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
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.
What Exactly Are GTH Pants?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?