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Swellboy on… the etiquette of summer shorts

Just how closely should one follow the sartorial edicts of Tom Ford?

Swellboy on… the etiquette of summer shorts

Image: Brijesh Patel

July 30 2011
Nick Foulkes

I recently learnt with interest that Tom Ford has more or less prohibited the wearing of shorts, issuing a statement to the effect that a gentleman should almost never wear them. Mr Ford’s sartorial pronouncements resonate throughout the wardrobes of the world, carrying much the same weight as, say, a papal bull. There can be few men brave or foolish enough to challenge him on anything relating to the amount of shirt cuff it is acceptable to show at the end of the sleeve, and I very much doubt there is a man better qualified to comment on whether the turn-up at the end of the one’s trousers ought to be the same depth as the pocket flaps and turnback cuffs on the coat.

However, before we get lost in this pleasurable maze of sartorial arcana, let us return to the short trouser. Mr Ford has, apparently, outlawed trousering that does not cover the knees, except for on tennis courts and beaches.

Apparently, he has also branded flip-flops as the work of the devil. Happily, I do not own a pair of flip-flops, but then nor do I wear a pair of Eric Cook’s handmade elastic-sided ankle boots à la plage. Instead, I prefer a pair of Pepe moccasins, usually in a shade to match my shorts – I particularly cherish a pair I had made in a suede that hovers between tangerine and coral, commissioned to accompany a similar-hued pair of Gurkha-style needle-cord shorts, which, as my good fortune had it, went very well with a vintage paisley linen shirt, with a western-style yoke and popper-stud fastening… but I digress again.

Like those papal edicts, the word of Our Ford is, of course, open to interpretation. As it happens, I tend not to wear shorts, and certainly not in a built-up area. However, does he mean that I have to change at the edge of the beach? Or am I allowed to walk across the Paseo Marítimo/Promenade de la Croisette and to my hotel room/car/sunlounger/casual seaside seafood restaurant while still exposing my shins and calves?

And if I have to commute to the beach, am I allowed to do so in shorts? And if so, is there a ruling on what sort of vehicle is acceptable to drive while wearing shorts? I can only think of a Mini Moke or, in extremis, an old Jeep Wrangler with the roof removed.

Another aspect of this edict does not apply to me, as I do my best not to take exercise. If I did, I would be faced with another interpretative dilemma: were I to go for a jog, would I have to wear long trousers of tweed or flannel, or does the term “tennis court” embrace all forms of activity? I suppose I could run around a tennis court in shorts.

As you can see, such ad hoc utterances raise far more questions than they answer. The only sensible course is to convene a sartorial Council of Nicaea, an ecumenical gathering of clothes pundits, where, with Our Ford and Master taking the role of Emperor Constantine, the future rules of resort wear can be hammered out.

In the meantime, perhaps wisely, Mr Ford seems to have refrained from entering the swimming-costume debate. So if you were wondering what to wear poolside, I offer my own suggestions: espadrilles (preferably handmade in Barcelona at La Manual Alpargatera), voluminous bathing trunks fastened with a drawstring at the waist or kept in place with side adjusters and a metal buckle (as per my friend Charles Finch’s design for Chucs), a white towelling blazer by Brioni, one pair of Meyrowitz sunglasses, one Dunhill bag, two cigars (Cohiba Behike and H Upmann Magnum 48), one shagreen-covered Dunhill blue-flame lighter (bought in the early noughties from its shop on Rue de La Paix), one Geoffrey Parker competition-sized backgammon set (although tournament size will suffice at a pinch), one novel by Dickens, one crocodile-covered Hermès cigar cutter and a vintage alligator Ducas cigar case (if possible, get Hermès to match the colour of your watchstrap to cigar case and cutter, though this is not necessary, just desirable). After that, it is a simple matter of accessorising with one of a selection of specially aged straw hats, piling on a forearm full of silver jewellery (Patrick Mavros etc) and then it’s off to the pool.

As you can imagine, this lengthy preparation does mean that I seldom arrive at the pool much before 5pm. However, as this usually takes place in Marbella, the hour is of little moment (I could not resist the pun). In fact, five in the afternoon is usually lunchtime, and on one memorable occasion I had to finish a backgammon session with my friend, fabled art dealer Fabien Fryns, by candlelight, after which we walked through the Marbella Club Grill in our poolside attire; he to his Bentley and me to my rented Ford Focus.

Mr Ford would have heartily disapproved, but I feel that I was obeying if not the spirit then certainly the letter of his edict: apparently, gentlemen should not wear shorts. And, as I believe I have said before, I would never presume to call myself a gentleman.