One thing that has been vexing me as I journey through my 40s is a question: what to wear for this ‘middle age’ gig? On the one hand, I have a healthy contempt for ‘fashion’ if it means buying things that will look stupid before they wear out. On the other, I like to dress appropriately for the situation (in a tight-buttoned kind of way), whether it’s having functional walking kit or a decent tux. Don’t want to look too elderly (so those old-man trousers with the nipple-high waistbands will have to wait) or, worse, like a prat trying to appear young.
It bothers me that a suit I buy this year (using the ‘show-up-at-M&S-and-buy-a-nice-one-that-fits’ methodology) has different shaped lapels from those on the one I bought two years ago. Why is this? Presumably the affordable high-street suit is a dim and delayed reflection of a more expensive design that was fashionable somewhat earlier in the sphere of actual fashion. So the unthinking suit-wearer is affected by distant decisions which, like the whims of an unknown emperor, are conveyed to the provinces by a flawed process of rumour and inference.
There is something…ignoble about being affected by the vagaries of a remote industry. But worse, from my point of view, is the prospect of drifting into a sea of leisurewear. I don’t want to end up wandering through the garden centres, National Trust tearooms and doctors’ waiting rooms of middle age wearing the outwash of earlier fashions – tomorrow’s equivalent of today’s melange of surf/sport/casual/retro gear. One problem with wearing such stuff is that it involves being bedecked with logos, slogans and artwork encoded with someone else’s meanings. I feel that there would be something sad about letting random words and pictures accrete onto me from the bargain racks of Matalan and T.K.Maxx. I would be like a marooned sailor, realising I would never go home, getting tattooed by South Sea islanders – strolling the shore inscribed with dazzling patterns, with absolutely no idea what the symbols mean.
In a sense the unconscious clothes-buyer is as much a fashion victim as the subscriber to Italian Vogue who haunts the catwalks analysing hemlines. The difference is that the unthinkingly-selected clothes just sort of arrive on his back, unchosen – co-opting his visual identity, like a virus… But what’s the alternative? What would deliberately purchased non-fashion clothes look like? Can one be outside of fashion?
My current solution is based on a sort of Mod aesthetic – clobber that comes from a stylistic register that has been frozen in time, but isn’t completely nostalgia-based or retro.
Author Jeff Noon walked into Jump the Gun in Brighton and was inspired to write a play. I too found the vast array of ‘fine clothing for the the Modernist gentleman’ inspiring, but just bought some clothes. And have been looking for similar stuff since – a brief side-trip on my journey to acquire a decent Harrington jacket and some better shoes. The result will probably make me look like an aging, second-generation suedehead dressing up for a court appearance but, hey, at least it’s a coherent look.