The Menswear Council says the average male should smarten up his image. But the average male already has, says Randeep Ramesh
CLOTHES do maketh the man. That's the message British males have yet to heed, according to the self-appointed Menswear Council.

So far as this organisation is concerned, British men lose their sartorial sense after they have settled down; they do not dress to impress at work and rarely match their European peers, who spend on average pounds 500 a month (double the British male) on clothing.

According to the voice of the council, Chris Scott-Gray: "We have all watched Blind Date. They stand up there with their Polynesian shirts outside their flat-fronted trousers. You know we have a problem when men are proud of the fact they had a haircut for pounds 5."

When it comes to compiling the list of Great Fashion Disasters, it is true that the British figure prominently. Recent tragedies include the twentysomethings who enthusiastically took up the tartan-trousered nerdishness of Chris Evans, another was the drain-piped Eighties chic of Burton and Top Man.

But times are changing. Take footballing fashion. For years, stars regularly scored own goals when it came to style. Many could happily forget the pink silk frock-coat worn by Gazza at his wedding, or the nasty Kevin Keegan perm.

But this tradition is not upheld by today's players. The Menswear Council's own list of the 10 best-dressed men in Britain features Arsenal star Ian Wright and Manchester United midfielder David Beckham. Last week the latter slung a pounds 115 Gaultier silk sarong over his loose linen trousers when strolling out with girlfriend Victoria Adams - aka Posh Spice. Some sniggered , but Beckham was unperturbed.

Increasingly, men consider style as important as substance. Ten years ago, the men's magazine market consisted mainly of US editions of GQ and Esquire - which struggled to sell more than 50,000 copies. Last year FHM, whose mix of near-naked women and stylishly attired men, shifted more than 500,000 units - overtaking Cosmopolitan.

The profusion of men's media has been matched in the high street. The shopping arcades are stuffed with Paul Smith stores and lined with adverts for the American designer Tommy Hilfiger. Industry figures show that since 1992, the menswear industry has grown by nearly 30 per cent, to pounds 8bn.

But despite that growth, stylish men do not feel compelled to wander the streets dressed in the latest designer clothing.

Lawrence Dellaglio, England's bulky rugby captain, is typical. Dressed in lumberjack shirt and chinos, Dellaglio explains: "Most of the time I am in sporting gear, but when I go out I make an effort. But my wardrobe has got stuff from Marks & Spencer as well as Ralph Lauren. It is about looking good, not about spending lots of money."

When it comes to toiletries, British men are making more of an effort than before, with the average man spending pounds 26 a year on aftershave, moisturiser and body sprays. Two years ago, Men's Health magazine claimed that three- quarters of men were exercised about their physical shape..

This is not to say that the Menswear Council's message is unimportant - it is just that for a lot of men they have heard and acted upon it long ago.

Male couture has a long history - albeit one marked by dodgy wigs, make- up and tights. That dandified parade of men's fashion which lingered in pre-industrial Britain had its roots in narcissism. For today's men, the main motivation to dress well lies in professional acceptance. The rationale seems to be that women's emancipation has made looking good in the office acceptable, so why should this not be extended to men?

The council parades such phrases as "dress like the manager who wants to be", but in reality the plethora of names like T M Lewin, Thomas Pink and Ozwald Boateng show that men will consider shelling out on a suit and shirt that looks as good on the catwalk as it does in the office.

Alan Hansen, who attended the launch of the council in a Daks dark grey suit, with lilac shirt and silver tie, spends "more on clothes now than as a young lad". The former footballer, who now commentates on the sport said: "My wife still chooses them- mainly because I have got a 44-inch chest and long body which means a lot of jackets ride too high. But I have to do it. In my line of work, I have to look good."

This kind of talk from Hansen - once one of Liverpool's self-styled hard men on the pitch - should not surprise anyone. The image-makers around Tony Blair fret about his crooked teeth, his receding hair and the cut of his clothes. It is not that the Prime Minister - who the Menswear Council also place in its top 10 - needs an entourage of courtiers to fawn over his presence, just that he recognises that the packaging is as important as the policy.

do men measure up?

Ozwald Boateng, Savile Row tailor

"It's good to know that there will be a council specifically for men and I hope it will bring them into the limelight again.

"This council shows that they are starting to realise menswear is big in this country, especially suits - that is undisputed, and it's about time someone got behind it. The main thing is how people are wearing their clothes, whether they are enjoying them. You don't need money to have style."

Hanni Huesch, UK correspondent for German TV station ARD

"Thank God, they are doing something to get British men to dress better. On average, I think German men are slightly better dressed than the British, but not when it comes to casual clothes. I think a lot depends on what people do as to how well dressed they are."

Chris Sullivan, style editor of mens' magazine GQ

"Any means of making British men dress better is welcome, but I don't know how much effect it will have as they are pretty recalcitrant.

"What you wear affects your success at work and with women. I do feel though, that more and more men are realising that it affects how seriously they are taken. Overall, education relies on experience, and men have got to go and find out what works."

Philip Warren, curator at archive of clothes from high street chain Next.

"In a way, the idea strikes me as a panic move. I think the attempt to create a Menswear Council shows that nobody in Britain has a real grip or handle on the market. But we've got a great fashion tradition in Britain, our designers are attractive to people from all over the world."