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Event Chic: Donít Dress For Success, Dress To Impress

Originally Posted: May 07, 2009

Colin M. Graham

Not only is fashion in the Hamptons about looking good, itís about having fun. Donít be afraid to incorporate unique pieces that you might not get away with wearing in Manhattan; this plaid sport coat is an example of how you can set yourself apart from the crowd. Photos courtesy of PatrickMcMullan.com

Southampton - Fashion can be a funny thing here in the Hamptons. One would think that in a place known for luxurious second homes, star-studded galas and airs of elegance, outfits would be suitably upper-crust. But as anyone who has spent a summer out East can tell you, this isn't the case.

There is no clear line on what you can and can't wear to an event. A general rule is that if you're unsure about a particular event, err on the side of caution; there is nothing worse than showing up to an event and realizing you're underdressed. A nice pair of slacks and a clean dress shirt is the safest bet you can make for just about any occasion. Photo by Colin M. Graham

Even at the swankiest fundraisers, jeans and untucked oxfords often outnumber silk ties and suits; clearly, fashion in the Hamptons is more about looking stylish than it is about looking traditionally pressed and proper. Outfits that would draw disapproving clucks of the tongue from the same well bred gentry at events or restaurants in Manhattan seem to be embraced or at least tolerated once you find yourself east of the Shinnecock canal.

Even during the summer, would Top-Siders worn without socks, Nantucket reds with the cuffs rolled up and a slightly rumpled linen shirt be considered "acceptable" evening attire at some of New York City's hipper establishments? Not a chance. Think you could pull it off? Try it and be prepared to feel as out of place as someone wearing snakeskin shoes at a PETA rally.

The converse of this is also true: wearing a business suit in the Hamptons instantly sets you apart, and not in a positive way. It marks you as an outsider, as someone fresh off the cannonball here to catch a voyeuristic glimpse through the privet of the storied "Hamptons scene" and, for at least an instant, feel connected to it: like watching your team win from the sidelines and then proudly touting your involvement in the victory.

Now it's not quite as bad as all that; let's not deride the metropolitan visitors to our fair towns; after all you can't begrudge someone for wanting to eschew their stuffy apartments and spend some time with their toes dug in the sand with a blender drink in hand. At the heart of it, that's really what the Hamptons are all about; they represent an escape, an oasis apart from the tedium of the daily suit and tie subway shuffle. If you think about it, unless you're going to a wedding, packing a suit for a beach vacation makes about as much sense as packing a parka.

Add a button down, ditch the sneakers, and throw on a light summer sportcoat or linen blazer (don't forget a pocket square, extra points if it matches something else you're wearing) and you'll be set for 95 percent of the ritzier summer events.

To be clear, there are some obvious limitations to how loose you can be with your choice of attire. Just because you're going to be spending time out East doesn't give you carte blanche to wear board shorts and sandals to dinner at Bamboo or a tank -top to Polo, but this should be obvious. There are situations where formal dress is required - if you are invited to dinner at Atlantic Golf Club, a blazer and tie would be called for - but for the most part it's not really about what you wear, it's how you wear it.

A great looking pair of jeans (leave your Wranglers and your 501's at home please), moderately dressy shoes or even stylish sneakers (again, no socks) and say, a colorful polo shirt (as long as it's not of Ralph Lauren's 'Big Pony' variety with the number three on the sleeve that flooded the scene last year, enough with that already!) will get you through the more casual events. Swap the polo for a trendy, designer tee-shirt and you're ready for a night at Pink Elephant or Dune. Add a button down, ditch the sneakers, and throw on a light summer sportcoat or linen blazer (don't forget a pocket square, extra points if it matches something else you're wearing) and you'll be set for 95 percent of the ritzier summer events. If you want to play it safe - overdressed is usually better than underdressed - you can forgo the jacket for a tie worn loose with a slightly off kilter medium-sized Windsor knot and the top two collar buttons undone. There's no need to spend a fortune on clothes: one pair of jeans, two pairs of shoes, three different shirts and you've got the majority of your fashion bases covered.

Of course, shorts are absolutely essential, but in the Hamptons as a general rule of thumb, when the sun goes down, so should the inseam on your pant legs.

But honestly, there really are no hard and fast rules on how to dress out here: variety is part of the fun. It's great to wear shorts and flip-flops to Cyril's, a collared shirt and loafers to Polo and then get as dressed up as you like and flaunt it when you hit the town. Being out in the Hamptons is about feeling good, looking great, and having a big old time doing the kinds of things that will make your co-workers jealous when they hear about them over the water cooler on Monday morning. Just remember to leave your office attire where it belongs: at the office.

Tucked or untucked, button down oxfords are a staple of any Hamptons summer outfit.

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