FEATURED COLUMN by John McDonald: Maine formal is getting less so

By John McDonald

When I’m not sitting at my computer writing, I often spend a lot of time traveling around New England, entertaining at banquets, conferences and other special events. Over the years I’ve noticed — among other things — a distinct 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 Maine formal — tie, jacket and dress khakis 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, and of the more than 200 people there, I was, surprisingly, the most formally dressed person in the 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 end of the fashion spectrum, favoring things like dress khakis, blue Oxford shirts and — for more formal occasions — a brass-buttoned 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, 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. 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 have a knife-sharp crease. Clean, matching socks also help complete the look, but you probably already know that.
I mentioned my blue blazer, but I know some folks don’t like to put on airs by wearing something like that. 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 wearing those shirts while walking around Maine greeting voters.
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 dressed in 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 at maine author — or invite me to your next banquet or convention and I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have. In fact, I’ll be heading to a banquet later this week and just need a clean pair of matching socks to complete my outfit.

To reach John McDonald, email maineauthorjohn.mcdonald@yahoo.com or call 207-240-8324.