LOOK HOW SECURE IN MY MASCULINITY I AM, FOR I AM WEARING A SHIRT IN A STEREOTYPICALLY FEMININE COLOUR!" I never even thought pink was a colour that looked particularly good on men; it seemed like a man would only wear it if he had something to prove. Also, it didn't help that the only pink shirts I had ever seen were either (a) dress shirts worn by greasy Gino/Eurotrash types—the types who would also wear iridescent ties and white square-toed loafers—or (b) polo shirts with the collars popped. In other words, only douchebags wore pink shirts. What's more, once I started to become more fashion-conscious, I realized that pink dress shirts were a fad, and I knew that those men would look back in 20 years at pictures of themselves and shake their heads at how ridiculous they looked.

But all those preconceptions changed when I started learning about preppy style. I realized that pink shirts weren't a fad; they had, in fact, been worn for decades by men who were extremely traditional. Actually, I should qualify that: pink dress shirts are, indeed, a fad. But polo shirts and oxford shirts, made by the likes of Lacoste and Brooks Brothers, had been popular in pink since well before 1980, when Lisa Birnbach published The Official Preppy Handbook. As she wrote at page 141:
The classic shirt is the Brooks Brothers button-down all-cotton oxford cloth shirt. Pink is the most famous color, and it is widely supposed that no one except Brooks has ever been able to achieve that perfect pink or that perfect roll to the collar.
Christian Chensvold, of the blog Ivy Style, traced the phenomenon in greater detail in an article for The Rake magazine:
Like the white flannels of the English gentleman, colorful sportswear signals the wearer is at play, not work. Easily soiled, the clothing is thus impractical, making it a symbol of both conspicuous consumption and conspicuous leisure. “Navy blue aside,” notes Paul Fussell in “Class,” his 1983 classic on the American status system, “colors are classier the more pastel or faded.”

“You wouldn’t have someone not from money walking around in clothing that would draw a lot of attention to himself,” explains [author and custom clothier Alan] Flusser. “Up to the ’60s it was always a brahmin, upper-class thing, because they could wear it and not be laughed at.” For Flusser, the postwar starting point of the look is Brooks Brothers’ celebrated pink oxford-cloth buttondown. “Pink symbolizes this whole subject matter,” he says. “Imagine a guy wearing a pink shirt: If people didn’t understand what that was about, you had to be prepared to be laughed at.”

“When my brother was at Harvard,” Flusser continues, “the kids were wearing blazers and red or yellow pants and would always use color in some sort of interesting way. There was a sense of who could wear the most outrageous tattersall vest. But being able to wear that kind of clothing comes from a certain lineage where you felt, ‘This is what we do, and if people don’t understand it, they don’t understand it.’”

So all it took for me to change my attitude completely towards this particular garment was to change my mental association from negative to positive. Pink shirts—polos and oxfords, anyway—were no longer douchey; they were preppy. I didn't want to be douchey; I did want to be preppy (essentially because of the associations recounted above by Chensvold, as well as others on which I'll be expanding in a future post). The conclusion was simple and obvious: pink shirts are good. So when I had the opportunity recently to acquire a Ralph Lauren polo shirt in the staple "Carmel Pink" shade for less than $20, I jumped at it. I wore it today—the first time I had ever worn a pink shirt. I wore it with lime green shorts, and then out to dinner with white linen pants and navy boat shoes. And, though you might say it's bull, I felt like a Brahmin.


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