With Memorial Day just ended, summer is officially upon us. What better way to welcome the summer than the ‘Go-to-Hell’ aesthetic. The ‘Go-to-Hell’ aesthetic is the signature prep look of the summer. The term refers to a break from more reserved styles via the introduction of bold colours, patterns, and motifs as if to say ‘go to hell.’ The style is deeply rooted in preppy tradition, perhaps dating back as early as the origins of Ivy League style. From the colourful linen suits of the 20s to the introduction of brightly coloured Brooks Brother’s trousers in 1955 to JFK’s “lemon yellows” and “bright reds,” the GTH look has been there. The term was first coined in 1976 by author Tom Wolfe to describe Boston’s WASPs on holiday.
But what is the ‘Go to Hell’ look, really? And how does one wear it properly? Philosophically it’s a break from the neutral colours of the work week and a distinction between work and play. The look utilises two primary features: colour and pattern. Cotton trousers in red, or ‘Nantucket reds’, are a traditional favourite and form a classic East Coast look when paired with a navy blazer. The look features pastel colours like yellows and pinks and greens.
It also uses bold patterns and madras. Checks and plaids are popular, but embroidered motifs are king. Probably stemming from motifs embroidered onto ties, the look has spread to blazers, shirts, and especially trousers. Lobsters, tennis rackets, hounds, whales, and anchors remain among the most popular motifs.
Some may struggle with the boldness of the ‘Go to Hell’ look. The trick is to wear it confidently and comfortably. It’s supposed to be daring. It’s supposed to push the rules. Wear each piece as though it’s perfectly ordinary. The clothes should speak for themselves; pretend not to notice that your canary-yellow, crab-motif shorts aren’t a neutral solid. Nonchalance is essential.
However, remember never to allow your wardrobe to compete against itself. Wear one ‘Go to Hell’ item at a time. Bold trousers, for example, should be offset by a classic blazer so that the ordinary blazer frames the bold trousers. If you overdo it you’ll look like you work at a circus, not like you’ve been enjoying a refreshing cocktail between tennis and yachting. The ‘Go to Hell’ look is a paradox. Unlike today’s hipsters, the preps’ ‘Go to Hell’ look is radical, yet ‘correct’. It is a sartorial revolution from among the conservative set.