When I'm not sitting here at my computer writing stuff, I often spend time traveling around New England, entertaining with my Maine stories at banquets, conferences and conventions. Over the years I've noticed a gradual change in what people wear to such events.
Not too long ago, if there was a dinner at a conference or convention, almost everyone in attendance would be dressed in what used to be known as their Sunday best - tie, jacket and dress pants for men, fancy dresses for women.
I don't know when things changed. It was probably back in the 1990s when no one was paying attention, but at some point the attire of people at banquets and other fancy occasions started getting a tad more casual.
The other day I entertained at a luncheon at a hotel in the mid-coast and of the more than 200 people there I- surprisingly – was the most formally dressed person in the banquet hall. There were hardly any sport coats in the room and most of the men wore jeans, short-sleeved sport shirts and sneakers. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining, I'm just making an observation.
As a storyteller I've always tended to dress on the casual side of the fashion spectrum, favoring things like dress khakis, blue Oxford shirts and - for more formal occasions – a blue blazer. I've never been much for wearing things like dark blue business suits, starched white shirts and red ties.
The way I see it, khaki - which comes from a Hindi word meaning “dust” or “ashes” - has almost always been considered acceptable dress for men attending a social event here in Maine. The U.S. Army has known about the appropriateness of khaki ever since it adapted the fabric in 1898 during the Spanish-American War. And, even before that the British adapted khakis for their soldiers in India in the 1880s, and eventually the fabric went from the Far East to Down East.
If you really want to make a good impression, make sure your khakis are freshly laundered and pressed with a knife-sharp crease. Clean, matching socks also help complete the look.
I mentioned my blue blazer, but I know that some don't like to put on airs by wearing something that “formal.” For those individuals Maine fashion has long provided the classic chamois shirt. In many places in Maine a clean, pressed, un-patched chamois shirt will trump a stodgy blue blazer any day of the week. Maine politicians have known about the stylish aspects of the classic L.L. Bean chamois shirt for years and have often been photographed walking around Maine greeting voters wearing one.
That's why we say whether you're attending a Down East bean supper, clambake or a dinner with the governor you'll never be out of place in Maine while wearing khaki slacks and a forest green chamois shirt. In fact - if there's an election coming up - the governor may be wearing a similar outfit.
For more Maine fashion tips, you can email me here at Storyteller Central: maineauthorjohn.mcdonald&yahoo.com or invite me to your next banquet and I'll be glad to answer any questions you may have.
In fact I’ll be heading to a banquet this evening and just need to find a clean pair of matching socks to complete my “Maine casual” outfit.