We are told, by some of the more optimistic of our fashion pundits, that the end of Covid will unleash a rush of extravagance and dandyism akin to that of a century ago, but in this we are unlikely to find the Vatican taking its rightful place at the cutting edge of contemporary culture. Say what you will about the Holy Father, his style is a trifle demure compared to that of his predecessor. No red leather slippers for him, alas.
Here at home, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has reminded our elected representatives of the importance of formal dress, in time for their physical return, en masse, to the green benches. Too many of them, while speaking from their photo-booths, seemed to have paid less attention to their appearance than they would for a passport snap. But while lady MPs have always made a bit of an effort when dressing for Parliament, should we, or they, be satisfied if the men merely revert to the drab suit and sober tie they tossed into a corner at the start of their exile? Should we not demand better? Our Prime Minister has always had the air of a man who hires his clothes over the phone and dresses on the train, and his opposite number looks about as comfortable in his business rags as a body-guard at a gang-land funeral. Where’s the dash? Where’s the style? Surely the parliamentarian who opted for an ornamental waistcoat and some lavender spats would be a popular darling in no time?
And yet, and yet. M&S have removed the business suit from more than half their shops, and it seems that all my fellow male columnists in the national press feel they can now confide their life-long hatred of the two-piece whistle without fear of alienating their readers. But it wouldn’t be the first time that either had grown too lofty, and misjudged the public mood. As Sir Lindsay understands, formal attire signifies respect for your fellow creatures and whatever institution you serve, so a little discomfort should be taken without complaint.
And I would go further. As far as I’m concerned, a man who doesn’t actively enjoy wearing a suit is a backsliding, degenerate oaf unworthy of employment in any profession or trade, let alone politics, and beneath the notice of civilised folk everywhere.
I love my suits, all of them. I love selecting the appropriate number for church, according to the feast and the season. I miss dressing up for the office, or the club. On my birthday this year I netted 95 quid from a scratch-card I’d bought on a senescent whim, and immediately plunged into my newly reopened local outfitter’s Spring sale, from which I emerged, moments later, with a dark blue worsted three-piece enlivened by overlapping powder blue and orange window-pane check. I intend to wear this to the CH autumn party, where I expect it to draw many admiring comments. I have also started a collection of retro hats.
But will my faith in the post-plague sartorial bounce be justified? Will I find myself regarded as a dapper trend-setter, or merely an ageing loon? Living as I do in central Oxford, I am especially vulnerable to appraising and censorious glances from the savage young, so in a couple of weeks’ time I shall be watching out for any discernible trends among the freshers. Doubtless there will be the usual small crop of saddos whose preparation for undergraduate life consisted of watching the box set of Brideshead Revisited. There will also be a crowd of dimwits in the High Street demanding the fall of Cecil Rhodes from his perch on the front of Oriel, on account of his reputation for ruthless racist imperialism, and these righteous rebels will be wearing a hotch-potch of mid-range designer casual gear, every stitch of it, of course, made in China.
The tailors’ windows, though, are already dressed with flamboyant jackets and jolly floral ties, and the vintage shops are bursting with cheap and stylish stock, so let’s hope the tradesmen have read their runes. These young people need a hobby to distract them from ignorance and hypocrisy, and the clothiers can help them to make the town a prettier place. Before the first lockdown I noticed a fashion amongst the girls for miniskirts with knee-high tapered boots, which was a vast improvement on the wispy dress over clunky Doc Martens that had preceded it. It’s time for the men to raise their game, and repopularise their sartorial confidence and flair of yore. This is Oxford, after all. They should get used to dressing for Parliament.
As for me, I think I’ll pop down to one of those vintage shops and get myself suited up like Cecil Rhodes. I doubt anyone will notice.
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