John Kelly's Washington

It's 100 degrees, so don't forget your corduroy jacket

On hot days, choosing an outfit that is both comfortable and chic seems impossible, and the question of "Is it cute?" is replaced by "Is it cool?" But dressing to keep cool doesn't rule out dressing to impress. Here, two style-savvy looks that make good use of summer's lightweight staples.
By John Kelly
Monday, July 26, 2010

Really, the only sensible clothing during this brutally hot summer is a pair of terry cloth shorts accessorized with a tennis visor and a can of talcum powder, but can you imagine what Washington would look like if that's what everybody wore from June to August?

Not pretty.

But is it possible to go too far in the other direction, sticking to dress codes when your dress or dress shirt is sticking to you?

Consider, for example, the Future Farmers of America. Hundreds of these kids -- as clean-cut, well-scrubbed and corn-fed a group of teenagers as you could ever hope to find -- come to town every summer for what they call the Washington Leadership Conference.

And I'll wager that every summer a few of them keel over in our withering heat like poleaxed cattle. That's because the official dress for girls is black skirt, hose, heels, white shirt and tie. For boys it's black pants, white shirt and tie. And both outfits are topped off with a blue jacket. A blue corduroy jacket. A blue corduroy jacket that must be zipped all the way up.

With few exceptions, that's what the FFAers wear whenever in public during their week in Washington, regardless of how high up the thermometer the mercury has climbed.

I chatted with a few on a recent evening near the Lincoln Memorial. The temperature had dropped to about 90 and some of the corduroy-clad farm kids were mopping sweaty brows with handkerchiefs. Still, no one saw the need to ditch the jackets.

"Tradition. That's what we're about," said Tino Rossi, a 17-year-old from Bakersfield, Calif. He said the jackets date back to the 1930s. Every member has one, and it's quite an honor to put it on, embroidered as it is with the group's logo and personalized with the member's name.

"We get looks," said Meradith Ganow, 17, from Hickman, Neb., of people's reaction when they encounter a phalanx of corduroy-wearing proto-farmers striding down a Washington street in 100-degree weather, "but it's more like a curious look."

I'll bet.

I think Carlton Wilson might approve of the Future Farmers' fortitude. He's the general manager of the Eighteenth Street Lounge, an immensely popular nightspot not far from Dupont Circle. I'd heard some grousing that the lounge doesn't admit men in shorts, even when it's a Code Red day outside. The dress code stipulates no casual, athletic or leisure wear. "The most common offenders," warns the lounge's Web site, "are men in shorts, ball caps and open-toe shoes."

Carlton gave a weary sigh when I reached him on the phone (in cool Seattle, to which he's soon relocating). "We tried several years ago to be more accommodating," he said, relaxing the rules in extreme circumstances. "But we found, in the long run, it just creates more confusion. . . . They don't process it's a Code Red day. Then they come back three weeks later with shorts on, and they're really upset they can't come in."

Therefore the dress code stands, no matter the weather.

Why bother to have a dress code at all? "It is a way of trying to get a certain clientele," Carlton said. "It lets people know what type of place the lounge is. It's not for 'let's just kick back and drink a lot'/summertime beachwear. . . . It's also kind of the reason we don't have a margarita machine on our deck. Margarita machines are great for certain types of places. People who come to the lounge, they don't want to go a place with margarita machines. Not that there's anything wrong with that."

Of course not.

I, for one, salute the Eighteenth Street Lounge and the Future Farmers of America, two entities that I doubt have ever been in the same sentence. In a time of slipping sartorial standards, they fly the flag for old-fashioned values.

It's the final countdown

This is the final week in our campaign to raise $500,000 for Camp Moss Hollow and ensure another summer's worth of fun for underprivileged kids. If we can raise $100,000 before Friday, a generous donor will match it. As our total stands now at $279,814.13, that would put us near our goal.

Please make a tax-deductible gift by mailing a check or money order, payable to "Send a Kid to Camp," to P.O. Box 96237, Washington, D.C. 20090-6237. Or contribute online by going to and clicking on the donation link. To use MasterCard or Visa by phone, call 202-334-5100 and follow the instructions on our taped message.

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