Man of substance: Matthew Paris
For writer, broadcaster and wit-about-town Matthew Parris, absence of style is a positive virtue. He has no time for his appearance - aside, perhaps, from a sneaking concern that he may end up one day looking like an old tortoise
Saturday 14 August 1999
If people are very smart I suspect they might be hollow. It's only a presumption and it can be rebutted - I do know some people who dress well who are also worthwhile, but on the whole I assume that a great deal of attention to appearance in a man indicates a lack of substance. For instance, if men have shiny shoes I think, "Do you really have nothing better to do than get your shoes shiny?"
Similarly with men who have complicated topiary on their faces. The two acceptable treatments for facial hair are either to be clean shaven or not to bother, and have a huge John-the-Baptist-like beard. Both to me indicate a desire to spend the minimum amount of time with the razor, it's those people who clip and trim little moustaches and beards who strike me as weird.
A key to all this is time. If there aren't enough hours in the day - as there oughtn't to be for someone who's engaged with the world around them - it must be a strange set of priorities that cause you to spend more than the minimum time on the shape of a moustache or the cut of a jacket.
I sometimes feel like disowning the gay community for its obsession with looks and bodybuilding and gyms. But it seems straight men are becoming such poofs now as well. They are all into styles and clothes and scents. I may have to become a lesbian. I'm probably a lesbian trapped in the body of a gay man, as far as style is concerned.
I don't like ageing, but that's not to do with appearance. It's a sign of the approach of death and, like the summer holidays, I don't wish life to end; when I see wrinkles it's an intimation of mortality, and mortality vexes me very much.
Rather like Bertrand Russell, I'm going to pass straight from looking like a boy scout to looking like an old tortoise, without passing through the central stages of comfortable middle age, and I'm just on the cusp now between boy scout and tortoise.
When I was an MP my constituents rather despaired of my dress sense. I had a nice grey suit that I liked very much, so when it got a bit worn I took it to a tailor in Clapham Junction and asked him if he could make another one just like it. And he did. My friends called it my postman's suit - it was a rather heavy flannel.
I never like to have more than three suits on the go at the same time. At the moment I have two and a half, although, admittedly, the half is a bit of a mess. I've got a horrible pinstripe suit that [current affairs programme] Weekend World bought me from Gieves & Hawkes. It's my best suit, although it's now about 11 years old.
I have a problem with white shirts. Shirts should cost no more than pounds 20, but they all seem to cost pounds 30 or pounds 40, which I won't pay, so I've got hundreds of very old white shirts with frayed collars or cuffs, and some have huge collars from the Sixties. I only buy new ones if I see them in a sale. I'm not, I hope, an ungenerous person, but I really resent spending money on things that don't give me any pleasure - and clothes don't.
I really like to wear jeans or shabby old trousers. I still have a jacket that I bought in 1970. Even though the lining's in tatters, I still wear it and I'm very fond of it. I do get fond of very old clothes.
I don't want to give the impression that the visual world means nothing to me. The visual world is a complete marvel, it's just the part that my face and body play in it that I regard as rather subsidiary.
The paperback of `The Great Unfrocked' by Matthew Parris is published by Robson Books in September, at pounds 8.99
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