They're back: those harbingers of winter, grown men – somebody's husband, somebody's father – grouping as excitedly as schoolboys in railway stations, dressed in the numbered shirts of their favourite fooballers. The X Factor's back as well, reheating its stale dish of fools and their dreaming. And in the shops the clothes are turning black. Goodbye to summer is what this all means.
If you're a woman you've been shopping for your winter wardrobe for weeks already, knowing that if you don't strike now, everything decent will have been carted off to Dubai and Saudi Arabia. My sex is slower out of the blocks, partly because there's no need to rush, there being little demand for Ant and Dec inanition suits in the Middle East, where men have appetites, but also because we find it harder to mark the change of seasons in a single day. I, for example, like to go on wearing airy linen shirts for as deep into the winter as I can, though that might be because I've stayed in corduroys until, at the very least, late July. It is characteristic of women to be definite, while men prefer to blur.
This year, though, I have been looking early in the hope of catching a return of pleated trousers. Nothing suits a man less than flat-fronted trousers, no matter how narrow his hips or svelte his pelvis, yet this style has prevailed for years, presumably as part of the fashion industry's determination to turn both sexes into children. Playsuits, girlie smocks and shaved vaginas for women of no matter what age, and famished shirts worn out over de-phallicised barmitzvah-boy pants for men. Remember pleats – rich gatherings of cloth, like curtains, sometimes three folds on each thigh, suggestive of manly amplitude, of your having something to conceal. Every year I cruise the shops earlier and earlier in the hope that, even if pleats aren't back in fashion, the vehemence of my protestations will ultimately reach designers of influence and get them to change their minds.
There's a shop on St John's Wood High Street which I always think should sell nothing but pleated trousers on account of its clientele being Arabic and Jewish, Arabs and Jews at least agreeing that it becomes a man to look fleshly, move slowly, and wear a great deal of material. You can buy large, flowing floral shorts here, and multicoloured loafers, and canary yellow cardigans, and Brioni ties that look as though they've been fashioned out of camel tongue. But not pleated trousers. I popped in the other day on the off-chance they'd altered their policy, but I met the usual resistance. "They're old fashioned. No one wears them now. Why do you want to look like an old man?"
"Not old," I answered. "Just my age."
I should tell you something about the proprietor. Let's call him Giorgio. Though not in the first flush of youth, for which he has no reason, God knows, to apologise to me, Giorgio dresses with the flagrancy of a Regency dandy. His shirt is a luminescent white, open to show the hairs on his chest. Not quite to the navel, but further down than anyone who writes for The Independent, for example, would ever dare essay. His suit is black or navy, cut narrow, tapering to pointed shoes. He wears a scarlet handkerchief in his top pocket. The sleeves of his jacket are short, so that the snowy cuffs of his shirts can show or even be folded back. His hair is miraculously coiffed, abundant, frolicsome. He smells of a forest of wild flowers. And his trousers are of course – of course of course – flat-fronted.
He fishes me out a suit which I like for two reasons. One, it is half price, for we are at the end of the end of summer sale. And two, it is brownish. I have been hankering for a brown suit that isn't rustic or cavalry, an urban brown, soft in the collar, Italian, a Sienese or maybe it's an Urbino brown, ever since I saw Frasier's brother Niles wearing one on television. And three – unless I've already said this – it's half price. The only trouble is ...
I ask him if he could stitch me in a set of pleats. He throws his hands in the air, imperilling his coiffure. And that's when he tells me that pleats would only make me look like an old man. He uses himself as an example, unbuttoning his jacket and showing me how becomingly the trousers swell about his small, very small belly. "See!"
I see. And it's true that when I try the trousers on I look almost as good as he does. "But you can't wear those shoes," he says. "They're too big." I tell him I have big feet. He shows me his. "See!" I see. I need shoes that are pointed. This could be where I've been going wrong with flat-fronted trousers these last however many years – wearing them with blunt-nosed Church's brogues. I try the jacket, buttoning the lower button. Giorgio lets out a howl. "Never, never button that button. You must button the top button."
This becomes a north-south thing. Brought up by the fashionistas of Higher Broughton, Manchester, in the 1950s I was taught to button your jacket on the lower button, otherwise you look trussed up. Giorgio doesn't go so far as to say a man is meant to look trussed up, but he tells me that I will look a hick in London with my jacket not buttoned as his is. "But if you button it your way you can see you're wearing flat-fronted trousers," I remark. He smiles at me, as a teacher might smile at a pupil who has found his own way to the truth.
And now that he has me looking at myself in the mirror and liking what I see he gets to work on the length of my sleeves. Secretly I've always hankered after sleeves as short as his, so that I can show an acre of shirt and cuff links with my initials on. But successive wives have told me this makes me look a spiv. I mention this to Giorgio. He doesn't need to tell me what he's thinking. His eyes say it. Women! What do women know?
He pins my sleeves up almost to my elbows. "Now you want a plain pink shirt," he tells me. He's right – a plain pink shirt, scarlet silk flowing from my top pocket, pointed toes, the jacket of my umber suit buttoned comme il faut, flat-fronted trousers. And that's me ready for the winter.Reuse content