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