It wasn’t said with any hint of arrogance, rather just a simple statement of fact. That’s just the way he starts his day.
It got me thinking about my own approach to dressing and a number of comments I had received from complete strangers recently, on the train, on the street in London, Manchester and my home town, in cafes or restaurants, complimenting me on my attire for the day.
I don’t dress to intentionally impress other people, rather I do it for the pleasure it gives me. In a world seemingly full of endless drama and crisis and where more and more of our lives are ‘controlled,’ just selecting a pocketsquare to complement a tie or a shirt to pick out a thread of colour in a jacket is a small, quiet but satisfying act of individuality and personal choice.
In the words of my friend, I hadn’t got dressed up, I had just got dressed.
So why did these men and women – and the compliments came equally – feel the need to pass their very kind comments to someone they didn’t know and probably wouldn’t see again?
Is it that the ubiquity of jeans, trainers and ‘t’ shirts is creating, among some onlookers at least, an appreciation of a ‘different’ and more ‘put together’ look. If what I chose to wear on a given day gives someone else pleasure, then I have to confess it also gives me an inner frism of satisfaction. It would be churlish to deny that. If someone gives you a compliment, then the least you can do is acknowledge and enjoy it. And I readily admit that I, too, will compliment someone I see whose outfit makes an impression on me, man or woman.
There is no doubt we live in a less formal world in so many aspects of life and in many ways this is a good thing. Work life is certainly less structured than it used to be with the advent of the WFH ( working from home) culture and that has undoubtedly influenced dress codes as the line between ‘work’ and ‘home’ have blurred, not always in a positive way.
My own ‘style’ tends to veer towards the classic but with a contemporary twist in terms of cut, cloth, fit and colour. I like a good suit, either single or double-breasted, ties, knitted and silk as well as distinctive blazers in wool or linen, dependent on the season. I have a weakness for slim-cut, high rise, Gurkha style trousers that I think give a refined, clean line and finished off with good quality leather shoes. In Autumn and Winter, roll neck sweaters and enveloping overcoats provide a cocoon of warmth and style.
The death of the suit has been often and erroneously predicted. The reason it is still with us is that it’s the single most flattering item of clothing available and one that is endlessly adaptable to changing tastes and styles. Two of the most notable performances at Glastonbury this year were from the singer Rick Astley who showcased an array of contemporary suits in a bold palette of colours and the actress Cate Blanchett who wore a striking, vibrant-yellow trouser suit to recreate on stage the video she had filmed with the band Sparks for their new single. Both drew admiring comments.
And, of course there is some lovely and stylish casual wear available and it can look equally smart and elegant yet more relaxed. I was in the South of France recently and really enjoyed wearing a pair of off-white trousers, a merino polo shirt and suede loafers without socks. My personal opinion is that going ‘sockless’ in combination with shirt, tie and suit just looks wrong and unbalanced but is absolutely fine with loafers or casual footwear such as espadrilles.
I have a lifelong fascination for the psychology of clothing, how it affects the wearer and those with whom he comes into contact. Dressing well gives me an inner confidence in a business setting and, I believe, communicates to my audience that I take them and the conversation seriously. And that’s just good manners!
A personal bugbear of mine, often when sitting in a restaurant, is seeing couples where the woman has dressed with evident care and style whilst their husband/partner/boyfriend is in jeans, ‘t’ shirt and trainers.
As that staple of the traditional British ‘summer season,’ Wimbledon has seen the rise of a new, young champion, it seems appropriate to give the final comment to a former winner of the trophy, the late, great Arthur Ashe, a man as eloquent and elegant off court as he was on. He said:-
‘Clothes and manners do not make the man; but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.’
Hard to argue with that.
By Peter Davenport
Aka The Dapper Consultant