London Fashion Week Men 05-07 January 2019
Clothes, they say, maketh the man, but what, exactly, they maketh of him no-one seems prepared to explain. By and large, what clothes maketh of me is a mess. Naked, I look like most men of my age – absurd: a mal-formed inflatable doll with pronounced over-expansion to the midriff and nowhere to tuck the nozzle. One glance in the mirror serves only to confirm that nature almost certainly did not intend the likes of me to wander about as nature intended. What was once beefcake, if indeed it ever was, is now suet pudding. Time plays wicked games with the ageing body. My one consolation, and it is a scant one, is that when I am naked, things remain – mostly – where I left them. Granted, bits and bobs of me do tend to wobble around a little more that they used to, but, in truth, it is little more than a minor series of tremors, nothing actually physically relocates. Skin, once taut as a drum-head, now sags like last year’s pant gusset and has given up all pretence of attempting to control what lies within. My naked body, having been in movement, can now take several minutes before it is truly still. Having undertaken any form of physical exercise I resemble a jelly on a washing machine. I am still, but the molecules that form me are bouncing around like a packet of dried peas on a trampoline. I am solid, but I ripple like a slapped water bed. In the main these – let us call them ‘involuntary subcutaneous gelatinous oscillations’ – do not move stuff around though. Unclothed, although things may vacillate a little, there is little potential for things to actually get out of place. What was hanging there yesterday, will still be hanging there tomorrow. Clothes, however, present myriad possibilities: shirt collars turn up; ties migrate to the left ear; flies fall open as if by the hand of some malevolent crotch-hellion. I am the mummy, wrapped up in bandages by the only Brownie in the pack to have failed her First Aid badge. I am the unmade bed in the wrong sized sheets. I am the Regency Dandy in a world of Beanos. Put me in designer clothes and I become a designer wretch. I could have Stella McCartney committed to Bedlam merely by turning up at her door.
Unlike women, men are not made neatly. When God nicked Adam’s rib it wasn’t because he thought that he needed a companion, but because he’d just come up with a much better design: rounded off corners; clipped off non-aerodynamic attachments; moved the brain up by approximately three feet… Yet, despite the basic design flaws observable in the intrinsic construction of the standard naked male anatomy, some of us still manage to look even more clown-like in clothes than out of them. Consider, for instance, the humble singlet. Put an athlete in a vest and they look, well… athletic. Put Dwayne Johnson in one and he is The Rock. Put Bruce Willis in one and he can defeat an entire terrorist army single handedly. Put me in one, even a good one – cotton, 35% polyester at most, no nylon – and I still look like the ‘before’ picture in a health club advertisement. The armholes reach my waist; the neckhole shows my navel; the bottom tucks in my socks.
Very few of us can claim to wear clothes purely as a means of keeping warm. Most of us are keen to keep our less-than-perfect bodies under wraps in public but, none-the-less, we all want to look attractive and clothes can help (at least they can help some, not me: even a well-tailored jacket can leave me looking like Quasimodo). But are we too easily misled by a person’s outward appearance? It is true that we all make snap judgements based entirely on the evidence offered by a person’s apparel. ‘Judging a book by its cover’ is still frowned upon and yet there must be something in it: consider how easy it is to spot a plain-clothes policeman in a roomful of plain-clothes villains.
Through the years, women have suffered great pain in order to be considered fashionable. When tiny waists were ‘la mode’ girdles were laced so tightly that eyes bulged, bosoms rose to prop up the chin and the sight of a woman being seated was accompanied by a sound resembling a rifle shot. By the time sanity was restored, stomach muscles had become so accustomed to this shoring-up that when released they were often stood on. I read that Catherine de Medici insisted that the ladies in her court were to have a waist measurement of no more that thirteen inches. That’s less than my neck. How did they even stand? Any woman with a bust of any kind must have spent her life doubled-over like a hairgrip. And how, exactly, did breasts even become a fashion accessory? Small breasts are ‘in’ then large breasts are ‘in’. Small busted women have great lumps of plastic pushed into them whilst large busted women have equally large lumps of perfectly healthy tissue removed. Sometimes reality belongs in a parallel universe. In what sane world would otherwise perfectly rational women be prepared to face the agony of cosmetic surgery in order to have an arse like Beyoncé?
There is a strange, twisted logic to the whole concept of fashion. In the 70’s I sported platform shoes, flared trousers, flared collars, flared nostrils, tanks tops… Many have become fashionable again, but with a subtle difference. Flares are flares, but they’re not the same flares; platform soles are similar, indistinguishably so, but just not identical. I cannot return to my clothes of yesterday when they become the clothes of today because I am a man of yesterday (and also they won’t fit me). Everyone wants to look good, but why does this have to be in a way that somebody else thinks that you would look good? Make up your own mind. Treat fashion with the contempt it deserves. Have strength. If you like paisley loons (anyone under the age of 40 will have to ask a parent) then wear them. If you prefer your jeans not to be full of holes then just rock them like that. In George Orwell’s 1984 Big Brother stifles independent thought by tailoring the language. In 2018 the nation’s fashionista stifle independence of thought by tailoring what we wear; dressing us in a uniform of their own design. To choose not to wear their uniform is to choose to be an outsider: a beacon of sartorial inelegance. The man who lowered the bar for haute couture. The Hound’s Tooth Check at the Captain’s Dinner. The revolving bow-tie at the Mayoral Ball.
It is a strange fascism that derides or bullies those who do not choose to dress as others do. A fascism we should all resist. Go to your wardrobe now and find something that you never wear, but that you couldn’t bear to throw away. Slip it on and walk the High Street with your head held high. Make like Adam Ant if you fancy it. Make like Mr Benn if you don’t. Go on; strike a blow for independence and tolerance today. Thumb your nose at fashion and cock a snook at style. If you want to wear stripes and checks, just go for it and be happy to pose for selfies with all the people who assume you are either somebody famous, someone from the circus or simply mad. Become consciously anti-fashion: it’s all the rage.
It’s impossible for me to write about the fashionista without thinking about Ab Fab and even harder for me to think about that without thinking about the absolutely fabulous June Whitfield. R.I.P June Whitfield 1925-2018