*Come summer, more than occasionally, I’ll wear white. All white. Nothing fancy–wash-and-wear button down shirts, tees and polos. Cotton pants. It’s light and cool and simple.
But it’s white. And over and again during the summer, I am asked how I wear white and keep it white during the course of a day. They ask this as if you don’t have to keep clothes of any color from getting dirty while you’re wearing them.
I understand the question, though. I mean, it’s white. Whatever gets on it, no matter how minuscule, you’re going to see it. Wearing white can be a challenge. “Ivory, it takes courage to be dressed like that while eating pasta with red sauce,” Tavis Smiley quipped one summer afternoon when he happened upon my sidewalk table at an outdoor café in Larchmont Village. Not sure courage is the word. However, wearing all white with a plate featuring tomato sauce does require a certain a state of mind. Keeping white “white” calls for different thinking.
In white, you can’t just amble through the day as if you were adorned in grays, browns or evergreen. You’ve got to pay attention. Because when you’re wearing white, almost everything poses a potential situation.
That seat on which you’re about to rest your bottom has the potential to redirect your day in ways you wouldn’t give a second thought to were you in blue denim or black. That wall you’re considering leaning on? It looks and feels clean, but white redefines that word.
Eating a meal in white is when you come to appreciate the long disregarded ingenuity of the fork. Especially the prongs. You don’t consider just how much food you DON’T pick up using those prongs, until that piece of iceberg slathered with Italian salad dressing you are so eager to get into your mouth slides off the fork–you didn’t stab it–and falls into your lap, which you hadn’t completely covered with your napkin.
On white days, one must be cognizant of hugs. Maybelline is a silent killer.
The awareness has to begin before you leave home. If not wiped down, your iron or ironing board could do you in. Once dressed, in your very own abode you have to be as careful as you are in public. In white, you don’t simply saunter through the world unawake.
Forever in pursuit of the unsullied canvas when in white, for inspiration I often turn to memories of the habitually elegant and funky “Styles” Royce. A clothes pimp from my early L.A. community college ’70s, the older Styles maintained among his daring wardrobe of the hip, loud and happening an extensive collection of summer whites.
A third-degree black belt in all-day immaculateness, the tall, thin Styles, could have, I’m convinced, gotten three, four days out of a single white ensemble if he wanted to. He prided himself on ninja fastidiousness. I still recall the story Styles told me about the time he wore white while accompanying a lady friend to her nephew’s birthday party, where the median age was a hyper, rambunctious three years old and the cake chocolate. Styles insisted he emerged without a speck. I believe him.
With my own eyes I witnessed Styles one night in the parking lot of the Whiskey a Go-Go, where the Sylvers were playing, whited up head to toe in an outfit anchored by an achingly cool white cardigan, drinking from no less than a bottle of Welch’s grape juice. The man was fearless.
In any case, wear enough white among friends and there’ll be jokes. References to Mr. Clean and The Man From Glad abound. “I’ll have two scoops of strawberry. On a cone”… “I’ve got the blue Beamer,” they’ll say, handing me their keys. Or, “Oh, no, they’re coming to take me away….” Hardy har har, y’all.
I hear what you’re thinking: if wearing white can be such an ordeal, why wear it? Well, like I said, in the summer, it’s light and cool and simple. Besides, for me, the once irksome ritual that accompanies wearing white became a quiet, galvanizing ballet a long time ago.
Indeed, wearing white becomes a reminder: if only I did everyday for myself what I do on behalf of my whites. That is to say, if I approached every moment of life awake and aware and conscious, looking after my spirit with all the judiciousness and responsibility that I look after my whites, then that really would be something.
It’s called living in the moment. It’s a tall and exciting order, to be sure, but I believe I can do it. After all, I’ve got the Universe on my side. And Clorox.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]