Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Bewigged, bothered and bewildered

Independent columnist and literary man-about-town John Walsh, having read The Thoughtful Dresser
(book) asks in the Independent today why and in what ways men care about what they wear:

Men can be quivering violets about clothes and what they say about them. Recently, I met a judge at a party (it's so weird when the High Court judges start looking younger) who told me how uncomfortable judges are with their new judicial garb. A year ago, the judiciary agreed to abolish horsehair wigs and black robes (except in criminal cases) and kit out judges in groovy blue gowns, designed by Betty Jackson. How, I asked, did the judges like their new look?

"They hate it," said my friend. "They think they lack all dignity and gravitas – especially if they're thinning a bit on top. They say they feel half-dressed without a wig." They're reduced, in other words, from stern embodiments of the super-ego to mere, humble, fallible-looking men.

Elsewhere, there are signs that chaps have gone a tad precious about chaps' clothing. The Daily Mail, always reliably dirigiste on garments, ticked off Alexander Lebedev and Andrew Marr for appearing in the latter's TV show in less than full canonicals. The paper called Lebedev "casually attired," but fairly smacked Marr around the head for wearing denims. "A disquieting sight," it shuddered. "No jeans, Andrew, please."

For some chaps, civilisation itself is threatened by the packaging of powerful men in working men's garb. In America, President Obama is under fire for his attempts to be casual in bright blue jeans and white trainers. "Get back into your sensible skinny suits pronto," is the message from the Democratic faithful: "Who do you think you are, George Bush?"

The semiotics of clothing is everywhere. Note how readily Sir Fred Goodwin got himself photographed by the media wearing his country-gentleman-at-a-shoot attire rather than anything that smacked of a) banking, or b) the City. Notice how Tony Blair, even in the boiling heat of Gaza, wears a tightly buttoned club tie to emphasise the unearthly gravity of his role as Middle East envoy; when he was PM, he'd have jettisoned the tie at the airport.