The curse of the flipflop
Approaching the entrance of the supermarket this week, I was passed by a spindly-legged man, well into late middle age, wearing a white shirt, specs, the standard ‘old man with no idea’ baseball cap – and a pair of very tight and very short, electric blue shorts, held up by braces: a sort of cross between a pixie and a Swiss cow herd. My initial irritation was turned to a smile by the reaction of a couple who’d spotted him just before me, and who were pondering ‘is he – yes, he must be – having a laugh:” And, after all, if you are going to commit visual offences of this nature, your local Tesco is probably the one place where you’re going to get away with it.
I should say that I, of all people, am no sartorial snob. For me, there’s no more offensive spectacle in Britain than that of smug, smooth and shiny-haired David Cameron swaggering through another Prime Minister’s Question Time in his impeccably-tailored navy suit. Yet, as you look at him and the ranks of fellow besuited parliamentarians alongside and opposite him, you can’t help but be aware of the contrasting shabbiness of the average man on the streets outside.
Pixieman, approaching seventy, was old enough to know better. However, there’s no sign that the generation or two below him are doing anything to improve the current status of the British male as the worst-dressed specimen in the western world. It’s actually got nothing to do with suits or ties. They don’t even know how to do casual.
Admittedly, this is a tough one – especially as the years go by and you can no longer get away with the tatty but trendy gear that you could have worn in youth. If you start ‘dressing your age’, then you’re in danger of falling into the square category: the tired, baggy chinos, the drab shirt that matches fading skin pigment and greying streaks of hair. What used to be called the sports jacket can still look okay, but you have to get the combinations right.
Even worse, though, is the mutton-dressed-as-lamb hombre – the 40-year old who still thinks that he’s one of the lads: the tight suit, the too-pointy shoes, the unironed shirt worn outside the trousers but which still fails to disguise that portly beer belly. One of the most unpleasant ‘looks’ is that of the middle-aged, podgy Andy Pandy – the late 30s, early 40-something dad who, as soon as the sun comes out, dons the shorts and blindingly white trainers, along with the inevitable short-sleeved T-shirt, for the weekend waddle along to – yes, where else could it be? – Tesco. Some even top it off with a pair of little white socks. It’s a get up that would look great on your eight-year-old son, but there’s a good argument for passing a statute ruling that no-one older than say, 28, should wear shorts, unless taking part in sport. Flip-flops should similarly be banned for this age group.
Wishing to turn the clock back is pointless, of course, but sometimes I look enviously at the 1950s and 1960s when wearing a suit – such a convenient costume, where all you need to worry about is getting the tie right – was still classless. Certainly there were subtleties of cut and material which gave away your background, but at least the man-boy dilemma didn’t exist unless, perhaps, you were a gigolo. It has to be said too, that tailored clothes are so much more flattering to the ageing physique.
Will things ever improve? I read an article recently which claimed that ‘men have never been required to be so well groomed’. I’ve yet to see visible evidence. Perhaps I need to start shopping at a different supermarket.