When Harry met Archie: What happens when a man with only a passing interest in style dates a fashion journalist?
Archie's favourite T-shirt is apple-green with tree roots growing down from the neckline. So when he wears it, his neck looks like the trunk and his head is the leaves. It is also riddled with holes. These I can forgive – I have a penchant for deconstructivist designers myself, you know – but I simply can't understand why anyone would want to dress as a tree. He wore that T-shirt on our first date, though neither of us knew it was our first date at the time, so I can't get cross about that.
Actually, Archie has great taste and he does appreciate the finer things. It's just that, combined with his preference for not making an effort, his great taste doesn't often get a moment to shine.
He can be vain, but only when he can be bothered to be. This makes for interesting outbursts about twice a year when Archie realises he has only one pair of trousers, or that he is wearing a T-shirt he doesn't even like. It's like when the dormouse in Alice in Wonderland wakes up to make a pronouncement. When this happens, I gently suggest that we go to the sort of shop I would approve of and buy him a new version of whatever it is he has taken sudden pique against.
This means, brilliantly, that he has a limited wardrobe of incredibly nice clothes, which I am training him not to leave on the floor or public transport. He owns a few things that make me shudder, but they don't tend to leave the house any more. I achieve this by staring at the offending garment till he takes it off.
Left to his own devices, Archie's style is what I would call Rompersuit Minimal. That is, he likes clothes in plain and block-coloured separates that make him look like a big toddler. I think this is adorable, but have encouraged more navy, black and grey (rather than tomato-red and pistachio-green) so that people take him seriously. All in all, Archie's tastes reflect the jolly individual he is, but he errs on the side of classic and formal rather than "street". Thank god. He doesn't wear jeans because he doesn't like them – a judgement he came to on his own, without me having to point out they weren't really his "thing". And he looks great in a shirt, as he has lovely forearms.
As for my personal style, I do feel a bit sorry for Archie. I think he'd like it if I wore frilly dresses in nice colours or had a haircut that didn't scare people. Sometimes I show him clothes that I've bought or am going to buy and he makes a little face that almost breaks my heart. He's stopped pointing out that everything I own is black, loose-fitting and drapy, but you can see it in his eyes that he'd rather it was pink, short and tight.
Harriet Walker is a fashion feature writer and columnist for The New Review
Basically, I would like to look cool, but I would like to pull that off without appearing to make an effort, and I am kind of willing to put in an extra effort to achieve that effect. The idea is to appear to have bought (reasonably priced) clothes that don't look terrible, completely by mistake. And, OK, sometimes the difficulty of achieving this goal means I end up owning only one pair of trousers. But that's not because I don't care! It's because I care too much!
Going out with Harry has taught me that I'll never pull off my masterplan – because doing so is impossible. No one looks effortlessly cool to people who actually know what cool is. This realisation, coupled with Harry's not-as-subtle-as-she-thinks attempts to steer me in what she deems the right direction, means I now own some items of clothing that might lead people to confuse me with someone who didn't mind people thinking he gave a damn.
I bristle at the intervention a bit, since she puts her fingers in her ears whenever I try to explain how percentages work, and I don't see why I should be re-educated if she won't be. But it must be admitted that some of the changes are seismic. So, now I have this shirt with a shooting patch on it. I don't know what it's there for, as I've never been shooting. I do know it'll make a lot of people think I'm a div. The trouble is: I really like it.
Spending a lot of time with someone who works in fashion when you are a civilian has this discombobulating effect. You stop asking questions like: are there really people who think a jacket is worth £1,700? And where are that man's socks?
Some you stop asking as you realise you aren't going to get a good answer. Some you stop asking as you realise the whole point is the madness. Mostly, though, you stop asking as you realise through others' tiresome repetition that your snotty little query is actually really unoriginal, and based on a mistaken premise. Probably that's the main thing I've learnt from going out with someone in fashion: people who know even less than I do talk an awful lot of rubbish about it.
The other big thing I've learnt: the experts don't have access to some secret taste vault. They just pick the stuff they like – with a more judicious eye, a better sense of how the thing will hang or whatever, but still just stuff they like. I'd always assumed there was more science to it. Then I realised Harry's favourite shoes have mouse faces, and her all-time most-desired object is a handbag that looks like a dinosaur. That made me feel a bit better about the trousers situation.
Archie Bland is Saturday editor of The Independent
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