For the past five years, I’ve been wearing colored pants. Brightly colored pants. It started innocently enough: A pair of olive trousers seemed well within the canon. But then I moved into a buttery lemon and soon went full WASP with a pair of Nantucket Reds, which are really pink. Eventually, my closet started to resemble a Pantone swatch book. There are pants in sky-blue, airport-fire-engine-yellow, and a blazing orange that would surely keep me safe in the presence of deer hunters.
Menswear is, for most of us, pretty limited. This is all the more true when it comes to your bottom half. Tan, navy (including denim), and gray are the basic palette. But those colors are drab, and they’re everywhere. That may be changing. A perusal of menswear sites such as J.Crew and Bonobos indicates a growing inventory of bright pants. I can see the business logic: Strong colors are less interchangeable than taupe and therefore require you to buy more pairs.
Why not just wear colorful shirts? You could, but crazily vivid shirts have a built-in limitation that trousers don’t. A shirt’s shade has to work well with your complexion—it’s right next to your face. I love a pair of mustard pants, but I’m far too pale to wear that color up top; I don’t go for that about-to-throw-up look.
There are some rules for wearing bright pants. First off, you have to be the nicest, most polite, friendliest person in the room. That’s because wearing, say, purple pants may cause people to assume you’re a douche bag. It’s a little like driving a Ferrari in downtown traffic: You’d be too much of a cliché if you cut people off. So hold doors open, let everyone go ahead of you, and always smile.
Sartorially speaking, introducing a shock of color onto half of your body means the other half should remain conservative. Go with a simple blue or white oxford shirt, or try gingham or tattersall so you don’t have two big blocks of color. You know what looks great with a pair of orange pants? A navy blazer. Your belt and shoes should also be neutral—brown or tan only, lace-ups or loafers—and no polka-dot socks.
Ease into your cheerful pants by wearing them on the weekend or on vacation. Treat the office as the main stage, the Show, the Big Dance. To the degree that your office has a dress code, official or not, you’re likely breaking it. You’re calling attention to yourself, so make sure your work is getting done. A sub-par employee wearing khakis and a blue button-down can slide by for months, but if you’re lackadaisical and a dandy? You’ll soon find your contract has not been renewed.
Incidentally, women love a guy in vibrant pants. I’ve been stopped on the street by women complimenting me on them. I can’t speak to this in a dating sense, as I’ve been married for years, but women seem relieved to see a man who’s dressing a little differently. If you’re worried that wearing Kelly-green trousers will make you appear to be less of a man, you’ve got things backward.
Nothing you wear should ever make you feel physically or psychologically uncomfortable, so if this trend makes you flinch, let it pass you by. But if you feel as if you’ve labored under khaki’s yoke for too long, there’s nothing like a pair of mint-green flat-fronts to offer liberation. Just know that, at least once a day, someone will call you “Mr. Fancy Pants” and imagine he’s the first one to come up with it. Let him.