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A Ralph Lauren silk gingham patterned dress. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
A Ralph Lauren silk gingham patterned dress. (Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Christie Blatchford

Yes to shirts, no to gingham, and other summer fashion rules Add to ...

A morning ago, when the wet blanket that has been over much of the country for an eternity lifted a touch and the sun emerged, I was out for a forced march with the mutt when I realized that the hidden blessing of the protracted monsoon was that it had delayed the full-blown onset of bare-chest season.

There is surely no one with a greater appreciation of the male form than me, but I draw the line at the shirtless man except when on the beach, pool deck or in mid-arrest for an upcoming episode of The First 48. (And why is it that all those guys being placed on the hoods of police cruisers across the continent are invariably sans shirt? Are they being arrested for offending the public sensibility?)

The hard truth - and no, it's not fair, which is why it's hard - is that there is no place for the bare-chested man in the urban setting.

Yet come summer, there they are everywhere I go - on street corner and bicycle, front porch and balcony, park and café. Quite frankly, it must stop.

Thus it is that I reprise what used to be, many moons ago, an occasional feature of the column I once wrote for the life section of a certain Toronto tabloid. I always began those pieces this way, "Good morning and welcome to another edition of Bad Fashion", and that is, with apologies to The Globe's Russell Smith, whose turf this properly is, how I also begin here.

On white men with long dreads

I saw a splendid example of this recently, a 40-something fellow, very white, who had grown his hair past his narrow shoulders and then put it into knotty dreads.

Now, I love dreads, especially the short ones, on the right sort of man, that is, a black one. On a white one, it is simply a case of trying too hard, an overt display of politics as fashion. Couple it with capris and bike shoes, as the guy I saw had, and it is entirely wretched. Avoid at all costs.

On makeup in the summer

A recent edition of a beauty magazine I saw offered a guide to "sweatproof" makeup - one helpful tip was to "go light on foundation" - and featured a beautiful girl in a swimsuit.

Well, that's nice if you're a model, but no one in real life should ever wear makeup and a bathing suit at the same time. It's oxymoronic, plus stupid.

If you are wearing makeup, you should not be swimming or dressing as though you might swim; if you are swimming or even thinking about it, there's no need for makeup of any kind, let alone foundation. Ditto for running, soccer-playing, tennis or any other genuine aerobic activity. Golf, due to it not qualifying as an actual sport capable of inducing actual perspiration, is an exception.

On gingham

In the window of one of my favourite stores not too long ago was an array of mannequins wearing what appeared to be full-length aprons. These were, in fact, not aprons, but dresses of that cheerful and familiar tablecloth check.

Enough said, surely: Sport gingham in significant quantities only if you don't mind people thinking you are appearing in public in an apron or tablecloth.

On S&M shoes and boots

We've all seen them, those multi-strapped, mesh-footed, double-wrapped, calf-climbing, spike-heeled monsters in every shoe store window in the country. Moderated versions are fine, but wear the full version only if you are about to participate in a SlutWalk or are advertising your taste in sexual practice.

That said, they are infinitely preferable to their polar opposite, the asexual health shoe or worse, plastic perforated gardening clogs. Useful to remember is that any special-purpose garment (gardening shoes, jogging pants, sports bras, etc.) should be worn only for said specific purpose.

On the pale wraith

I well understand the dangers of the sun, though I confess if I see one more poor child, swathed head to toe, with hat, shades and sunscreen everywhere and protected up the yin-yang, I am liable to rescue and set free him or her; how dreadful it must be to never feel the warmth of Mr. Sun on childhood skin.

And I appreciate that it is now culturally verboten to spend hours broiling, oiled to perfection, as I once did, and that the tan has come to be seen as a bad thing.

But for God's sakes, in a country where large swaths of the land are for most of the year cold, wet or both, it is rude not to at least appear to celebrate summer, to be in the moment. And if you are going to expose improbably large swatches of skin (see the bare-chested man, earlier), have the decency to use a little self-tanner first.

Finally, I recognize that it may be difficult to take fashion advice from one who believes that jeans and T-shirts and a shower are all a woman really needs to face the world. But Bad Fashion is really all about good manners, how not to inflict the harshest of sights upon others.

You're welcome.

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