River guides have mastered the art of effortless style—emphasis on “effortless.” Whether they’re rowing, cooking, rigging or lounging guides typically have an array of get-ups that never fail to impress. Sequined dresses, wigs and three-piece suits are just as essential to the guide wardrobe as river sandals and sun hats. Here are some tips for dressing like these kooky characters whose fashion never goes out of style.
Master the high-low fashion mix
Don’t be afraid to combine classic, investment pieces like a GoreTex dry suit— a perennial springtime layering favorite— with trendier thrifted pieces. River guides rely on Goodwill as a source for items like cotton sun shirts that inevitably have to be thrown away when they can’t get rid of that weird “been in a dry bag all summer” smell.
Calculate your cost-to-wear ratio
Although spendy up front, the price tag on that comfy pair of river sandals starts looking pretty good when you divide it by 100+ river days in a season. Your feet will thank you when you can still walk on them in two weeks. Instead, skimp on the items you’ll use less frequently, like a hairbrush.
Pick a power color
Your power color is the shade that makes you feel even more badass than you already are whenever you wear it. Stocking up on power-colored items helps ensure that whatever shirt you happen to fish out of the bottom of your dry bag will go with the shorts you already happen to be wearing. Plus, “Look! It’s my power color!” is a completely legitimate way to validate impulse-purchases. Bonus points if your power color is part of Patagonia’s color palette for the season.
Patterns are the new black
Patterned fabric is great since it effectively hides dirt and kitchen splatter. The brighter the better. It’s true that “Dare Wear” night is traditionally the last night of a river trip, but outrageous patterns are encouraged every day whether you’re tackling big rapids in the Grand Canyon or relaxing on some flatwater on your way down the Green River through the Gates of Lodore. Mixing patterns is strongly encouraged. On the river, Hawaiian shirts go with plaid shorts and it’s best to pair your floral snap shirts with animal print leggings.
Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize
Nail the authentic river guide look with close attention to details like sunglasses in the shape of martini glasses, a Western-wear straw hat, a sunburnt nose and sandal tan, the occasional black eye, a can of PBR shoved precariously into a back pocket, foot cracks, thighs that are tan in front and eerily pale in back, and a whole library of campfires stories that start with the words, “No kidding, there I was…”