by Daniel Penny


For a certain kind of jawnz-loving guy, summer is the worst season of the year. You can’t layer, it’s hard to accessorize, and if you’re like me, everything gets sweaty. This summer, however, I’ve decided to take a page from Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana; sometimes, you need to just embrace the heat. For those of you wondering why I’ve got these two slightly faded pop stars on my mind, this past June marked the 20th anniversary of arguably the greatest Summer Jam of all time: Santana’s “Smooth” featuring Rob Thomas. It’s the second best-selling single of all time and the only Billboard song to go number 1 in two different decades (and millennia)–and in this writer’s opinion, it still slaps. That scintillating guitar line. That scratchy “AM radio” effect on Thomas’ voice. I could go on.

When it comes to summer style, the video is equally memorable–if also hilariously dated. And yet, as I walk through the streets of Soho, I find more and more guys dressing like an extra from that twenty-year-old classic. Just as “Smooth” is coming back on the radio, “Smooth” style seems to be creeping into fashion. But what is it exactly that makes the guys in this video “so smooth?”

I should start by saying that I have a deep respect for Santana as a musician, but he bricks his fits in “Smooth,” wearing some shiny shirts and a beige jacket with what looks like a beige, mesh Kangol. Thomas, however, brings the heat. His signature look in the video is a dragon shirt he wears to jam with Santana and his band on a steamy Spanish Harlem street while residents of block dance and clap around them “in the midday sun.” Outre souvenir jackets and aloha shirts have been in vogue for the past few seasons, but it’s only just now that they’re being heinously recombined again into that late ‘90s franken-trend some of us may remember: the oversized, short-sleeve dragon shirt. When I was growing up, this was the most badass kind of shirt a kid could have, signifying … I’m not sure what … that this was a guy who was like a dragon in some way, or perhaps just liked dragons?

Whatever the meaning, Thomas’ shirt is a quintessential example of the genre: a cream base with Chinese-inspired dragons running vertically on each side of the chest, and smaller dragons curled on the sleeves. Some of kind matching embroidery decorates the button placket and hem. When it comes to dragon shirts less is not more; more is more. Thomas sets the shirt off with black tee underneath. In terms of fit, it’s loose and breezy. As the first line of the song goes “Man, it’s a hot one,” and Thomas is dressed for the weather. 

Less appreciated I think, is Thomas’ Western-inspired getup, worn for the interior shots of the video, set in some kind of record or musical instrument shop. It’s dank in there, so Thomas opts for blue jeans and a light blue, woven short-sleeve shirt, which he wears unbuttoned past the camera’s field of vision. He tops this off with a straw cowboy hat and a short, beaded necklace, which rests in the sweaty divet of his collar bone. The unbuttoned shirt is an inspiration, but as a native New Yorker, I can’t imagine myself ever wearing a cowboy hat. (Maybe this look will strike a chord for somebody living below the Mason-Dixon line?) Regardless, I admire Thomas’ commitment to staying comfortable–all he has to keep cool in that stuffy shop is an old fan–he’s got to stay chill somehow!

This summer, assuming we actually get some weather hot enough for me to test out my new theories, I plan to take a page from Mr. Thomas’ book. I’ll be spending my time on the streets of Spanish Harlem, salsa dancing with strangers and driving vintage cars. My shirts will be unbuttoned to the navel, or else decorated with coiled Chinese dragons. Expect some fire selfies.