Mark Twain is in Bermuda, sitting on a teak bench in the lobby of the Fairmont Hamilton Princess. Or rather, a life-size, bronze statue of Twain sits here, legs comfortably crossed in a state of infinite imperturbation. It makes sense that such a monument to the master American wordsmith would be in Bermuda. Twain was, after all, a frequent visitor to this island, declaring it, “the right country for a jaded man to loaf in.” But there is also something odd about the bronzed Twain. Namely, that the sculptor cast him in a three-piece suit, boots and a bow tie. Who loafs in a three-piece suit, especially on an island that has pink-sand beaches and a mild climate where the temperature rarely dips below 55 degrees?
Um, actually, I do. Just after arriving in Bermuda, I’m standing in the lobby, looking at the bronzed Twain, wearing a peak-lapel sport coat; a pocket square; a striped, French-cuff shirt; boots; and dark, tailored jeans. This, for me, is not unusual island wear. If I want to go a little more casual, I’ll choose a button-down shirt, linen pants and loafers with no socks. But flip-flops and T-shirts and shorts? Not ever. No matter the destination.
That’s why I’ve decided to visit this island nation that’s 650 miles due east of Cape Hatteras, N.C. I have been told that on Bermuda I will find a people who are simpatico with my preference for polished style. Here, I will see neither beach bums nor bums of any other sort. Here, I will find an island that remains as Twain described it more than a century ago: “Nowhere is there dirt or stench, puddle or hog-wallow, neglect, disorder, or lack of trimness and neatness. The roads, the streets, the dwellings, the people, the clothes — this neatness extends to everything that falls under the eye. It is the tidiest country in the world.”
But here, too, I will find a catch. Bermuda and its people may be tidier and richer than those of any other island nation in the world, but the country is also synonymous with the very article of clothing that I long ago exiled from my wardrobe: shorts. So if I’m going to fit in here, I’m going to have to fit myself into a pair of Bermuda’s version of shorts — a version that is not intended for the beach but is, instead, bizarrely dressed up with jacket and tie and long socks. And I’m going to have to do that out of doors. In public. My pale knees shake at the thought.