Hey Mason. Happy college football season to all who celebrate. It’s been a few years since we covered tailgating, but this year we have some different clothes that are gonna solve some of the same problems. I shouldn’t say ‘problems,’ but it is a tricky balance because you’re right, there are plenty of guys in jerseys and t-shirts. And if you’ve ever been to the Grove in Oxford, MS, you know there are also guys in coats and ties. (These days, it's the pledges... they're the best dressed!) There’s a lotta range when it comes to tailgating. I have a pretty strong point of view here: Lean into team colors over team logos, and wear a shirt with a collar.
My basic formula is: sport shirt + five pockets or sport trousers + Blundstone boots. Obviously I like to throw on a neutral sport jacket (meaning navy or tan) but that may depend on your crowd. Consider that part optional. The Blundstones are key, though. You can trash them and they won’t look trashed. That’s not to say I haven’t worn my share of suede chukkas, Chelsea boots and loafers to tailgates in the past, but I have been to enough of rain- and beer-soaked gamedays to just say… go with the Blundstones. The ultimate insurance. You don’t want to be walking around with a Solo cup, afraid that someone’s gonna spill on your shoes.
Next: pick a single place for your team colors. It can be your shirt, it can be your pants, but it really shouldn’t be both. (Unless one of your colors is navy or light blue, which I count as neutrals.) With UNC, you’ve got a natural edge because Carolina blue (known to the rest of you as sky blue) is one of the best colors ever. It also happens to be verrrrrry well represented in our shirting lineup… not a coincidence. We have a couple of really fantastic shirts for Tar Heels (Sky Gingham Brushed Twill, Blue Multi Tattersall, and Light Blue Chambray ). Any of those will look great with natural denim, grey canvas, khaki canvas, or smoke corduroy 5-pockets. If trousers are more your speed, the Garment-Dyed Field Chino in British Khaki or the Spring Olive Lightweight Twill would look cool.
Let’s say you want to kick it up a notch with a pair of Carolina blue jeans. With those, I’d keep it super quiet on top with a white oxford cloth button-down (OCBD) or a white polo, and if you want a third piece, throw on a navy cashmere sweater or even a navy sport coat. Again, you have to know your audience here, but the navy Ghost is always game for a game. It doesn’t wrinkle or stain easily. And the pockets are very handy. I wear mine twice a week, minimum.
The especially nice thing about those UNC shirts I gave you earlier is that they aren’t just UNC shirts… they’ll go with any team colors in the United States. Even LSU. Nothing like some Tiger gold pants with a blue OCBD shirt... practically made for each other. Like I said, shades of blue act as kind of a free space. You can wear the same shirt all season long and hit up a different tailgate every weekend — with a pair of red jeans for Georgia, yellow cords for Iowa, or regular blue jeans for no team at all.
I’ll call out a few more star pieces that would be especially nice for looking pulled-together at a tailgate when you keep the rest of the look neutral (and won’t pigeonhole you if you end up going someplace else afterwards):
Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, USC, maybe even Alabama: The Long-Sleeved Rally Polo Sweater in Plum Cotton/Cashmere. With a pair of natural jeans, you’re all set.
University of Georgia, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Nebraska: Red jeans if you really want to go big. Keep it quiet on top (white OCBD, white polo, blue OCBD, pale blue polo) and consider adding some navy like we said above in the form of a sweater or a sport coat.
University of Texas, University of Tennessee, University of Florida, Auburn, Syracuse, UVA: You knew I was going to say the orange jeans. Same formula applies here: white or light blue shirt, navy sweater or jacket, done.
Michigan State, Tulane, Marshall: I love this Hunter/Bone Gingham Flannel. Wear that with blue jeans and you’re golden… uh, green. (But a tobacco-colored jacket would be very cool on top.) And of course there’s a solid green oxford shirt if you want to take it a little more literal.
I’ll leave y’all with one final idea here. It can be super fun to tailgate when you’ve got no dog in the fight, or to dip into a few different ones for different sides of the house. For that, I like to dress as neutrally as possible and lean into colors like browns and tans that don’t correlate to any one team. That high-ridge twill Butcher jacket is a killer. Wear that with natural jeans and a tans-and-greens sport shirt like this one — plus the secret-weapon Blundstones — and you can walk into any tailgate you please.
Anyway, that’s my tailgating formula. It’s not rocket science, but I’d argue that dressing for college football is not really the time to get too tricky with your outfit. You're there to hang out, have a good time, yell with (at?) your friends, and watch guys run around and play a game. It's a party.