Why do so many people think that the arrival of summer means it’s time to pack away all the clothes that actually fit them? That it’s time to reveal their out-of-shape bodies by wearing Speedos and tube tops? Noel Coward used to ask, “Why do all the wrong people travel?” Now, I’m pretty sure he would ask, “Why do all the wrong people wear skimpy clothes?”
On that show “Cops,” every time they show up to arrest some guy, he answers the door (or climbs out the back window) shirtless. It’s as if shirts hurt criminals the way Kryptonite hurts Superman: “Don’t let it touch my skin, it burns!” Do their shirts cause a rash, or are they just trying to keep them clean for their parole officers? You don’t want to show up for an important meeting with crack ashes all over your only shirt, do you?
Going skimpy is one thing if you’re the reigning Mr. or Miss America; it’s quite another if you’re just some ordinary working schlub waiting to buy a soft-serve ice cream cone in the summer heat. I don’t want to stand behind you wondering if you comb your back hair or if it just naturally looks that way. And it can’t be good for the soft-serve ice cream business if you’re making the other customers so sick that they get out of line.
I remember the first time I saw a sign that said, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” It struck me as extremely funny that you would have to tell someone that they’re expected to wear a shirt and shoes when they’re not actually on the beach. Doesn’t everyone know that? Or is there a sign on the inside of everyone’s front door that says, “Don’t forget to wear pants today!”
I grew up near a beach town with plenty of tourists. Just because they were on vacation, they didn’t seem to think that they had suddenly turned into swimsuit models with buns of steel or that they should suddenly start dressing as if they had gotten there by hopping a freight train. They seemed to know that it’s not right to break fashion rules on vacation any more than it is to break traffic laws.
If you don’t have any muscles, don’t wear a muscle-T. You don’t look tough; you look like a suspect.
If you are not an Olympic swimmer or diver, or European, do not wear a Speedo. I’m not nearly as afraid of creeping European-style socialism as I am of creepy European-style beachwear.
Don’t put that white zinc oxide on your nose if you’re not a lifeguard. Even if you are a lifeguard, it’s questionable. It makes you look as if you were on your way to a war dance but it got canceled due to good weather. Sunscreen and a hat will work just fine — and I’m talking about a real hat, not one that holds two beer cans.
Wear age-appropriate clothing. Spandex is not supposed to have wrinkles. If you have the body of a shuffleboarder, don’t dress like you’re a volleyballer. You may win the volleyball match, but only by default because everyone else has left in disgust. Wearing black socks on the beach is even worse than wearing a tie on the beach. Which is even worse than wearing a thong. The worst possible beach outfit? Black socks with a thong.
If Jimmy Buffett won’t wear it, should you? If you limbo under his very low fashion bar, it will be hard to tell if you’re on vacation or just a local on a bender.
Unless your name is Elly May, leave the cut-off short-shorts at home. “Let It All Hang Out” is a song, not fashion advice. Save it for when you’re alone at the cement pond.
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life,” “Baby’s First Tattoo” and “Now in Paperback.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.