Pass me my busby, and I'll feel a new man

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The Independent Culture
NAKED WE come into the world, and naked we go out; but the bit in between is a trouble, and growing worse. The other day I went to one of those parties where they have cocaine. Doesn't do anything for me, cocaine. Never did. Makes the inside of the nose go numb, but I've never been troubled by the inside of my nose. The odd blow, an occasional reaming with my Roto-Noso Gentleman's Grooming Device ("You Cannot Complete Your Toilet Without It") and, hey presto!, nosey's ticketty-boo. If I had spent years wandering about, wincing and muttering, "Dear God, if only I could find something to numb the inside of my nose", I might have fallen upon cocaine with avidity and relief, but, as it is ... nothing.

But it's churlish to refuse, wouldn't you say? Quite. So it's Bic up the conk, nose goes numb and irritation supervenes. Everyone starts talking rubbish and next thing you know it's dawn and you're wandering around the West End, full of misplaced energy, peering into shop windows and becoming increasingly aware that there's something very, very odd going on.

What it is, is this: all the shops are selling clothes. I walked down Bond Street, looking at the clothes, and along Jermyn Street, looking at the clothes, and back up to Oxford Street, looking at the clothes. Round the back of Broadcasting House there's an entire area devoted to wholesale clothes, from which you can meander down Regent Street, and look at clothes. There are posh clothes, silly clothes, Outback pastoralist clothes, Bruce Springsteen clothes.

There are shirts for honking businessmen, suits for weak-chinned middle managers, pimp shoes, crook hats, card-sharper overcoats, oil-rigger boots. There is, in short, an entire economy based on clothes, supported by a whole rainforest-worth of magazines devoted to clothes, serving the dual purpose of making us yearn for the clothes we don't have while loathing the clothes we do.

I was halfway along New Oxford Street and heading into the relatively clothes-free zone of Bloomsbury before I realised that the fine and righteous rage I was nurturing was, in reality, the most appalling hypocrisy. The truth is, the Clothes Conspiracy has got me in its clutches, and it's worse than any drug. I fret constantly about what clothes to wear. The spectre of being improperly dressed hovers about my life like a camp, flapping Nemesis. I have recently been visiting London art schools, choosing pictures for an exhibition, and instead of honing my critical faculties, I have lain awake at nights worrying about what I should wear. I settled on a pair of trusty R M Williams Outback pastoralist moleskins, a simple Armani shirt in cream cotton pique, chocolate suede brogues and a cashmere/ angora jacket in darkest blue from Douglas Hay-ward, and if you want to know how severe the disease is, all you need to know is that I do not possess a cashmere/angora jacket in darkest blue, although I dream about it and have done so since I bought my cafe-au-lait suede pea-jacket, which is what I had been dreaming about since I bought my three-button, nip- waisted change coat in a real 1940s spring-weight lovat herringbone ... and so it goes on. And on. And on.

The other day I went flying (black Paul Smith jeans, John Smedley sea- island-cotton turtleneck, Schott Perfecto motorcycle jacket, abandoned at last moment for a Gant soft leather "Double Decker" coat with zip-out lambswool lining on grounds of potential parodic implications) and we stood in the control tower at Le Touquet aerodrome laughing at a bloke in a Piper Comanche - the Ford Escort of the air - who had seen fit to dress in an all-in-one olive-green military flying suit, complete with white silk scarf and fur-lined boots. But my laughter was the laughter of the drunk slumped at his table who sneers at the drunk clutching on to the floor: nervous laughter, because that'll be me, any day now.

I want to get out of this nightmare. I want to break the cycle. I want to achieve minimalist sartorial consistency. I want a uniform. My daddy had a uniform. He kept it in his wardrobe. His wardrobe was the size of a dog-kennel, and more than adequate for his needs: two suits, two pairs of grey flannel trousers, tweed coat, white linen coat for summer, dinner jacket, six shirts (four white, two blue), one sweater. That was it. He always looked the same. You worked out what sort of a man he was, not from what he wore, but from what sort of a man he was. He has never commented on my wardrobe because he cannot think of anything to say. Occasionally he has peered in, and furrowed his brow slightly, and you know that he has noticed the Second World War sheepskin flying jacket, or the Issey Miyake Zen monk's habit, or the five tweed coats of almost identical cut and cloth, or the Evil Cattle-Baron duster coat, or the full set of Arctic camouflage battledress, or the 87 shirts.

I notice them, too; but am even more powerless to do anything about it than my daddy. It seems, in my more lucid moments, that I - that all of us - have become living branches of the advertising industry, wearing sartorial billboards to indicate who we are at any given moment; that we buy our clothes without the faintest notion of how we must look in them, seeking, instead, to acquire the characteristics of the putative original wearer, and ignoring our own qualities altogether. Hence the buggardly dough-faced god-help- us, slouching up Camden High Street dressed as a Lithuanian freedom- fighter; hence the pot-bellied credit control manager wandering around Safeway on a Saturday morning, got up as a lumberjack from check Pendleton shirt to yellow Timberland boots.

And hence my own belief that, one day, I will find the ultimate outfit, the sartorial Ambrosia, the one I will put on and immediately become the person I want to be. What it will be, I do not know. Busby and waders? An operating-theatre scrub-suit? Electric-blue mohair with shawl collar and shot-silk lining? I only hope I find it in time, before that tricky consulting-room interview which comes to us all. "I'm afraid the tests have confirmed our fears." "You mean there's no hope at all? But what on earth will I wear?" !

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