For Men, It's the Summer of the ‘BBQ Shirt.’ So What Is It, Exactly?
In the department of obscure anniversaries, it has been 60 years since the demise of Gentry, an excellent magazine that used to inform men about clothes, sports, food, wine, chess openings, and Oldsmobile coupes with white-walled tires. I strongly recommend The Gentry Man: A Guide for the Civilized Male (Harper Design), a softcover book assembling its greatest hits, and this summer I especially suggest turning to page 98, given the epidemic riots of color bursting across men’s torsos on evenings and weekends.
Here, Gentry’s editors pay tribute to a casual shirt designed as a “conversation piece … especially for the outdoor chef.” This “barbecue shirt” from Damon Creations was fashioned from cotton and finished to look “exactly like freshly wiped oilcloth.” Droll but dignified, its grill-themed pattern includes a set of Cubist-inspired cooking tools (turner, tongs, grill brush …) and a soft-Surrealist trout.
That barbecue shirt made its debut in the mid-1950s, during the first great age of lounge shirts, and thus stands as a distinguished ancestor of the many, many short-sleeved shirts that have dominated the season over the decades. Last summer, a vanguard of guys ventured forth sporting the style. Seen to be macho in their florals and bold in their festivity, they emboldened guys everywhere now to seek out shirts printed (or embroidered) with frisky critters, exotic vegetation, and such tasty treats as swirls of soft-serve ice cream on sugar cones.
You can pay $13 for a cotton H&M button-up bedecked with tumbling pineapples, and you can pay $695 for a cotton Valentino popover featuring identical produce. At all intermediate price points, men will discover short-sleeved shirts, in crisp cotton or in drapey rayon, screaming with brash patterns. In fact, with retailers already clearing racks to stock fall clothes, many of these shirts are, at this writing, deeply discounted. This is a great boon to those of you who needed a few weeks to get up the courage to acquire a psychedelic flower print shirt from Stella McCartney. Marked down from $660 to $330, this beautiful and impractical piece, with its dashingly vertigo-inducing print, now perhaps can be justified as a non-bonkers purchase.
These shirts answer to various names. If the print strikes a tropical attitude, it is likely an Aloha shirt, also known as a Hawaiian shirt, in reference to the onetime kingdom whence it hails. Mikey Nolan, co-founder of brand Double Rainbouu, remembers receiving a personal compliment on one of his vivid rayon button-ups and learning a further moniker: “This guy said, ‘Hey, man, I like your celebration shirt.’"
Another au courant term is camp shirt, which (to be correct and exact) refers to a shirt with the camp collar seen on a majority of garments on this page. Full-bellied fellows will appreciate that camp shirts—with, traditionally, straight hems—look fine and tidy when worn untucked over their generous abdomens. Whatever his heft, a jolly gent will further appreciate the meaningful pun waiting right there in the phrase. When decorated with, say, a pink-flamingo motif, the camp shirt is a kitsch shirt, amusingly so.
At Turnbull & Asser, where they poshly call their version of a camp collar a resort collar, they claim that a “beach shirt” with a gray-and-blue camo-esque print is “a laid-back holiday piece with maximized eccentricity.” This will be news to their competitors loudly festooning shirts with lobsters, and with dizzying abstractions, and with fluorescent overgrowths of charismatic megaflora. But there's no arguing with the "laid back," as a general principle. Despite their eccentricities, these shirts are becoming central to the down-time wardrobe because their flamboyance enables a dude to let it all hang out. The cut keeps him comfortable in his clothing, while the pattern announces he's comfortable in his own skin, lending restless energy to hours of relaxation.