IT’S ALL NEHRU’S FAULT.
There is a fine line for men of a certain age to navigate between clinging onto the last vestiges of fashion, on the one hand, and looking an utter dick, on the other.
The choice is between slamming the metaphorical door in the face of style whilst making a slightly too enthusiastic virtue about being ‘comfortable’, or looking like some wrinkled wannabe porn star. One looks bereft of imagination, the other just pitiful. In the blue corner are the red cords, and in the red corner is cheesy slogan teeshirt with added gold pendant.
In pursuit of this compromise, I have in the last twenty years purposefully avoided deep v-neck tee shirts, square-toed shoes, Uggs for men, sagging jeans, gap-year jewelry, deep-crotch trousers, flares, floral-print shirts, three-quarter length trousers and, above all, Crocs. Once I went for the ‘holes in the knees of my jeans’ look, but that was because they were old, and I gardened in them. I have also made occasional adventurous forays into the land of bomber jackets (fail), beanie hats (double fail) and pure white tee-shirts (wrong shape), but by and large I have stuck to what I like to think I don’t look ridiculous in. Gok Wan might not appreciate that as an ambition, but I find it keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Or rather it did, until yesterday morning at about 11.15, because it was at that point that my cousin Margaret pointed out a Nehru Jacket in the back of a gift shop in Bridport and said to me: ‘I think you’d look OK in that.’ Looking OK in something is high praise where I come from so I went over to take a look. To my astonishment, I didn’t walk away immediately and do that ‘what would I need that for?’ bit. Instead, I put it on, and asked a rather grumpy looking woman who was buying some scented soap nearby what she thought.
‘Too small for you,’ she said.
‘You mean I’m too fat for it?’ I asked.
‘Not really,’ she replied, but it could have meant anything. She had the air of a woman who produced to-do lists for her husband every Saturday morning, and then interviewed him at nightfall on their state of completion.
But even in middle age, one needs to move on, and be seen to move on. After all, not moving on gave us coal-fired boilers, Fosters lager and the first past the post voting system.
‘Dick, or not dick?’ I asked Caroline.
‘It looks fine,’ she replied which, again, didn’t really answer the question.
The left brain-right brain argument raged for a minute or two, the suave author at a book signing competing with the humiliated guest at a supper party, Richard E Grant vs Trevor the Cabinet Maker if you like. You have no concept of the cultural jump I was making, not to speak of the courage, when I told the shopkeeper that I would take it.
I was strangely relieved to see a little handwritten sign on the till to the effect that this was an independent retailer, and therefore not able to offer discounts: it was bad enough leaping into the world of Nehru waistcoats without having to ask for some money off. That would be just awkward.
I was further comforted by having its first public outing at dinner last night with only Caroline and Margaret present. It was just easier among friends.
And here we are back at home, with Nehru tucked away in my cupboard, and a lifetime ahead of me being, as Laurens van der Post once put it, someone other. Like van der Post, I love that idea that the bars around your prison are normally only of your own making.
He’d probably have liked one as well.