For far too long even the most enlightened Americans considered white jeans to be a largely European affectation, like socialism. In the last couple of years, though, white denim has finally begun to claim its rightful place as a wardrobe essential on any continent. You might pick up a pair for a long weekend in Miami, but you’ll find yourself wearing them even when you return to less temperate climes, even—gasp—in winter.
The trick is to avoid looking like you’re headed to the beach. White jeans with crocodile loafers and a patterned shirt unbuttoned to there? That’s strictly for socialists. A better model is Thomas, the photographer played by David Hemmings in Antonioni’s 1966 film, Blow-Up. Hemmings navigates swinging London in a single perfect outfit: velvet blazer, check shirt, Chelsea boots, white jeans (the photo to the right has him sans blazer, but it makes up for that fact by having Jane Birkin sans top). Throw in a Rolls Royce Silver Cloud III Drop Head Coupe, freewheeling model-filled lifestyle, and lingering sense of ennui, and you pretty much have the blueprint for every hipster wannabe of the last 50 years.
White denim’s greatest champion, though, is Peter Saville. The graphic designer is known in some quarters as the man behind those seminal record covers for Joy Division and New Order, but I’m confident that one day people will recognize his main contribution to late 20th century culture: redefining the Gucci look years before Tom Ford got around to it. The key components? Black turtleneck, dark jacket, and—yes—white jeans.
What Saville understood was this: You can basically get away with anything in your smoke-mirrored bachelor pad provided your wardrobe is as pure as the driven snow.
Dirk Standen is editor in chief of Style.com.