Liz Hoggard: Clothes maketh the man

Men are notoriously private about the content of their trousers, the notch they fasten their belt

Sunday 23 October 2011 07:51

Last weekend I was in the Uffizi in Florence, gazing at a copy of Michelangelo's David. This, I thought, is the naked form that launched so many male anxieties: David, a marble masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, is wildly anatomically incorrect. The head, upper body and hands are larger than the proportions of the lower body (in real life he would fall over). The sculpture was designed so that it would appear correct when viewed from below.

It's reassuring that back in the 16th century airbrushed images of the body beautiful were dreamt up to haunt average-size men. Even today the male body is still very much a taboo subject. Women live daily with their imperfections (too fat, too thin, too womanly); the male body is venerated and protected. Acres of female breast and thigh are splashed across our media; the erection is considered too dangerous for our TV screens. Women endure the indignity of mixed changing rooms in many high-street stores; men have separate cubicles to protect their modesty.

Which is why the scandal enveloping Ede & Ravenscroft, the Savile Row tailor whose clients include Prince Charles, David Cameron and Boris Johnson, is so delicious. Someone has stolen confidential information about its clients (including "intimate measurements"), and it's rumoured to be an inside job. No wonder it's a scandal: men are notoriously private about the content of their trousers, their neck size, the notch they use to fasten their belt. In contrast, the female body is open season – everything from our bra size to our love of control pants is eagerly discussed. Red carpet savagery prevails. Female columnists queue up to confess they are wearing (whisper it) a size 14 dress, not a 12. But we are remarkably, frustratingly, short of information about the male torso. Men perpetuate the fantasy that no effort goes into their look. They are natural, unadorned, while we girls are the silly narcissists.

Women are therefore grateful for any clues that prove otherwise. When I worked on the shopfloor at the menswear shop, Blazer, back in the late Eighties, I was fascinated by male dress etiquette. A man would confidently select a pair of size 28 waist trousers and ask me to have it let out three inches on either side. "But why don't you buy a size 34?" I'd ask, puzzled. "Because I'm a size 28," he'd explain patiently. I couldn't help envying the way male vanity is protected.

But then in the discreet world of bespoke tailoring, nothing is more valued than the relationship between the customer and his tailor. Anyone revealing data about knock knees or fat thighs would be excommunicated. Certainly the golden mile of tailoring shook when the late Alexander McQueen revealed he had once sewed "I am a c***" into the lining of a jacket for Prince Charles – as a gesture against the establishment.

But the Ede & Ravenscroft espionage case is gripping for rather more important reasons. The tailoring firm holds three Royal Warrants and has made robes since the 1690s for monarchs, peers, judges and even the "uniform" for members of Oxford's Bullingdon, the notorious Oxford dining club where Cameron and Johnson (and George Osborne) were members. No wonder they're worried: a man's sartorial peccadillos can be very revealing.

Watching Laura Wade's brilliant play Posh at the Royal Court, about Oxford's Riot Club (a thinly veiled version of the Bullingdon Club), you're appalled by the violence and the machismo as they smash up the gastro pub, the casual hatred of the proles. But also by the silly bloody outfits they insist on wearing. The wigs and breeches and ornamental sabres. It's worse than the Masons. Consisting of a traditional tailcoat, a mustard waistcoat and a blue bow tie, the Bullingdon garb, lovingly fashioned by Ede & Ravenscroft, doesn't come cheap at £3,000. It is also designed to exclude the non-elect, the grubby commoners like you and me.

Do David and George and Boris still have such outlandish tackle in their wardrobes? I think we deserve to know.

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