In my experience, if you are a man who is hankering to get noticed; if you find insufficient eyes flashing, not enough heads turning and pitifully few motors screeching to a halt when your form drifts by, the absolute peach of a fixer for this is a white suit. White suits, though they are woefully impractical, act as a beacon. It is not that white is a particularly unusual colour; it is simply that the reflection of light is so powerful that it draws a pedestrian’s attention. I find myself gazing at quite unspectacular people in quite ordinary outfits merely because they are wearing a large quantity of white.
The power of white, quite apart from the momentary dazzling effect it has, is considerable. When I imagine white suits, especially in the context of a large and untidy metropolis, I imagine wealthy dandies, tiptoeing among the dank and dark rottenness of filthy Victorian London; their pearl-like brilliance causing delight and alarm to the sooted faces of an outstretched hand. White has majesty and purity and anyone who wears it had better make jolly well sure the garments are utterly spotless.
The literary and journalistic people have almost hijacked the white suit as a thing belonging entirely to their world; a world of typewriters, infinite creativity and deadlines. Mark Twain was as famous for wearing his white suits in later life as he was for his anti-imperialism, support of the common man and his creation of Tom Sawyer and Tom Wolfe, though his fervent ‘anti-bloggism’ almost precludes me from mentioning him at all, is one of the most famous and flamboyant of modern day white-suit dandies.
It does indeed have poetic qualities: the idea of ‘the ivory tower’ springs to mind; a man so detached and disconnected from the ordinaries of life – a man seemingly mindless and uncaring of the existence, and effect, of dirt. It’s unsurprising that Fitzgerald clothed his doomed hero Gatsby in the innocence and naivety of a white suit; nothing else, sartorially speaking, could have relayed more tragedy in the bootlegger’s misplaced confidence.
The beauty of white is that it is considered such a celestial colour; virginal and angelic, white is an ideal – the taintless dream of a perfect world. The amusing, and rather obscure, Ealing comedy The Man in the White Suit pays homage to the purity and unassailability of white. Though in that story, its colour was an accident of the super-material’s inability to absorb dye, it was nevertheless an affirmation that white was the apogee, the supreme colour and without fault.
If you are interested in wearing a white suit, you are quite brilliant, if a little mad. White is devilishly difficult to keep completely clean and unless repeat visits to the dry cleaners are unlikely to damage your patience or your bank account, by all means charge ahead. The way to wear one is really very simple; remember to keep the lines classic, the trousers slim and the matching footwear anything but black. Stay away from the Saturday Night Fever, four-shirt-buttons-undone emsembles; it’s as tacky as a terry cloth tracksuit, so think more along the lines of Ernest Hemingway or James Wormold from Our Man in Havana.