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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'