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.

You are what you wear

I went clothes shopping yesterday with JV. We're off to the Cox Plate next Saturday, and we both decided we could do with a new suit for the event.

We caught up a little after lunch and finished up an hour or so before dinner, and criss-crossed the CBD in search of the perfect racing suit: well made but just a touch funky. Just about everywhere we looked had a sale going, and there were some decent suits amongst it all. JV ended up with a pale grey Saba suit with thin lapels and narrow legged trousers – he looks like a sharpie.

I went more elegant. I found a Ted Baker suit with $300 off and thought was the go. It's navy blue so pretty conventional (though every bloke should have a navy suit), but with a subtle purple and lighter blue stripe through it. It might sound a little lairy but it's not at all – it's a very well made, very comfortable, very stylish piece of menswear. And I'm very happy, notwithstanding the fact it needs to get altered.

I've got a non-conventional body shape – I have broad shoulders but am slimmer in the hips, which generally means I'll mix a 46 jacket with 34 pants if I can get away with it. Unfortunately that was not possible yesterday, so the paints need to be taken in and shortened.

I've actually been wondering lately if I should be updating my wardrobe. I'm older than I used to be, though I don't really feel older. All the same, it's undeniable. I've pretty well been dressing in the same style for the last 20 odd years. I've never really thought about it until a few days ago. Then I caught myself. For once I noticed how some other men of my age are dressing, which is generally more conservative than me. Fuck me dead I thought, am I meant to be like that?

Everyone knows the mutton dressed up as lamb syndrome. You have to admire their optimism and determination, but it's no fun beholding a 70 year old woman dressed like a 20 year old. Now I'm not 70, not even close, and my style is vaguely timeless – jeans mostly, a t-shirt often, or a decent shirt or a jumper depending on the weather, and often paired with a coat or jacket of some description. If I'm going out I combine my best pair of dark jeans with a good pair of shoes, a sharp shirt and a sports jacket.I like clothes and I think I have good taste in general, but at what point do you consider dressing 'older'?

As much as anything this is a philosophical question. My generation in general is more relaxed and casual. Sure there are lots who get around in cords or chinos and won't go out without a sports jacket, even if it's just to do the grocery shopping. I can't see myself in cords, and I'd die rather than wear chinos – they're the fashion equivalent of beige (ok, ok, once or twice I paired up a pair of chinos with a polo shirt when I was consulting in Brisbane – a uniform up there).

Most of my friends have varying styles, but all have pretty well the same mindset as me: we dress for comfort mixed with style, and haven't changed much since we were 22. So, should I be thinking different?

I reckon if my circumstances were different maybe I would, oblivious of it almost. Yet it doesn't sit comfortably with me. I can't help but think the day I start wearing cords is the day I give up trying. It may seem a long bow, but in part it's this very question that had a lot to do with me cancelling that date last night.

Self image. Everyone has one, and I dare say for most people how they see themselves is different to how other people see them. Does that matter? Not really. Sure, many people dress to impress, and I'll be looking to do that in my new suit on Saturday, but ultimately you have limited control over how other people see you. Bottom line, you have to please yourself. If you're not happy in yourself then nothing else is going to happen.

Me, I've got healthy self image, if that wasn't already clear. I see myself a certain way, and it's important to me to hold true to certain principles to maintain that self-image. While pulling on pair of cords* might seem small beer in the fashion stakes, it is indicative to me of another state of mind. Now I'm not and I don't want to be conservative, safe or inoffensive. I don't intend to be wild, but nor do I want to lose my edge, whatever that is.

I'll look to refine my style and perhaps to take it to another level, but whatever I do it has to be in sync with how I feel. And there in those few words is the reason I called it quits last night. I didn't feel comfortable with who I was asked to be and so graciously backed out.

*I don't hate cord – I've worn it before and probably will again, it's just not who I am right now.

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