John Walsh: Tales of the City

Accessorise it like Mrs Beckham: a style guide for the (early) middle-aged man
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The Independent Online

Victoria Beckham has offered her army of adoring fans her Top 10 "style commandments," and I hope they're grateful. It may sound as plausible a prospect as Silvio Berlusconi recommending his Top 10 Holidays on the Cheap, or Abi Titmuss giving a series of lectures on Virginity, but it's generous of Mrs Beckham to go public like this and risk the mockery of envious people.

Her recommendations, evidently the fruit of deep thought over many years, are decidedly quirky: don't be too revealing in the chest region, buy dozens of sunglasses, wear jumper dresses when you're having "a bloated day", pinch clothes ideas from the 1950s, look for bargain buys in Tokyo and Montenegro rather than, say, Croydon High Street, cut bits off your clothes to make them fit more comfortably, don't bother with matching underwear, and "visualise your overall look" rather than just fling on whatever comes to hand when you're groping in the linen basket at 6am.

Sage and confident advice. But does it have anything to say to Mrs B's many male fans? Do fashion rules work on London geezers in early middle age?

* Visualise Your Overall Look. Actually don't do any such thing. For pity's sake, don't worry about anything matching anything else. What kind of nancy are you? Don't be afraid to experiment. Feel free to twin your new orange Paul Smith corduroys with the red 1979 Clash T-shirt you just found at the back of your cupboard.

Borrow From Another Era. Remarkably, Posh has got it spot-on in recommending the 1950s. Come back, tweed jackets with elbow patches. Retournez, drip-dry poplin shirts! Welcome home, drape jackets with fur collars! And it's high time we saw the cravat once again circling the neck of a fashionable dude, at the wheel of a Renault Dauphine as he cruises down the A4 to Maidenhead accompanied by a young popsie called Mandy-Jane.

Shop the World. Do you sometimes despair about not being able to afford anything in Savile Row or Selfridges' menswear department? Why suffer like this in boring London, when you could experience the same emotion in exciting, foreign lands? There are some delightful men's shops in Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Venice and Sydney that offer cripplingly expensive suits and farcically overpriced shoes for the international shopper to gaze at in abject horror.

Buy a Comfort Garment for "off" days. Do men have "bloated" days? Or is it a trigger word used by ad agencies to impress gullible housewives into buying pricey yoghurt containing mysterious bacteria called Bogus Madeupnameus? For men over 45, every day is bloated and/or slightly hungover. The comfort garment you need at these moments is an XXXL shawl-necked, zip-fronted woolly jumper zipped under the chin, whichwill make you look (and feel) like a llama undergoing therapy.

Don't Stint on the Accessories. Absolutely. Ever since Will Self started flourishing a churchwarden pipe, fashion props for men have made a big comeback. Try carrying about with you any combination of the following: alpenstock, sporran, pince- nez, snuffbox, ear-trumpet, Second World War gas mask, marabou-trim handcuffs ...

Invest in Timeless Classics. Sadly, there's no male equivalent to the little black dress. The little black suit will make everyone think you're off to a Reservoir Dogs tribute night in Lewisham. The only Timeless Classic you own is a pair of blue denims from 1982, in which the crotch has become a science project.

Customise. This is far from easy. You could try scissoring the waistband off your Gap chinos, but you'll never get a belt around them again, and then where will you be?

Dress from the Inside Out. What's she talking about? Oh, I see, undergarments. It's absurd to make a big fuss about them. Men devote the same time choosing underwear in the morning as they do choosing a breakfast egg from the eggbox.

Trust the Opinions of a Few Friends. Hah! Trust nobody to tell you how you're looking, except for the ones who think you look amazingly foxy, slender and youthful. These are decent, trustworthy people whose opinions are both sincere and objectively true.

Don't Let it All Hang Out. Wise counsel. It used to be okay to leave the top button on one's shirt undone during the working day and (recklessly) extend it to two buttons in the evening when entertaining ladies atone's club. It is never, however, wise for the early-middle-aged to show any skin at all in a public place, except possibly the hands and face. Just not worth the risk of women screaming and fainting. As Mrs B says, it's much sexier to leave a little to the imagination.

Home truths

One aspect of the Tessa Jowell affair sidelined by events is that she is MP for Dulwich, and the elected representative of a community that, coincidentally, includes myself. I have never, admittedly, actually seen the Culture Secretary hanging out by the bus stop on Turney Road or buying croissants in Shepherds 7-11 in the village, but I know how much her name and her image affect the world's view of London SE21.

The weekend newspapers called my home "the wealthy south London suburb", and we locals know that we're all suspected of being a bunch of money-grabbing bread-heads like David Mills.

Are we like him? Oh all right, I confess. For years I've been leading a double life. The partner and children think I'm a mild-mannered journalist, but in fact I've been spending my time setting up tax-avoidance shell companies for the Sultan of Qom. When they think I'm in the garden shed writing a novel, I'm generally trying to broker a £200m deal flogging uranium to Iran. The letters that silt up the family breakfast table do not contain, as the children think, reminders from Blockbuster Video about Sex Lives of the Potato Men, but cheques for £300,000-plus from heads of state all over Europe.

I just pray that nobody finds out about this, or I will have nobody but myself to blame.