Tailors are missing out on a potentially big market: the fashion-conscious misanthrope

The suit must be suggestive - in its plenty, not its poverty - of the haughty otherness you feel
Click to follow
The Independent Online

This being the age of the child, I wonder if anyone has written "A Child's History of Misanthropy". I'd do it myself if I thought I could keep the sentences short enough. I know the objection: why would we want a feel-bad book for children when most of them feel so bad already. The point of stuffing them with feel-good is to raise their spirits. In a harsh world, the most useful thing words can do is throw an illusory rainbow round the future they don't have.

This being the age of the child, I wonder if anyone has written "A Child's History of Misanthropy". I'd do it myself if I thought I could keep the sentences short enough. I know the objection: why would we want a feel-bad book for children when most of them feel so bad already. The point of stuffing them with feel-good is to raise their spirits. In a harsh world, the most useful thing words can do is throw an illusory rainbow round the future they don't have.

But misanthropy needn't be feel-bad. If we take misanthropes to include wanderers, solitaries, marathon runners, round-the-world yachtswomen, people who don't own a television, people who can't think of any film they'd like to win a Bafta, people who haven't enjoyed listening to a band since Edmundo Ross, or simply anyone who feels out of tune with the times, there is much melancholy sweetness in the type. And it would help a child who can't abide the kids he has to smoke dope with in the playground to know he belongs to a proud and honourable tradition.

I loved reading about recluses and depressives when I was growing up and couldn't wait to be one. What I didn't realise was how hard it was going to be to act the hermit while living comfortably in the middle of town. Easy if you chose to inhabit a desert with just wolves for company and a tea-towel wrapped around your loins. Anyone can do that. The real challenge is to be your own man in the very midst of men.

For me, the most difficult part has always been to find the clothes which mark you out as a misanthropist but not a tramp. Why must a sound dislike of humanity entail living naked in a barrel or in tatters in a cardboard box? What necessary conjunction is there between moroseness and rags? Dress well - that has always been my advice to any person disillusioned with society. When the black dog jumps, go out and buy yourself a suit.

Not just any suit. The suit you buy must be suggestive - in its plenty, not its poverty - of the haughty otherness you feel. Once upon a time you could achieve this with ruffles and a cane. The dandy was the misanthrope par excellence. But you can't act the dandy now without being mistaken for someone in a band, and bands - assuming you are a true misanthrope, and not just a would-be rebel hankering to record an album - are chief among the reasons you despise society. You cannot love a world, full stop, which loves a band. Which means you cannot resemble someone who plays in one.

But where do you buy the clothes that are not band clothes manqué, but don't make you look as though you're doing oil business with the Saudi Arabians either? I have spent the past six months trying to replace a favourite jacket.

A deep unbending brown it was, a musky camel somewhere between a Tuscan ochre and the colour of an antelope's eye. Unbending but not dour - the distinction is essential. Cashmere, naturally. You can't look down on the world in anything less than cashmere. But there's cashmere and there's cashmere, and this cashmere wasn't of that mimsey knitted blazerish sort - not a hair out of place and woe betide you if you sport a belly - you find in those Italian shops which are always on the point of closing down. Mine was rugged cashmere. Big about the shoulders and plentiful around the waist. It fell about me, almost like a cloak - that was the point of it.

It was voluptuous and even louche. But it was a withdrawal jacket in the sense that it alone provided whatever loucheness the wearer wanted. An up-yours, self-sufficient jacket, in other words.

If you ask me what aspect of it contributed most to this effect, the answer is the lapels. Though single-breasted, they were sumptuous, a sweep of insolent lapel at once broad and soft and deep. Thus they spat in the eye of an age grown narrow, hard and shallow.

Now tell me where another such jacket is to be found? The principle of expansiveness - the right to relax with as much rancorous showiness as you wish and let the world go hang - has vanished from men's tailoring.

Trousers today have no pleats. Flat-fronted is what they're called, and we need no semiologist of fashion to explain what the flattening of a man's front portends. Ditto the shrinking of his ribcage and the attenuating of his shoulders, to say nothing of the dwarfing of his sternum in parsimonious lapels, no wider than your little finger, which meet an inch below his throat and make him look as though he's been laid out by an undertaker. The Saudi Arabian oil man's aside, every jacket is a straitjacket now: a punishment, not a pleasure; a denial of the body, not a celebration of its unruliness; an expression of the wanness of the mannikin, not the gargantuan displeasure of the misanthrope. Malnutrition-chic is what it is - a look which originates in boy bands who themselves originate in the longings of girls approaching puberty.

In the hope of finding an exception to this rule and seeing something which even remotely resembles my old jacket I have been traipsing the stores of London. Armani no good, Armani don't do camel. Harrods too prissy.

Savile Row too rural. Harvey Nichols all malnutrition. Liberty's nothing but lapels up around the ears. Bellini, Bernini, Bertorelli, Berlusconi, Assassini - all oil men. Reducing me finally to High and Mighty where they first pretended not to see me, as I was below their eye level, then explained that High and Mighty referred to size not attitude.

"So where do I go to express my loathing of mankind," I asked the manager.

He suggested the desert. Proving that a History of Misanthropy for adults, never mind children, is a necessity.

Comments