Paul Weller: The style counsellor

His music changed - his look stayed cool, says Mary Novakovich
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The Independent Culture

I had a boyfriend who had the scarf (paisley with maroon tassels), the crisp white shirt, the skinny trousers, the stolen bowling shoes and, of course, the three-button Italian-cut jacket. While his fellow-Scousers preferred the ballbreaking scally look, he turned instead to Paul Weller for inspiration.

Clean lines, fanatical attention to detail, smartness bordering on obsession - Weller's Mod look was one we all aspired to. His bandmates couldn't come close: damn fine bass player though he was, Bruce Foxton still had a whiff of the Seventies refugee about him, and there was a good reason why Rick Buckler was stuck behind a drum kit. Both men looked of their time, which was their problem.

Weller, however, always looked cool, and eventually compelled the boyfriend to pick up a guitar, and me (with Louise Brooks bob, black poloneck and plain miniskirt) to buy a second-hand bass. After months spent trying to master the intro to "Start!", I realised that I would contemplate cutting my hair to look like Bruce Foxton if only I could have an ounce of his ability. At least we had the right look, if not the talent.

The demise of The Jam was bad enough without having to endure the pretensions and often embarrassingly rubbish music of The Style Council. What on earth was Weller doing with that Talbot bloke from the Merton Parkas who was wearing a navy blazer? A navy blazer, for God's sake! And who gave the Cappuccino Kid permission to write excruciating waffle on the sleeves of their releases? (Example: "Their second record mixes sweat with love, anger with joy and they take long walks down by the riverside during the month of March in search of tea parties." Oh, how droll. What was this, the Sixties?)

Weller, to his credit, was still oozing style, and looked like an extra from A Bout de Souffle. This time we were inspired to be seen sitting in a Continental café, looking nonchalant, reading Le Monde and smoking unfiltered Gitanes. Again, the look prevailed (although the flat stank of French cigarettes). The music, unfortunately, left us cold and not a little derisive.

Weller's appearance has hardly changed in the intervening decades, even if his face is rather attractively lived-in. While some admire his consistency, others suggest that perhaps his haircut isn't entirely suitable for a man in his 48th year.

But you can't really criticise a man for sticking to the Mod rule of clean lines and unfussy style. Certainly, he has strayed occasionally into some dodgy territory: what was he doing in a collarless shirt on the cover of his solo debut album, for instance? But while Mod revivals came and went, along with Britpop, Weller could be counted on time and again for his classic look and complete inability to give a toss what anybody thinks.

Some retro men's fashions (frilly Seventies shirts, old men's suits of the Fifties) look daft on anyone old enough to remember them the first time round. Mod, however, transcends fashion. It was strange, at the time, to be so influenced by a style that was created by men, for men and deliberately excluded women. It was even stranger to be so obsessed with a man's look and not fancy him in the slightest. Now that's class.