The checklist for an effortless summer look includes the following: oversized Italian linen shirting with light starch to look laid-back but not sloppy; a vintage western belt with faded tooling, beat-up silver and aged turquoise and agate from New or old Mexico; slouchy denim shorts with wildly shredded hems; a wide-brimmed fedora hat in Panama straw, courtesy of a designer from Brooklyn who may or may not have ever been to Panama; inexpensive, colorful resin jewelry and expensive resin sunglasses; and the sandals bought at the end of last summer that you just started to break in.
Lest the look be too easy and straightforward to accomplish, let us not forget daily sunscreen mousse along with airbrush spray tan appointments at regular intervals, the perfectly rounded-square pedicure with tanned toes and crag-free heels, beach wave spray to give our hair the texture of our childhoods, triple-milled translucent powder to give your glow (sweat, oil, sand) some wiggle room, waxing appointments interwoven with vacation plans in Germanic synchronization, and the category which should take up many a self-help book of its own — swimwear. Every summer we aim to pare down our schedules, eat more gazpacho, stop to smell the roses and soak up the lazy summer days looking like Jane Birkin’s twin. But it does beg the question, why does it take so much effort to be effortless?
One answer is that we always, and rightly, conflagrate summer with youth, and every year that passes is another year further from the age 18, for which varicose veins, fears of cancer and a volatile stock market have no home. Maybe we attempt to turn back the dial with the hope that the tanned skin, ecosystem of meticulous personal care and hours logged on a beach will cause the carefree attitude and equanimous perspective to return. And return we can will it, until an over-tired toddler or a delayed flight or a middle of the night call from a sick elderly parent snaps us back into a reality that no amount of bronzer can blur out. What, then, does summer look like if it is not only for the young and blithe?
If we continue in the sartorial metaphor, many of the best summers in life seem to be spent with truly less effort: ankle-length caftans that show the gentle slope of the trapezius and have enough transparency to make out the body’s silhouette against the sunlight. And with it, some clang-y silver bracelets from the ’70s that your mom gave you; big, unapologetic sunglasses that send a message without sending a message, and leather sandals with nail heads under the toes that you scored for almost nothing on a girls trip to Spain 20 years ago. And if not the caftan, a generous cropped pant with cuffs flipped up in a murky gray cotton gauze paired with a short sleeve, blocky U-neck top in white linen that still smells faintly like last summer’s Acqua Di Parma or Le Labo Santal 33.
It doesn’t trigger fears of aging or sun damage or require an iron-clad routine to maintain, but it also doesn’t feign ignorance or an attempt to recapture a time which has passed us. It is equally nostalgic and sentimental, and in addition, expresses wisdom, magnanimity and perspective that the curated routine of youth cannot capture. In summer, we all have the chance and obligation to be in full bloom, be it cut-offs or caftans.