Fashion: The wrong trousers

Robert Llewellyn, star of Red Dwarf, is having a mid-life crisis: he's 42, he hates suits but he doesn't want to look like the oldest teenager in town. He tells his story - and four designers offer their solutions. Photographs by Tom Corbett. Styling by Holly Wood

Last year I attended a debate at the Cambridge Union with my Red Dwarf colleague Daniel John-Jules. Danny looked fantastic in a neat little suit in crisp two-tone, narrow lapels, a bit footballery but it suited him. During the debate someone asked him where he got the suit, he told the astonished crowd it was from Burton's, he showed us the label. He got it in a sale for pounds 40. I was wearing a Jasper Conran two-piece, about five hundred quids' worth. It feels awkward and hangs off me like a sack.

It's not fair! I look terrible in suits no matter how flash they are. I can remember in my teens in the early Seventies, I saved particular derision for middle-aged men who wore jeans, denim shirts and cowboy boots. We could see right through them, we wanted them to grow up and accept they were old and past-it.

I was reminded of this as I walked down a street the other day wearing a pair of unwashed Levi 501s, a classic Gap pocket T, thinning, swept-back, slightly long hair and a pair of lightweight, steel-framed Ray-Bans. I clocked myself in a shop window reflection. If I held my belly in I could still pass for, what, 28, maybe 35 ... OK, 40. I'll come clean. I'm a 42-year-old white male and I have no idea how to dress. I can't stand suits: having come of age in the depths of the hippy era, suits still signify narrow-minded conformity to me. My black Jasper Conran is the only one I own and at this rate it will last me a lifetime.

I know men my age who have 20 or 30 suits hanging in their built-ins and they all look exactly the same. Again and again some clever designer tries to do something original with suits and they still all look boring as far as I'm concerned. I can see that good tailoring makes a difference, but it's pretty bloody subtle. At 50 paces I'd challenge anyone to tell the difference between a Gieves & Hawkes three-grander and a 60-quid special from Suits-R-Us. As Danny proved, it depends who's wearing it.

But what else can middle-aged old blokes wear? If you wear a sarong, like that footballer bloke, or a kilt even, as I have attempted to over the years, you have to put up with a fairly high level of abuse in the street. Women must be much braver. They would have been taunted when they first wore trousers, but they persevered and now no one notices. Skirts make so much more sense for men because you don't have to worry about your tackle, you don't have to dress to the left and all that nonsense. But I'm too chicken or too old to put up with the abuse.

Then there's the Gap. I saw my first Gap store in New York and I knew I'd found my salvation. At last I knew what to wear. I could become Gap-man. I felt at home: natural cottons, brilliant T-shirts, bulk socks, nice windproof summer jackets with a bit of tartan on the collar, button- down shirts ... Oh Gap, you saved my life, for a while. But it had to end. I walk in there now and I can't do it: I can't buy flat-fronted khaki.

Then I discovered Thomas Pink. Shirts, beautiful, colourful, non-Gap shirts, a bit pricey but very good quality. And that little pink bit that no one sees because it's tucked into your trousers. Just so posh-looking, the sort of things public schoolboys know about but are too classy to mention. The only problem is - they should be worn with a suit.

I chant the words "grow up" quite regularly to myself, but I can get away with a slightly more relaxed dress code because I can pose as "an actor", "a writer" or in the latest parlance, "a content provider". We're allowed to be a bit weird, it's fine if our hair is a mess because we sit in funny positions around bored (sic) tables and have ideas.

I wear baggy light-brown corduroy trousers with my Trickers buck Derbys, a green Thomas Pink shirt and a waistcoat/shooting jacket thing I got in Australia. It feels all right, it's not a suit and it's not teenage, it's not too hippy but it's not too off-duty policeman. Then I see a bloke at the supermarket in almost the same stuff and he's a Shire- dwelling, land-owning Tory with a Countryside March sticker in his Jeep Cherokee and I think, what have I become?

I have watched with fascination men I grew up with who have been active in left politics for the last 20 years and who are now Labour MPs. They always wore old jumpers, flared, patched jeans and battered leather jackets. Now they all wear suits, nice shirts and red ties. I look at young lefties and it's all short policeman-crop hair and football fashion. I can't wear football clothes because I hate football, so I am destined to be a fat old cowboy in jeans and boots. I can do lunch, I can give good phone, I just can't do fashion.

Left: Fraser Moss, 32, designer YMC: `Being a lot younger, I can only speculate what a man of 40 would wear. A hundred years ago he would have been wearing his burial suit, but in today's society he's hopefully another 40 years away from that. That makes him young but not a kid, so out goes faddish fashion (cut that Hoxton mullet and those Nike aqua socks), but he can be fashion-conscious as long as he does it with dignity.' Black shirt, pounds 80, black waistcoat, pounds 125, grey coat, pounds 300, black hat, pounds 60, all by YMC, from Harrods, Knightsbridge, London SW1, Selfridges, Oxford Street, London W1. Enquiries 0171-251 8861 Right: Chris Bailey, 39, designer of Jigsaw menswear

and the Bailey collection `This outfit must be worn with confidence. When you turn 40 you want to be seen to be stylish but not so that it's in your face. Comfort is important, and neutral colours are the most flattering. Ultimately it is all about understated luxury and supreme quality, wearing the finest fabrics with an attitude that comes only with experience.' Pink T-shirt, pounds 22, grey cashmere-mix jumper, pounds 79, grey trousers (sold as part of a suit, trousers full length), pounds 390, grey coat, pounds 345, all by Bailey, from Jigsaw Menswear, 27 Brook Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-499 2521, 28-32 Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow, enquiries 0141-221 5942 Jamie Powell, 31, menswear buyer, French Connection `Men so easily forget to update their wardrobe, but by adding simple modern items each season you can create an ageless look. Using this season's key colour grey, for example, in a classic shape, you can achieve this modern but comfortable outfit.' Black top, pounds 30, grey cardigan, pounds 50, grey wide-leg trousers, pounds 65, black shoes, pounds 90, all by French Connection, 249 Regent Street, London W1, enquiries 0171-399 7200 Paul Smith, 52, designer. `Forty-year-olds are looking for more than just style from their clothing. I especially chose this outfit because a man could wear it in his twenties, thirties and forties. It is fashionable yet comfortable and practical.' Grey cord-front shirt with knitted sleeves and back, pounds 145, striped scarf, pounds 80, black bag, pounds 90, Malcolm X tinted glasses, pounds 205, all by Paul Smith, 40-44 Floral Street, London WC2, enquiries 0171-379 7133

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