Abandon all hope, ye who gaze upon these pants.
How to wear go-to-hell pants.
You’ve seen them. How could you miss them? The red chinos. The pink shorts. The pants with alternating lobsters, whales, anchors, and sail boats embroidered on them. They’re referred to as go-to-hell pants. And because wearing a lot of color is a summer tradition, now’s the time to start thinking about donning yours. But just like there are different levels of hell in Dante’s Inferno, there are different levels of go-to-hell pants. From pants fit for the reluctant sinner to others perfect for the completely unrepentant.
“The jackets were mostly navy blazers, and the ties were mostly striped ties or ties with little jacquard emblems on them, but the pants had a go-to-hell air: checks and plaids of the loudest possible sort, madras plaids, yellow-on-orange windowpane checks, crazy-quilt plaids, giant houndstooth checks, or else they were a solid airmail red or taxi yellow or some other implausible go-to-hell color.”
—Tom Wolfe, on the style of well-heeled New Englanders vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard
Like lying to your parents, go-to-hell pants take some getting used to. You’re certainly not obligated to immediately descend to the lowest level and wear bright green pants with leaping frogs embroidered on them from day one. Perhaps you go up one level and start with shorts embroidered with various critters or nautical motifs. Or, maybe you start at the entry levels with pants and shorts in solid, bright colors. Red, tangerine, yellow. And if the idea of wearing that much color in a pant seems a bit daunting, begin with shorts. They’re like white lies—hardly noticed—and you can see how they make you feel before you progress to some real whoppers.
Why you’d wear them.
Usually this would be a “where to wear them” section, but the wearer of go-to-hell pants is usually more concerned with “why” than “where.” That’s because, aside from the fact that wearing them is just plain fun, wearing go-to-hell pants can be treated as a game of style chicken with your friends. Except instead of going over a cliff in a ball of flames, you’ll be seen as the most daring dresser around.
How to pull them off.
In some sense, you’re going to dress like you’re not wearing anything out of the ordinary. The thing to remember is that while you’ve got on only one article of go-to-hell clothing—either pants or shorts—the rest of you should not be displaying this same attitude. Your shirt and jacket should be chosen to show off your pants, not compete with them. So, for instance, you wouldn’t wear a bright gingham check shirt with whale pants. Or a red madras sport coat. Go for complementary solid colors. You don’t need to help out go-to-hell pants by adding extra attitude; they’re perfectly capable of being bad all by themselves.
Warm up to it.
Now that you know about go-to-hell pants, start experimenting with the level that feels right to you. And hey, we won’t judge you if you decide to stop at a pair of canary yellow shorts. Wait. That was a lie. Yes, we will. But then again, we’re wearing the pants with the alternating lobsters, whales, anchors, and sailboats embroidered on them. And we’re way beyond saving.
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