Go To Hell Pants: A game of sartorial chicken

Go To Hell Pants: A Game of Sartorial Chicken

Go To Hell Pants – I love them, my wife abhors them, and for most people; that’s exactly how it is. Either you love them, or you hate them, but in the end, Go To Hell pants are a staple of Ivy style.

“The perfect mix of sensible and outrageous. These pants not only show that you know how to dress well, but that you know how to stand out more than the man next to you. Make a statement, have fun, and if others don’t like it, well, they can just go to hell.” – Brooks Brothers

GTH pants are an equestian event in the summer

GTH pants are an equestian event in the summer

When the Wasps of the Northeastern United States decided it was time to forget the Mad Men look of monochromatic suits and white shirts, they didn’t tread lightly. They basically jumped off a cliff. GTH pants became an overnight sensation and initially weren’t so much a way to showcase personal style, but more so a way to tell the older generation of gray suits and Oxford shoes to go to hell.

Now, funny enough, despite the New Yorkers introducing the style in the mid-1950s, it was actually done so in Florida where most of the affluent Northeast families spent the winter. Slowly, the trend grew from bright yellow, green and red trousers to ones with bold and intrepid patterns on them. Like the proverbial game of chicken, Wasps would try and out-do their friends by pushing boundaries to see who could wear the loudest pants of all.

Yellow trousers with bright red lobsters, blue slacks with neon green frogs, or brazen patterns with the most colorful palette one could imagine. Surprisingly, the trend became almost instantly popular with the young preppy crowd. They figured out ways to wear these outlandish pants without looking like they got dressed in the dark. It was an unusual look, that’s for sure, but it was one that rocked societies views on what type of clothing made a distinguished young gentleman. Pretty soon, the Go To Hell pants were an integral part of menswear and even became somewhat appropriate to wear at the office.

By the 1960s, it was difficult to attend any summer garden or cocktail party without seeing at least one man in GTH pants. Heck, even JFK wore them golfing and managed to attract quite a following for it when photos were leaked to the press. His yellow shorts with red sails influenced golfers across the country to dress bolder, and the tradition caught on as they toured across the United States, and observers began to copy this outlandish style statement.

Today, things have changed slightly. While, still famous in some circles, the style of wearing GTH pants or shorts has dwindled and only the most sartorially brave dare to wear these pants in public. I am proud to say I am one of them.

Classic Madras GTH Pants

Classic Madras GTH Pants

What Exactly Are GTH Pants?

Technically, any boldly colored pair of trousers, with or without a pattern or motif is considered Go To Hell pants. That includes patterns like madras or pink seersucker.

Initially, the trend began with solid colors before moving into motifs like sailboats, animals, and other icons. These solid trousers are still very popular today but have moved from the chinos and corduroys into a snug fit denim for both men and women. However, the traditional GTH pants are still the classics and are unmistakable due to the vibrancy of their colors, the wider cut and the quality of the pants. One can easily distinguish a pair of Nantucket Reds from Murray’s Toggery Shop or a pair of yellow chinos from Brooks Brothers from the vile, bargain bin trash produced by major retailers like Walmart or Old Navy. Wash the pants just once and you’ll see the difference in quality.

GTH pants where they were meant to be worn

GTH pants where they were meant to be worn

As bright colors wore out, and men continued to try and show each other up, motifs and patterns started to emerge on the pants which brought an entirely new and more audacious style to the forefront of GTH apparel. It’s these pants that tend to be the most popular with the crowd that wears them and the bolder and more outlandish the motif, the better.

As style continued to change, and men went back to the more classic approach of wearing gray suits and slim ties, so did the GTH pants. Today, so long as the pants feature some icon or pattern that distinguishes them from an ordinary pair of trousers, they can still be considered Go To Hell pants. In fact, Brooks Brothers sells a pair called their “holiday” pants that are everyday hunter green corduroys, but with their yellow embroidered Golden Fleece logo wearing red Santa hats throughout. Far less eccentric than a pair of highlighter yellow chinos with red crabs all over them, these pants are designed as a way to fit into a more formal atmosphere while still being able to say I’m a rebel.

How To Wear GTH Pants

This is where most men fail and fail miserably they do. Just because you can buy a pair of GTH pants and put them on one leg at a time, doesn’t mean you should. There is a fine line between looking like a stylish gentleman and looking like a drunk clown.

Pairing Go To Hell pants with an equally loud shirt is a sure-fire way to get locked up in a padded room for evaluation. The goal is for people to compliment your style and admire it, not grab their children and cross to the other side of the street.


Nantucket Red Go To Hell Pants with Whales

Tone Down The Rest Of Your Outfit

That might sound like an oxymoron, but there is a way to downplay your attire while remaining sartorially adventurous. Stick with classic oxford shirts or a pale polo shirt, add a solid navy jackets and avoid spectator shoes and go with a pair of plain oxfords, derbies or brogues.

Go with accessories that are muted rather than bold like your pants. Sure, you may get away wearing more brazen clothing if you’re successful at color coordination, but more often than not you will end up just looking ridiculous.

Focus on Classic Staples

A pair of navy blue Sperry Topsiders, driving moccasins in brown leather or suede or white bucks can easily divert the attention back to the pants and show the world you are a sophisticated chap.

Choose a belt that’s not as bold, stick with a classic dress watch and go for black Wayfarers over a bright green. When you’re wearing GTH pants, they should be the most daring part of your outfit, not muted by equally outlandish accessories. Yes, that also means opting to leave the anchor bracelet at home.

Vintage GTH pants

Vintage GTH pants look

Dressing It Up

Once you’ve worn these bold GTH pants for awhile or are comfortable adding more to the look, begin incorporating less conservative accessories with the pants. Start small with a colorful anchor bracelet and move into D-ring Belts, bright bow ties, ascots and rowing blazers. Do it as a process instead of jumping right in. Eventually, you’ll find a groove.

Showing Your (Life) Style

Designed with the prep in mind, the best piece of advice I can offer is to showcase your lifestyle. Wearing Nantucket Reds is a sure way to let others know you breathe the ocean air. Ones with sailboats, ship wheels, crabs or lobster show a nautical flair. Dogs, kittens, and other cuddly animals let people know you’re a pet, lover. There is no limit to the motifs you can find on a pair of GTH pants. It’s worth looking around until you find pairs that suit you. After all, that’s what these pants are all about.

Classic Ivy Style with GTH pants

ClasShort and skinny GTH pants

What to Look for in GTH Pants

There are few things you’ll want to look for when buying Go To Hell pants.

Embroidery is Your Friend

Avoid anything printed like the plague. If there’s a motif on your pants, it should be embroidered. There is no substitute. Anything else will either wear out, fade or peel. This is why it’s so important to focus on buying from reputable brands rather than trying to skimp and buying cheaply from big box stores.

Natural Fabrics Are Best

Surprisingly, they do make GTH pants in polyester blends. I know, it’s a travesty! Go to Hell pants should feel good on your skin and last, so breathable, natural fabrics will always serve you well. Whether it’s corduroys or chinos, they should be made from 100% cotton and nothing else.

A perfectly paired pair of GTH pants

A perfectly paired pair of GTH pants

Corduroys or Chinos

Bright denim jeans are for the emo kids you find lurking through the mall on a Monday afternoon. Chinos and cords are for the dapper dandy strolling through the farmers market on a Sunday morning.

Slim Fit

Lately, slim fit pants have become very popular, especially with younger men.

GTH pants can look good if they have a trim fit, but it really depends on your legs. Try to opt for a neat fit but if you have big thighs, slim pants will make you look like a carrot.

Go for the same fit you would target with any other pair of chinos or cords, GTH pants are no exception. Make sure they fit well and visit the tailor as soon as you buy them. No clothing will ever fit you perfectly right off the rack, and even though most men will buy them ready to wear, you can get them custom made. The tricky part is always to find the right fabric.

Skinny denim jeans are not classic GTH pants

Skinny denim jeans are not classic GTH pants

These Are Casual Pants

Is there any reason for me to explain this? Do not wear these pants with a tuxedo, don’t pair them with a suit jacket for work at the law firm and unless your sister is getting married at Chuck E. Cheese’s, don’t wear them to the wedding.

These are casual pants and while they work well at casual summer parties and events, they are not intended for anything formal. If you do want to wear them at work, make sure they’re appropriate for your job. Offering customer support at a call center is fine. If you’re auditing a Fortune 500 company, you might want to consider different options.

Stick with Classic Brands

There are more brands that make Go To Hell pants that I would avoid then ones I would recommend. Stick with the big players in the ivy league: Brooks Brothers, J. Press, Murray’s Toggery Shop, or any of the other classic or contemporary brands that focus exclusively on preppy culture and style.


There is such a wide variety of GTH pants for sale and for the most part, so long as the quality and craftsmanship is there, you just can’t go wrong with whatever style you choose. The biggest thing is pairing them properly with your outfit and being confident while you wear them. Do you wear GTH pants? What’s your favorite brand?

Article Name
Go To Hell Pants: A game of sartorial chicken
Everything you need to know about GTH pants and how to buy them.
17 replies
  1. Paul James Brosnan says:

    Yikes, these trousers I am afraid to say have no place in my conservative wardrobe. I wouldn’t regard my style as boring but I love Italian flair with British craftsmanship and these trousers are far too wild for my flair. In saying that any gentleman out there who decides to rock these trousers will have my respect but I would much prefer to see a well fitting pair of Brooks Brothers chino’s act as a foundation for a wide lapel two button blazer.

    I really enjoyed the article and I hope to read more like it in the future.

  2. Frank Gadson says:

    Interesting article I think I would definitely be up to the challenge to maybe try a few of the “go to hell pants” I too am more of a conservative dresser and tend to shy away from the trendy styles…but overall a great piece of information.

  3. Joe says:

    A staple of Ivy Style? Yikes! Actually I would wear the madras pants with a white polo and blue blazer before I would wear the hideous screaming yellow or the coral with little blue whales that look like baby pajamas with anything. I realize there is a legitimacy to kids wearing this kind of stuff but it’s garish and ugly, not my take on Ivy at all.

  4. Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken says:

    Although a rather conservative dresser I do admit that there is a pleasure in GTH-pants, as there is in every more boldly colored item. As long as the outfit is well balanced, everything’s fine.
    As for me, I can say that summer just wouldn’t be the same without my salmon chinos.
    Thanks a lot for this article and greetings to all readers and the honorable author

  5. MJSpock says:

    Your article was fun to read. At 6’6″ (198cm) I certainly cannot get away with wearing these types of pants.

  6. GG says:

    The bright colors and bold patterns go back a fair amount of time. I can’t swear to this, but feel somewhat sure Shep Miller introduced the trend. He had a haberdashery on Job’s Lane, Southampton, LI and sold resort wear to the summer crowd from NYC and elsewhere. The trousers with ducks, fish, lobsters, etc together with madras were always available. Garry Cooper was a regular customer.

    I chose solid silk slacks in yellow, pink, burgundy, etc. They were great in summer with a sport coat.

  7. Mark Hewitt says:

    Dear Raphael ,
    This is a nice light hearted read . I own a pair of the above said which I wear in summer on the golf course . They are canary yellow and are worn purely for safety reasons .
    When visiting the US in years back it made me smile broadly to see green plaid trousers around the Florida Golf Clubs . The passing generation of you wonderful Yanks carried them off perfectly . These days on some though they look like an accident about to happen .
    Enjoy anyway . WTH .

    Cheers all !!

  8. Daniel Alfonsea says:

    A fine article!

    I have a couple of GTH pants: chinos in royal blue, and in red. These I wear sparingly in summer/spring, either with polos, or shirts and sport coats. Also, a couple of large scale POW patterned ones, in light shades of grey and brown, which I suppose would qualify too?

    For me, “sparingly” is the word for such garments – any piece of loud clothing should not be used too often, unless your style is based on loud attires.


  9. Farakh Masood says:

    Yes I absolutely do, normally solid colour Cords from Gieves and Hawkes or Cordings etc.
    I prefer Solid colours however I’ve never felt that they were GTH pants (New term to me!).
    Just something one wears naturally, casual, yes and no.
    When mixed with the correct outfit it is possible to wear them any time.
    A very good Idea is to add a pocket square.
    It allows people to know that the GTH’s are a style statement and not a faux pas.


  10. Larry P Burton ll says:

    I feel I am going against the tide, after reading the other reviews. I have been wearing GTH pants for 30 years. The summer colors, are yellow, red, kelly green, and patch madras. I wear tan cords, with pheasant’s embroidered on them for wearing in the fall. I wear red cords, with Christmas trees embroidered on them for the holidays. These pants were purchased from J. Press, and Brooks Brothers.

  11. Bill Peterson says:

    I wish Murray’s Tog Shop carried the Nantucket Reds in a 44.It’s always on their website but out of stock.Does anyone else carry a similar pant in a large size?

  12. Al R. says:

    “Vile, bargain bin trash from…” I find that description to be condescending and terribly elitist!? …Nantucket Reds, gth??? IMO, too subtle after reddish dye fades to be considered gth pants. Seems like the gth pants ‘idea’ are an offshoot of the so-called Ivy look. There is a pix of Al Flusser, extolling the ‘virtues’ of wearing gth pants. Now those are wild!! This read & pix dont hold a candle in comparison to these in the least! My $.02….

  13. Michael says:

    Golf course Country Club wear is normal. Yacht/ Beach Club wear is normal. The tight fit styles you show in this artilcle to me, IMO are not gth . These skinny tights would most likely qualify one for teeing off at the “girls tee”. In tropical climate resorts old playboys brazenly open eyes with blazer, polo shirt and GTH bermudas. Surprised you did not show photos. Enjoyed the article and glad to see the continuation of this style being sported today by these “youngsters” under 50.

  14. Blake Hammerton says:

    I love the idea of GTH pants, and now I’ve even got a name for them! Thank you. I remember making fun of these “Rodney Dangerfield Caddyshack” pants I would see on golfers. Now though, I want a pair for myself. I’m not a bold man when it comes to patterned trousers, but I think my style can accommodate a solid, but bold color.

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!


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