What To Make of All the Colorful Pants?

Paleo Retiree writes:

Out in huge numbers in NYC this spring/summer: women wearing bright, colorful pants. Not all of these pants are variations on red-orange, but I guesstimate that 80% or more of them are. Here are a few shots of street life that I’ve snapped just in the last few days:


I’m enjoying it. (Of course, I nearly always enjoy the spectacle of women pulling themselves together and putting themselves on display.) Where fashion goes, women can be terrible sheep, god knows. How do so many of them know — and all at the exact same time — to go buy tight red/orange pants? But it’s genuinely fun to see them being playful with their bodies and their adornments, and expressing their joy in the season. Form-fitting bright pants on women are nothing if not a cheery sight, and Manhattan’s gray and dirty streets are in perpetual need of cheering up. You’re rockin’ it, ladies.

Now, here’s another fashion — less in evidence than red-orange-on-women but still unavoidable — that has  me a little more perplexed:

colorful_pants_men_collage01These snapz are all of guys. In other words: This season, it isn’t just the gals who are flaunting the bright and cheery colors. Guys too are wearing flamboyantly hued pants, around 80% of them variations on red or orange. Realistically speaking, a smaller percentage of guys than gals are wearing red-orange pants, and for some reason more guys than gals are exploring the raspberry/cranberry wedge of the spectrum. But it wasn’t as though I had to try real hard to capture a lot of them dressed this way either.

Guys in considerable numbers are out this summer in red/orange/raspberry pants … What to make of this?

Are young guys now mimicking women? It certainly didn’t used to be the case that a significant subset of guys took fashion cues from women. If anything, guys were more likely to define themselves visually in opposition to women. But maybe it’s not that at all. Maybe what’s happening is just that now a lot of guys are, like women, taking cues from the media:


Another hunch: Perhaps guys are now freer to express themselves in their mode of dressing than they used to be. Back in the days of “how to be a man,” bright and expressive colors were largely left to the ladies. The assumption was that women were creatures of emotions, that they were more transparent than men, and that the package equaled “expressiveness.” (Men didn’t compete with the ladies in the expressing-your-feelings sweepstakes; signs of vanity were squashed out of guys at the youngest age possible.) The traditional male was, by contrast, someone who was in charge of his feelings, and that tended to translate clothingwise into classic cuts and a subdued palette. Women were creatures of being where men were creatures of doing.

Back in the Bad Old Days, guys allowed themselves to indulge in color in two main instances. One was plain goofiness — guys being themselves, often in the most unstylish ways imaginable. Golf fashions, anyone? The other was the case of the dandy. There have always been a few guys — rock stars (and rock star wannabes) and other dreamboat types — who worked the narcissism and look-at-me angles. Here’s a guy I ran across in SoHo the other day who’s doing what strikes me as a perfectly good job wearing pink — pink! — pants.


But, pink as those pants indisputably are, watching him go by, I — as a representative troglogyte — didn’t experience a single “What a twerp,” or “He ought to be ashamed of himself,” or “That can’t be allowed to escape unpunished” feeling. Instead I respected him. I thought, “Hmm, he’s getting away with it.” I admired the panache of this modern dandy. But then he’s slim and good-looking, he’s confidently vain, he’s squiring a hot girl … He’s probably European, now that I think of it.

So my question for you is, What are we witnessing? One the one hand, maybe it’s a glorious moment: perhaps men, finally liberated from the rigid requirements of traditional male-ness, are now free to play, to enjoy themselves, to attract attention and to express their feelings. On the other hand, maybe it’s one of the clearest signs we have of Western masculinity’s final decline. Maybe what we have are a few generations of flibbertigibbet, narcissistic young men — dudez who have been rendered as vain, as anxious and as exhibitionistic (and as helpless before the dictates of the fashion biz) as many women have traditionally been.

Liberation has arrived, and it’s terrific? Or masculinity — a once-great and valuable thing — is crumbling into dust before our eyes? Votes, anyone?

About Paleo Retiree

Onetime media flunky and movie buff and very glad to have left that mess behind. Formerly Michael Blowhard of the cultureblog 2Blowhards.com. Now a rootless parasite and bon vivant on a quest to find the perfectly-crafted artisanal cocktail.
This entry was posted in Sex, Women men and fashion and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to What To Make of All the Colorful Pants?

  1. Re: the men, is there any Game influence at play here? Don’t they call it “peacocking”?


    • Paleo Retiree says:

      They do call it peacocking. I wonder if that’s part of what some of these guys are up to. How well-known is Game these days?


  2. epiminondas says:

    I submit that it’s all a tempest in a teapot.


  3. Callowman says:

    Jeez, you grew up so close to New England and yet, apparently, so far away. That thing you call “golf fashions”? Those are “go-to-hell pants”, and while they’re an easy reach for stable middle-aged golfers, they were actually always available to any insouciant preppy, anywhere, anytime, for any reason. Me, I’m not a real New Englander – moved there when I was 15 – and I could never get on board with the style, but you’ve gotta hand that one to them.


    • Paleo Retiree says:

      You’re reminding me that I’ve been to a couple of WASPy New England cocktail parties. Whew, were those a lot of bad fashions. Lime-green pants … How’d they come up with that look? Haven’t spotted any lime-green slacks on hipsters in NYC yet. I’ll keep you posted if/when I do.


      • Maule Driver says:

        Our memories can be so short. After a short term in the ivy covered natural habitat of ‘prep’, did we forget that in the late 70s – early 80s “everyone” was wearing pink Lacoste shirts, cloth belts, club ties, pastel pants and penny loafers. Even in NYC!

        Looks to me that NYC fashion has taken another one its periodic breaks from variations on black.

        I don’t know how fashion is rolled out to people, whether they be first adopters or last to the party, but at some point it’s hard for the general public to ignore what is being advertised and stocked by the global supply chain.


    • The Callowman is correct, that the pedigree of the red pants is impeccably WASP, worn by members of the tribe from Mobile to Maine. In truth, it is the sort of shibboleth, the test of one’s true WASPy-ness, for almost no one else could wear them without feeling ridiculous.


      • Callowman says:

        I can’t tell for sure, but those pink numbers in the bottommost pic and the pinks at bottom left in the montage may be Nantucket Reds, the ne plus ultra of prep.


      • Paleo Retiree says:

        Red pants certainly have shown up regularly on prepsters and golfers, god knows. But do my examples here radiate “prep” or “golf” to anyone? Most of the guys wearing them in my pix are hipsters, or SoHo-chic people, or wannabe-hipsters. I think the intention and the desired effect are pretty different. The pink Lacoste shirts and lime-green slacks of prep generally have the effect of a Kate Hepburn-like defiance of narcissism and sexiness, where the pants in my pix seem to me to be intended to revel in and attract sexxxy-type attention — peacocking, as Blowhard, Esq pointed out. In all honesty, these new red pants make me think of colorful baboon butts — gal baboons in heat develop really colorful butts. So it makes evo-bio-type sense that women feeling frisky would want to wear salmon, read and pink on the reproductive parts. But here we have guys flaunting baboon-butt-colored butt-and-legwear.

        Maybe what we have here is prep-gone-Eurosleaze/hipster-and-made-hopefully-sexual? The Banana Republic ad (showing a Roger Federer type in all red) would suggest something like that.


      • Callowman says:

        I’ll buy “prep-gone-Eurosleaze/hipster-and-made-hopefully-sexual”. Prep went national for a moment in the 80s, too, and became something very different from the soothing code it is in its home counties.


  4. dearieme says:

    I think you’re overlooking the customary flamboyance of military dress uniforms.


    • Paleo Retiree says:

      Great point. It’s funny, though: I don’t think the U.S. has much of a tradition of flamboyant military dress. I wonder how and why the U.S. military *didn’t* develop (fashion-wise) in the same way so many other militaries did.

      Aside from a few years in the ’60s and ’70s when a lot of guys indulged in fancy dressin’, in my lifetime most American men have kept it pretty subdued. The big exceptions have been Italian-American guys, blacks and gays. I suppose a few Russians and midEastern guys too, now that I think of it.


      • The Manolo’s reply is that the Europeans have had the long-long, glorious, aristocratic military histories, from which have descended the elements (especially the bold colors and strange hats) of the traditionally flamboyant medieval and early modern battle dress, preserved into the modern era as elements of formal dress. (See for the example, the English 11th Hussars, The Cherry Pickers, with the bright red pants.)

        By the comparison, the Americans have mostly been suspicious of the standing military, and anything that savors of the aristocracy, to include fancy and/or stylish clothing on the soldiers, (or even ceremonial sashes on presidents or governmental officials, except for the comic mayors). The history of negative commentary by American soldiers and their enemies on the drabness of American military uniforms begins with the Revolution and continues through the today. Olive drab is not just the clothing choice, it is the anti-traditional-military republican statement. (What would Cincinnatus wear if he were alive today?)

        Likewise, the brutality of the Civil War combat reinforced the American wisdom of not wearing flamboyant dress into battle (consider the brief history of the Fire Zouaves), something that was not brought home to the Europeans until much later. After that, for the Americans it was dark blue for formal occasions, and tan, olive drab, and finally camouflage for battle dress.

        In the American military the only exception to the primacy of black, dark blue, and white are in the ceremonial bands, such as the Marine Corps Band, which wears the red dress uniforms.


  5. dearieme says:

    People in other countries are often struck by the huge number of ribbons that US military people sport – almost on a USSR scale.


  6. agnostic says:

    There’s a trend that’s shared between men and women, and women are more into it than men. But that doesn’t mean we can tell that women started it, and that men are copying. For all we know, it’s that risk-taking extreme of men who started it, paved the way, and established it as safe enough for generally cautious women to jump on the bandwagon.

    That happened with the return of bold colors and patterns toward the end of the mid-century. I looked through the Sears Christmas catalogs and found that men started wearing bold colors and patterns in the mid-1950s, while it took women until the late ’50s or early ’60s to join in the fun. Nordic ski sweaters, things like that.

    We’re in a neo-mid-century zeitgeist right now, so my hunch (without having any catalog type of data) is that it’s the same thing happening again. We may be nearing the end of our cocooning / hunkering down phase, like people started to come out of their shells more during the mid-’50s. Not being so self-conscious about your appearance, and wanting to cheer other people up, is just part of that first foray toward a more extraverted society, after several decades of being closed off.


    • Paleo Retiree says:

      Interesting theories. I hope it is the beginning of an extraverted and cheery phase, though I’m not as optimistic about it as I guess you are. (Most of the guys-in-red-pants that I’ve noticed don’t look particularly exuberant. They’re more like guys-with-bedhead who for some reason just seem to have put on red pants in the a.m. But maybe that’s the how some new exuberant thing is getting started.) FWIW, I noticed the galz wearing the salmon-red-orange pants last summer, while guyz in reddish pants is something that’s only caught my eye this year. But I’d be curious to hear from others about when it came to their attention.


      • agnostic says:

        I don’t know about red pants specifically, but the skater and snowboarder dudes have been wearing loud colors, including multiple loud colors at once, for several years now.

        They’re also the center of this whole “tribal print” craze, based on bold geometric patterns that suggest Indian art of the American Southwest. Semi-related to the re-birth of ski sweaters / Christmas sweaters over the past couple years — this time worn non-ironically, and with bold geometric patterns instead of trying to look ugly.

        Chicks don’t go for it as much. One loud color is enough excitement. The skater dude, who represents a fairly large chunk of youth culture, is more comfortable with crazier-looking colors and patterns.


  7. agnostic says:

    While it is new to see so much color, compared to the past 20 years, still notice how limited it is demographically. Basically: young, urban, and consciously outside of the mainstream.

    Back in the ’80s and even the very early ’90s, everyone wore colorful clothing. Color was at its peak, after a steady rise over the previous several decades. I mean, *everyone* has a picture of themselves somewhere where they’re wearing colorful pants, jeans, or shorts. Some examples:


    His and hers New Wave red pants.


    Red and black plaid pants from the punk scene.


    Red pants for the timeless preppy look.


    Skip down to comment 27. His and hers wedding pants in red.


    From a set of candid photos taken around malls in the late ’80s / early ’90s. Too many to find all of them… 1st row, a kid in the background with red head to toe. 2nd row, 20 or 30-something 9-to-5-er wearing red pants. 8th row, a middle-aged rat-racer in a red head-to-toe pantsuit. 9th row, a grannie in a hot pink skirt. 11th row, a grannie in hot pink pants. 23rd row, typical teenager in bright pink stirrup-looking pants. 33rd row, a grannie in bold red pants. 34th row, a bon-bon-gorging housefrau in red head to toe.

    …You get the idea. It used to be so common back then that every group wore red. Even suburban senior citizens who spent most of their day at the mall, not just the strutting-on-the-catwalk types of people.


    • Paleo Retiree says:

      I’ll have to differ with you on this one. Punk styles got pretty crazy, but in this country punk styles were much less colorful than they were in the U.K. Your examples are British, as far as I can tell, and the Brit guys who would wear the loud colors were punk dandies. I was in and around the NYC punk scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and I don’t recall the fashions (particularly for the guys) being very colorful. I don’t recall seeing ANY guys dressed in Johnny Rotten-style clashing bright plaids, for instance. At a downtown NYC club, a Johnny Rotten getup would have looked really strange, where t-shirts and ripped jeans, and lots of black and leather would have seemed perfectly normal. As for your mid-American examples, they seem to me to be examples more of American cluelessness — people who take their cues from sports on TV, and who dress in whatever leisure outfits the discount stores have on sale — than of anything we might call deliberate fashion. Clueless mid-Americans during my lifetime have often worn big, dumb colors, but that seems to me to be more a function of what the clothing conglomerates are handing out than of any fashion movement. Not that that isn’t interesting and worthy of discussion in its own right, of course. Agree with you totally about the absurd colors preppy types go in for, though.


      • agnostic says:

        Yeah, American punks looked more like the Ramones.

        The mid-Americans didn’t just buy whatever the dept store dumped on its shelves, though, or else they never would have made the switch. Just keep selling them what’s been selling — if they’re not known to be fashion risk-takers, why take the chance of selling them different stuff? Yet the average American types who used to wear red head to toe wouldn’t dream of that today. Everyone wears such bland colors, from hipster to housefrau.

        And the loud red from the good old days was only part of their overall loud look — lots of visible make-up, perms and other forms of Big Hair, jewelry, perfume with 20-foot projection, and so on. It seems like they were just in a more cheerful and outgoing mood back then, compared to today’s average Wal-Mart shoppers who wear drab colors, flat hair, no jewelry, and no cologne or perfume.


      • Curle says:

        The Surf Punks (though they were corporate punk):


  8. Paleo Retiree says:

    “Loud” is definitely the word for that particular look. (And often that particular crowd.)


  9. Paleo Retiree says:

    X-game guys, skateboarders and surfers (and the people who design for them and market them) have had a HUGE impact on American styles of many kinds, it seems to me. I’m just guessing, but I doubt that there’s much of a connection between hipsters-in-SoHo-wearing-red-pants and the X-games, though.


  10. Pingback: Early June Mini-Linkfest | Patriactionary

  11. AJ says:

    The British version, which goes back to 2011 and seems to be associated with privileged student types:



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