Andrew Martin: Why suits are the antidote to shorts

I feel vindicated in having resisted the dominant social trend of my life towards informality

Share
Related Topics

In Southwold, Suffolk, there's a clothes shop called Denny's that a century ago harboured 20 resident tailors – I believe they had their own cricket team. They must all have been turning in their graves on Sunday, when almost every man in the town was wearing shorts.

Shorts are "on trend", which makes me despair of British manhood. But, at the same time, suits are also on trend, which makes me think there might be some hope for British manhood after all. According to a documentary, The Perfect Suit, which is on BBC4 on Wednesday week, Top Man is selling more suits now than ever. Mad Men could be a factor.

The documentary is an enjoyable history of the suit and the presenter, Alastair Sooke, receives some memorable advice from tailoring sages – "If there are two buttons on the suit coat, never do them both up, or you'll look like a newscaster" – but it would be fair to say that he reaches no firm conclusion about the perfect one. I myself have been looking for 30 years, encouraged initially by my dandified father. He had plenty of suits from Burton, one of the "multiple tailors" serving the clerks of mid-20th-century Britain: the suit was measured and cut by hand, but sewn together in a factory. He also had some entirely bespoke suits and, when I was 18, he took me to the tailor who had made these.

I was duly measured up – "The greyhound breed, just like your father!" – and when, a month later, the tailor handed me the finished product, he said: "Lucky suit for you, sir!" The next day I fell off a motorbike while wearing it and the day after that, I limped back in with the bloodied trousers, asking for a new pair to be made up. The tailor was aghast. I never hit it off with him as my father had and when I went back to him 30 years later with a pin-striped suit I'd bought for a tenner in Oxfam, in order to ask him how much it would cost to duplicate, he gave me a peculiar look. It was not the "rock of eye" by which tailors recall immediately the measurements of their customers. It was a more general assessment along the lines of: "You have not grown into the sort of man who can easily afford a bespoke suit," and he dismissed me pretty smartly from his shop.

A bespoke suit will indeed usually cost over a thousand pounds, so I stick with off-the-peg. I have a dozen suits, the rationale being that if you are going to dress in a fairly generic way, then it is more honest to wear clothes that are supposed to look generic rather than ones meant to look iconoclastic.

The dominant social trend of my life has been towards informality and I feel vindicated in having resisted, since it culminated in the chinos and loafers of the Blair years, a style now associated with an ingratiating manner screening duplicity. (Another consideration is that 20 years ago, I introduced myself to an astringent middle-aged woman at a party in Notting Hill as "a freelance writer". "Mmm," she mused, "...often a euphemism for unemployed." So my suits are meant to make me look less unemployed.)

But if it's hard to find the perfect one in winter, it's harder still in a hot summer. I used to favour unlined linen suits, with a good-quality collarless shirt and I was so attired last summer when I literally bumped into the extremely dapper Bill Nighy in Jermyn Street in central London.

Less than a fortnight later, I read an interview with Nighy, in which he said that on no account should a man wear an unlined linen suit and a collarless shirt just because they happen to keep him cool.

An elegant suit needs weight, but we have lost the doughtiness of our forebears, who could stand the heat much better and fought colonial wars in the thick, red woollen coats that the British Army uniform then involved. In its determination to keep cool at the expense of elegance, my generation of males has apparently drawn the nemesis it deserves: global warming.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Focused Business Analyst - Finance and Procurement System Implementation

£350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reading are...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM - A high q...

Head of ad sales international - Broadcast

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: Are you the king or Queen o...

Note Taker - Scribe

£10 per hour: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced note taker...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tory whips have warned the Prime Minister that he could face a Tory revolt over the European arrest warrant  

A bizarre front for the Tories’ campaign against Europe

Nigel Morris
 

Daily catch-up: EU news, and other reasons to be cheerful

John Rentoul
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker