It’s an old saying, but it rings true – clothes maketh the man. I believe they maketh the woman as well. Whether we like it or not, first impressions are often made by the way in which an individual is ‘turned-out’, and sartorial choices can speak volumes as to what kind of individual we are encountering. These first impressions can also stretch to those we don’t even encounter in person.
I was recently watching one of the extras on the DVD of a cult movie, featuring footage from a BFI-type event wherein the director of the film in question attended a special screening of it and answered questions from the audience. I’m sure you’re familiar with the set-up. As per usual, there was a guy with a microphone doing a little interview prior to hands being raised in the auditorium, and as the segment progressed I found myself becoming more irritated by him – not so much the evident absence of interviewing skills that is customary for the amateurs chosen for such a duty, but by the contrast between the dress sense of him and his counterpart on stage. The old director, well into his seventies, was a dapper gent who had clearly made the effort, whereas the interviewer looked like he was attending a gig by a Death Metal band – unshaven, clad in black baggy T-shirt and well-worn jeans. He may as well have travelled to the event straight from the sofa after dozing off with a half-scoffed pizza settled on his beer-gut the night before. No attempt at entering into the spirit of things, just the standard slob chic that now appears to be the default setting for so many men under fifty.
The history books tell us the hippies are to blame, that their emphasis on ‘letting it all hang out’ and dispensing with the straitjacket of the suit has led us to where we are now. This theory tends to overlook the fact that the initial hippies (at least on this side of the pond) morphed out of the Carnaby Street Dandy; photographs from the late 60s prove these were no scruffy hobos. Victorian velvet frock-coats and Regency ruffles were compulsory; only in the early 70s did a more tramp-like variation on the theme appear, most obviously in the likes of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. At the same time, however, mainstream fashion retained its peacock aspects and presented the male of the species with a dazzling dressing-up box that even those too old to have participated in the Swinging 60s (i.e. Jon Pertwee and Peter Wyngarde) took full advantage of.
For me, it stems more from the Rave/Madchester era of the late 80s/early 90s, a deliberately slovenly style that was in part a reaction to the suited and booted Yuppie and the most public pop culture promoters of the look such as Rick Astley. Britpop may have boasted a certain debonair eccentricity via Jarvis Cocker and (on occasion) Damon Albarn, but its core audience members were largely disciples of the Stone Roses ‘jeans, T-shirt and sneakers’ ensemble, an unimaginative uniform that has subsequently become the standard acceptable male wardrobe.
There is also the ‘sportswear’ look, which is equally responsible for the decline in dress. This grew out of football fans following English clubs during their all-conquering European sojourns in the early 80s, picking up Italian designer products en route and developing the ‘casual’ look as a consequence. They always looked like thuggish versions of Val Doonican to me, but this style gradually bled into the mainstream and eventually resulted in clothes originally designed for sports arenas evolving into accepted street gear. The most odious of this to me is the tracksuit bottom, the ultimate slob statement, usually worn by people who are the least athletic types one could ever imagine. Sod banning the burqa; ban the bottoms!
Teenagers, I believe, can be cut a little slack. I myself had a proto-Grunge look in the middle of the 80; photos of Kurt Cobain from the same period – and he was born the same year as me – show I wasn’t alone, despite my parents’ best attempts to convince me I was a one-off freak. Teenage studied scruffiness is nothing more than a traditional reaction geared to get up the noses of mater and pater and they do (or should) grow out of it. Any female adolescent is also contending with the narrow role models she’s bombarded with on a constant loop, all those designer dolls endorsing girlie stereotypes that any woman with anything about her would instinctively rebel against. This, however, is no excuse for the most recent female street style that is simply unforgivable. I’m talking, of course, about wearing bedroom outfits outdoors – dressing gowns and pyjama bottoms. I applaud schools and supermarkets that have barred such monstrosities from their premises. What does it say about someone if they can’t even be bothered changing the sweaty rags they’ve slept in when they venture beyond the doorstep? Unless you’re an old dear stricken with dementia, a slipper is not designed for the pavement.
There has been much talk of the Metrosexual male of late – the well-groomed semi-Dandy who actually takes the time to present himself to the world at his best. Metrosexual males may exist, but they tend to be small in number as well as mocked in that predictable knee-jerk manner so characteristic of the man who regards any aesthetic effort to look good as a sign of effeminacy. I do my bit, usually in financially-deprived circumstances; but not having the ready cash to buy the clothes I’d like means I improvise and have developed my own personal look that requires the kind of preparation before facing the world akin to an actor taking to the stage in full costume. Penury is no excuse for the slovenly. Everyone can look good if they want to. It’s just that society is now telling them they don’t need to.
© The Editor
7 thoughts on “SARTORIAL EFFLUENCE”
Once out of the kaftan, beads and voluminous hair of the 60s (yes, I really did), I may not have immediately conformed to traditional formal dress standards, but corporate careering and the accompanying social milieu drew me into their grasp. One geat benefit, of course, is that you then don’t need to think about clothes – work meant a business suit, other events meant black-tie, lounge suit or smart casual – basically, uniforms by any other name.
Since leaving those areas behind, I’ve become a comfort and pragmatic dresser – whatever I wear has to do the job and feel OK, beyond that nothing matters, least of all what anyone else thinks (apart from Mrs M, who ensures that some base-line standards are maintained).
I try not to judge people by the impact of their appearance and apparel but my guiding principle is that clothing should always be ‘appropriate’, so that gives a degree of leeway from the old starchy world of formal suiting, but in anything other than a leisure setting, would never accommodate ‘trackie bottoms’ or similar slovenly non-styles. If you’re working at an invisible call-centre, it really doesn’t matter what you’re wearing but, if you’re ever eyeballing the customer, then it always does. I do find it difficult in any formal setting to accept as serious those with evident and multiple piercings but I might get over that one day. In all cases, basic bodily hygiene is available and cheap, so no excuse for missing that.
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I don’t possess jeans, nor tracksuit clothing. I buy previous seasons’ fashion items (I like) in sales and off websites, so I save up for June and December and invest in well-made, beautiful items I mix and match with the items built up over previous years. I still honour my glamrock punkrocl / new romantic youth – even though I’m 58. I am mutton dressed as – mutton?
Yeah, old enough to know better. I am well aware of those unimaginative types who sneak pictures of me as I walk past – it’s bloody obvious when someone is using a front-facing video over their shoulder so I can see myself walking up behind them, or when someone, looking at me, suddenly discovers they are fascinated by the building behind me, whip out the smartphone and take a picture at knee height. I like playing the peacock / dandy / wacko eccentruc Englishman. I see it as my heritage. I SHALL attain my Quentin Crisp 2020 look!
I’ll keep my eyes peeled for you, Petunia!
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At one time, good old Joe Public would offer me fashion tips with a gentle, caring word in my face; he’s quietened down a bit of late, though I suspect he may indeed have switched to expressing his advice via pointing a phone in my direction. The thought crossed my mind, but I hadn’t really noticed. Nevertheless, the Great British Sartorial Eccentric marches on! We should really have a Masonic gesture of acknowledgement on the rare occasions when we pass one another…
Strikes me that, if you two ever met on the street, of far better use than any Masonic gesture would be a pair of very dark shades, ideally for all those around you too !
A pal of mine, same age as me, is the most outrageous dresser, quite deliberately – he’s had suits made from American flags, Union flags etc. and others which could easily have had an earlier life as Hyacinth Bucket’s dining-room curtains – he would make Quentin Crisp look like a sombre undertaker on-duty. He’s not gay, just a total sortorial extrovert, and his wife’s the same, also mid-60s with mini-skirts, high-heeled boots, outrageous colours and patterns – crazy people. Rooms go quiet whenever they walk in, but then erupt a everyone talks about their unmissable get-up. Great people, great fun and, if I’m honest, I sometimes wish I had the courage to be so completely OTT for a change – nearest I get is when I bravely wear any of my yellow shirts. One day…..
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Go for it Mudplugger. Life’s to short to care what anybody else thinks about your style – only the lack of it!
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i steadfastly refuse to throw out my ‘Sex and Drugs and Sausage Rolls’ T-shirt
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