Why do British men wear socks and jackets during the intense heat? After years of sweating through summer parties, I’ve made a breakthrough in this heat-wave year, dispensing with socks, jacket and tie. I’m all for formality, but not in the face of 80-degree heat and torrents of sweat.
Still, I feel like a pariah in my new sockless, jacketless incarnation. A friend berated me at a steaming hot party earlier this month for not wearing a jacket.
I was the only jacketless man at the party and I did feel like a fish out of water surrounded by the fully clothed. Still, I wasn’t a sweating fish out of water.
Why do jackets, ties and socks persist in the heat? There’s an atavistic memory of traditional custom and fashion – combined with a last-gasp attempt to counter the anything-goes, full-on, near-complete nakedness that prevails beyond the walls of the party. There’s also that certain kind of British Clubman Male who takes great delight in telling people off for breaking pointless rules.
It’s only in Britain that this dogged approach to summerwear persists. Italians and French have long looked smart without bothering with socks. The photographer Dafydd Jones tells me that one of his most popular pictures in France was taken at the Magdalene College Ball in Cambridge in 1997. It shows a trouserless ballgoer jumping off a bridge into the Cam, watched by undergraduates in white tie.
It’s adored by the French, not because he’s half-naked or because of the Brideshead element – but because the man still insists on keeping his socks on for his jump. An Englishman is all too happy to remove his trousers. His socks? Never.
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