Fashion as persona

This is the only second home of mine where I have a walk-in robe. You enter it and there are clothes hanging, or  in drawers, on three sides, and shelves of shoes. I have a lot of clothes. I’ve always had an eye for fashion, a love and appreciation for the well designed and well made. It’s always been important to reflect some sort of style. For me, clothes have always been about much more than cladding against the elements.

I’m not sure where I got this from. It seems logical that it is the influence of my mum, though I don’t feel that. She too loved fine things, and always made a great effort to be fashionable at the very least, if not downright glamorous. I think glamour intimidates some, but it was something mum was unafraid of, and so embraced. Speak to many of her friends and it is a word that crops up again and again. Mum loved being glamorous, but for her it was more than just a part of her persona, it was substantiated who she was.

Is it the same for me? I don’t think so. I like fine fashion, but I think in me it’s equal parts the love of beauty, and ego. I have always had an appreciation of the aesthetic. Where other people see nothing I see something, even if it is utilitarian or ugly. I take in the surrounding environment, through my eyes obviously, but aurally also, and by taste. I wander through this environment pondering on it, wondering at it, speculating as my innate curiosity runs its course. Observation is a big part of who I am, and a big part of that is an appreciation of what might be deemed stylish at the very least – though style is a subjective, contentious notion.

From an early age I took an interest in all of the arts, not just for what they appeared to be, but for where they led. Staring into an artwork at the NGV painted a century and a half ago and a world away leads to considerations much deeper than a few dabs of coloured paint on canvas. Likewise music, literature, architecture, fashion, even the way people hold and comport themselves, and what they seek to project.

This is where ego comes into it. I love my fine clothes. In my wardrobe right now there are suits from Armani, Versace, Joseph Abboud. To don one of those with the right shirt shirt, the stylish tie, and a pair of classy shoes, is a delight. Truly, there are days when I could happily take to the catwalk. I love them for what they are – beautifully cut, fine fabric, and with a touch of dash mixed in. I can admire someone walking by and think what a great jacket, or look at that shirt. Mine is the appreciation of the aesthete.

But it’s also the statement of intent. Clothes maketh the man they say. Maybe. They certainly tell a tale I think. For some the tale is very short or irrelevant: clothes are no more than function (which in itself reveals much about the person within them). More often the fashion we assume, the style that draws us, reveals some kind of personal narrative. We may approve or disapprove of the fashion choices others make – doesn’t that happen every day? – but we are drawn into that narrative by those choices. Consciously or not we buy into their story, and, knowingly or more often not, in our reactions to it gain some insight into ourselves.

I’ve always been conscious of the physical appearance I make. I could care less what people think of me as a person, but it was important to me that I presented myself to the world in a certain manner. It might be vanity, it might be a variant of the control freak I’ve sometimes been accused of being. Probably both. More often than not it has been unconscious, or perhaps simply automatic. I was fortunate that I grew to be taller than average, and for most of my life with a decent build. I was made to wear clothes, and wear them well. Somewhere along the line it became an act, occasionally, of fashion imperialism.

Much as I loved the clothes I wore for their innate beauty and style, I loved what they did for me. In a great suit, a bold tie, shoes that clicked on the marble floor with every step, a good leather jacket or even a well worn pair of jeans, I sort to assert some projection of my persona. There’s a lot of fashion about that. If I walked into a room I wanted people to know I was there, to glance at me and admire the suit, like the tie even as they wondered if they could get away with it. I wanted them to look up as I passed, drawn by the rhythmic click of my heels on the floor. I was Narcissus made flesh, and to some degree remain him.

Described like that it seem,s awfully shallow, which is an accusation often flung at the world of fashion. At the very least it’s glib. Yet there was rhyme to this. Pleasant as it is to have my tyres pumped by admiring glances, it set a standard for me. It told the world that yes, I liked my clothes, that I appreciated style and quality. It also gave the world notice that was not the retiring, reserved type. I had confidence, boldness, self-belief, ambition. What came first: the clothes, or the sense of self they portrayed? Fashion was just one component of the persona I projected, and it would have fallen flat had I not been able to back up my bold assertions with performance, but it was an important component. It was the theme music that announced my arrival.

Now I’m writing this with the benefit of hindsight, and looking back over the span of 25 odd years. Did I think that way then back in the day? Rarely, if at all. I knew it I think, without knowing it. It was in my bones if you like, in the composition of the ever evolving self. I knew instinctively the value and worth of these things, and instinctively exploited them. It was a part of my authentic self given voice by the availability of fine fashion, that self that both appreciated fine things and was savvy enough to understand the practical value of appearance in a competitive world. I was always competitive, always wanted to win. It was never going to be any other way.

Now after those 25 odd years I feel things shifting. If anything I appreciate fine fashion more now than ever, but have discovered my relation to it is shifting. In my casual life I’ve often appeared a a stylish slob. I don’t slope around in tracky-dacks, my bum crack is always well concealed, my dress might be casual and loose-limbed, but the quality is always good. Classically I’ll get about in a pair of favourite jeans, a cool t-shirt, maybe some knitwear in the winter, some great coats and jackets, the odd scarf and beanie on the coldest days. I haven’t really changed how I’ve dressed much in all of those 25 years. This is how I feel, and I haven’t felt much different throughout. Until now perhaps.

As I look around my WIR I find my wardrobe has gradually changed. Unconsciously I have transitioned to more classically adult clothing. I’m not wearing what your dad is wearing – I have more style than that; but nor am I wearing what your brother does either. Without knowing it I’ve adapted myself to the times I live in, and the age that I am. I’m not sure what I think about that.

As I realised this I thought again of the Philip Roth novel, Everyman. Everyman is one of those touchstone books for me. Reading it made a big impression upon me, and I find myself regularly reminded of it as I go about my life. My recent surgery, for example, seemed like an episode from the novel – or from the life of any man. And we all know where it ends.

Abruptly I saw myself as I was, rather than the persona I had been projecting. I’m not young anymore. I think I still have the same vagabond spirit, but perhaps I’m coming into an age when my body may not be able to keep up with it as well as it used to. I’m still ambitious, personally assertive, curious, enterprising, confident, and so on. I still enjoy the thought of travel (though perhaps don’t do it as much as I used to), am still greatly attracted to women, and to sex, and am still just as single-minded about it as ever (there are times I wonder if I might not be addicted to it; but equally, I feel that if I meet the mythical ‘right’ woman that I would turn it off like a tap, and give it all to her).

We get carried forward by our self-perception. It informs us of what we are capable of, and what we deserve. It limits or expands our world. And sometimes it tells us where we are.

I feel a kind of wistful regret that my younger self may be gone forever now. I hate it that I can’t compete on the terms I did then, because I am older in body at least. I am like the character in Everyman transiting through the different stages of life, and I have reached another in mine. I’m not Indiana Jones anymore, and never will be again.

My wardrobe now is reflecting this. It’s an expensive wardrobe, more than at any other time of my life, but it’s more about overt style now, and much less about attitude. I’ve always dressed for myself first and foremost. What I’ve realised is that the elements that portrayed attitude before, cool, hip, whatever, are much more muted now. In their place are classical pieces. There’s a glamorous tan, fur lined, hip-length leather jacket much like a movie star might wear going incognito between films. Another is one of those quilted jackets you see in Europe, and the north of Italy particularly, all style. This one is forest green, and made by Beretta, the famous gun-makers. There are shirts from Jermyn Street, hand stitched shoes, the aforementioned suits, and so on.

All of these I love for what they are. I can look upon them, can stroke the fabric and admire the workmanship like a starstruck connoisseur. I like to be seen in them, and they remain reflective of who I am. It’s a different me today though, good or bad I don’t know, but no changing it now.

The mirror doesn’t count

I had a breakfast meeting this morning and so I was out of bed while it was still dark outside, a little after 6am. I showered and shaved, I dressed and then looked at myself in the mirror.

I wore a fine pale grey suit, a blue checked shirt without a tie, and new pair of shoes the same colour tan as the belt I matched to it (look yonder). I looked well dressed, dressed with style, with attitude, with perhaps a few dollars. I looked into my face. To my surprise I saw my reflection as being handsome – by this I mean outwardly healthy, a 2013-02-22 09.49.20good head of hair, a set of blue eyes showing both intelligence and confidence, a strong jaw, a well shaped nose, and lips with a sardonic curl to them. For the first time I saw the resemblance – as I’ve been told – to Colin Firth. That was all well and good – I exuded prosperity, well being and wit. And yet I paused as I looked into the mirror as I realised – again, for the first time – that I have become older.

I’ve always looked substantially younger than my years – people are occasionally out by as much as 15 years. I still look distinctly younger than my age, but I realised nonetheless that as I get older so to does my outward persona. In the last 18 months the few grey hairs on my head have multiplied considerably. It’s not obvious because I’m fair haired, and the greys look like paler highlights – in fact it’s not a bad look. It’s more obvious in the neat little moustache/beard combo. They grey is evident in the prickly hairs of my beard, again, not a bad look – handsome, after all. But it’s handsome within a context. I’m now becoming a handsome older man, rather than the youthful, still vibrant man in my 20’s and 30’s. I’ve entered another phase.

I wonder sometimes if I’m one of those men who suffer from the Peter Pan complex. There are ceertainly things I do, behaviours, attributes, that might suggest that. And typically of those in that thrall my sense of self, of vanity, remains robust. On balance I acknowledge the tendency, but thing I’m too self aware to be properly a victim of it. Which means, in effect, that I’m aware of the activities even as I undertake them. And I let myself off the hook for it. If I am to grey, then I’m not going to let it condemn me.

With all of this in mind I caught the train to the city. I was aware, and it was nice to know, that I was the most stylish in my carriage. I set off for my appointment with the heels of my shoes ringing on the pavement. At my destination I squared my shoulders and entered the office. In the pre-breakfast shuffling I shook hands, introduced myself. It was a given that I should control this, that I should not be one of those who fades into the background. I was personable, as I intended to be, as in fact I am by nature. It was important all the same that I should be. I looked people in the eye, I asked questions, I inflated myself, from ego, from habit, from alpha preening, and from the very pragmatic need to market myself, my business, and my ‘brand’.

Later in the morning I had another meeting, this time with a marketing consultant. The words flowed, how easy is this I thought as we connected. I knew exactly what I was saying, what I wanted, who I was. I was all in sync, and I remembered that. Part of me thought: this is what you are H. This is what you’re good at. Yes, and more too. I watched myself, both surprised and unsurprised. Surprised because I had forgotten, because I had wondered if some of this had rusted over. And unsurprised because this I have done before, and because the words always come to me, and because I’m damn smart and lets not forget that H. It was invigorating – I felt like a beast in the jungle following my primal instinct.

It passes. I’m out in the street again. I have a quick, over-milked coffee with a friend, check out a particularly beautiful sports jacket I may pick up, then took my well shod feet to the station and the trip home.In the afternoon I had a telecon with an accountant, but I would be in shorts. The display was over.

In the end the mirror doesn’t count. I’m inside that, I’m a set of eyes, a brain, that takes in the world independent of how the world takes in me. This my perspective, and unique. It’s important that what you see of me should be presentable, and even more. My vanity likes it, and my career depends upon it. But truth is that while I might be getting older and greyer the important stuff keeps on keeping on. I’m not going salt and pepper inside. The face, the body, shows experience, the years I’ve lived, maybe even some character; that’s present too in my mind and how I think, and most of it in a positive sense. Experience should equal wisdom. I may have acquired that. What I can say for certain that what I always had – raw intelligence – remains undiminished. I am not my face. I am my mind. This is me.