Turtlenecks, 'Taches, And The Fine Line Between Fashion and Fancy Dress

Dressing well has been important for me my whole adult life, but with the obsession for all things heritage is it time to finally admit defeat and say that fashion has gone too far?
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Dressing well has been important for me my whole adult life, but with the obsession for all things heritage is it time to finally admit defeat and say that fashion has gone too far?

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I’ve obsessed over many things in my life; from He-Man Figures and Panini stickers to soul music and the wallpaper in the dining room. The thrill of the hunt, the adrenaline fuelled tingle of the journey has always been at the heart of my fixation.  My obsession with clothes has been a bit different.  More addictive than the search for rare clobber is the constant battle for recognition that comes after assembling the perfect look.  I’ve been feverishly driven by that continuing enthusiasm for switching up my style in a bid towards maybe one day getting one of the young lads at Number Six to stare longingly at my Engineered Garments Storm Parka - if he didn’t already have it in a better colour.

That thirst for recognition from the ‘top boys’ has gone unquenched for nigh on 20 years and whilst it feels ludicrous to admit it, I’ll hold my hands up to turning up at gigs, going to the match or sitting in pubs just to snatch a view of those increasingly outnumbered ‘looks’ that are just intrinsically right.  I take solace in the fact that all the well attired youth movements of the last sixty years have lived by the notion of approval from your peers as the holy grail of dressing up.  Maybe, there’s a certain pocket of my generation that still holds this ideal dear.

This constant quest to ‘nail it’ has unsurprisingly followed me into my thirties and finally, despite many years of self-confessed apparel under-performance, the internet age has allowed me to claw back a few places in the style queue, to the point where my wardrobe has now prepared me for the majority of clothing showdowns. If only I had enough money left to leave the house I’d be getting amongst it.  But it’s not just the fact I’m eternally skint, or married with kids or pretending to have a proper job that’s holding me back.  You see, just as I gather enough garb to make an impression, it appears the game might just be up!

I take solace in the fact that all the well attired youth movements of the last sixty years have lived by the notion of approval from your peers as the holy grail of dressing up

Increasingly in the last few months, I've started to question the validity of my on-going battle for approval. I'm not entirely sure the fight is still worth fighting. There might just be no-one left to impress. It appears, in a bid to stay ahead of the curve, some of our style figureheads - those effortless purveyors of the inapproachably correct, those aficionados of suss who turn up at the right gigs or work in the right shops or stand outside the match - have started to tread the unforgivable line between, dare I say it...fashion and fancy dress!  There, I said it…

I’m not quite sure who I blame.  The obsession with utilitarian clobber hasn’t helped.  It seems, dressing for a half century old job you don’t actually have has never felt so good!  The industry’s desire to sell us authenticity to its most exact specification – whether it be the eyelet used on the boot Scott wore on his way to the cab office or the rope Napoleon used to tie up his barge – the need to capture every living organism of a piece of clothing to the exact minutiae of its original incarnation seems to have created hordes of heritage obsessed, bearded men who don’t just look ’a bit nautical’ they actually look like real pre-war fishermen, like reeling in cod is their proper job!  These are men of the sea from head to toe ; kipper stains on their waders, jumpers that chafe like ropes, beenie hats pulled over their quiffs and their faces weathered by the speed of their fixed wheel bicycles. East London is packed with them.

There is a shop in Shoreditch that has seen a fair amount of my clothing allowance over the past two years.  A fella who works in there has a thick black beard, lacquered parting and round horn rim glasses.  He seems to have grown himself a massive round, hard belly that he never had when he worked in Covent Garden and he wears impossibly itchy turtle necks in June.  He hasn’t just got 'a bit of Hemingway going on’, he honestly dresses as though he’s just written a novel on bullfighting whilst drinking bourbon from a high ball tumbler on a 1930's type writer.  He’s a bit ‘sore’ that there’s no more size 9s in those knitted, vintage house slippers.

I wouldn’t mind but I’m sure some of these lads used to watch international football, listen to Shed Seven and wear Ralph Lauren Polo shirts.  I just don’t get it.  I get heritage style.  I get why Ivy League is hip.  I understand why you’d want to pinch a bit from Beatnik or why hippies deserve a re-appraisal but I don’t get ‘fashion as fancy dress’.  Especially from the lads that used to know better.

How far into heritage obsession do you have to head before this actually happens?  Maybe, it’s a subtle transformation that happens over time, a bit like the cannabis user’s transcendence into smack.  Bored of wearing the odd Post Overalls work shirt, next thing you know you’re top to toe Spitfire Pilot and you’re writing letters to your wife from the trenches.

Surely, if you’re showing signs of treading this path (i.e. spending more money on ‘tache wax than you are on bread)  it’s got to be worth applying that age old leveller that brings you instantly back down to earth.  The reality check I’ve applied on a number of occasions before a rash clothing purchase.  What would your mates from school say?

There was a lad in our class who used to ask "What the fuck have you come as?" when you turned up in a new pair of trousers or your shoes veered from the standard issue black Clark's lace ups favoured by the masses.  It was a phrase delivered sharp and dry and it poured instant ridicule on the recipient.  Never has this phrase been more apt than in the heart of the 'cutting edge' East End of London.

Apparently, if you’re not looking exactly like a Nordic hill farmer from the 1970’s or a student of Princeton from the Class of ‘59 then you’re not quite getting it right

I think somebody, somewhere got their reference points mixed up.  I suspect Nigel Cabourn and Men’s File have got a lot to answer for and it seems Oi Polloi’s Deck Out - whilst priceless inspiration to many if used sensibly - can be potentially lethal in the wrong hands!  Apparently, if you’re not looking exactly like a Nordic hill farmer from the 1970’s or a student of Princeton from the Class of ‘59 then you’re not quite getting it right.  Admittedly, the best of men’s style - from teds to mods, punks to casuals - has always been about re-appropriation, but isn't this just silly, wholesale mimicry? I think they call it post-modern.  All of a sudden, as the mad scramble for authenticity ensues, it finally feels alright to be behind.

If dressing up nowadays is about how closely you can replicate the exact get up of Ernest Shackleton’s Whiskey Carrier and knowing winks come from lads dressed as Depression Era Lathe Operators rather than Ace Faces , as my ex-mod Dad would tell me…”You’re best off out of it, son”.

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