LAST night, I was putting on my black tie,
buttoning-up my white shirt and donning my evening suit with lapels
modelled on the tail-fins of a 1957 Chevrolet convertible.
By the Beau-ness of Brummell and the Wilde-ness of Oscar, who
said, "a well-tied tie is the first serious step in life", I enjoy
dressing-up to mingle in a well-mannered gathering of the fair and the
I not only feel good about wearing the formal black and white
uniform that makes males resemble liquorice allsorts, but I also use the
garb to make a social and moral statement.
It tells the world that I have come of financial age in that I
can afford to buy an evening suit, that I am, by and large,
generally-speaking and as broad as it is long, honest, sober and
trustworthy, and that, despite nature’s niggardliness in apportioning
Adonis-like looks to me, I am making the best of a bad job by aspiring
to sartorial elegance.
In short, I am trying to make the world look pleasanter, and I
wish more would do the same, especially by not discarding the tie.
In these depressing, dressed-down days, ties, well-knotted or
otherwise, are on their last legs although there are still pockets of
resistance to open-necked shirts as displayed in Parliament on American
Then, Kevin Brennan, the Labour MP for Cardiff West, was collared
verbally by Tory back-benchers and the Speaker, Michael Martin, when he
had the neck to ask a question without a tie. Two critics, Eric Forth
(Bromley & Chislehurst) and Michael Fabricant (Lichfield), wore Stars
and Stripes neckwear to demonstrate charmingly their close ties with the
Mine is a tie’d house. In my wardrobe, like battle banners, ties
hang with which I have fought life’s battles, sometimes lost and ran
away and lived to run another day. They form part of the quiet,
sartorial satisfaction I get from presenting a crisply-knotted front to
Recently, when dining at a reputable Edinburgh restaurant and
dressed, in a dark lounge suit that, some say, makes me resemble a
small, elegant, black worsted beetle, I saw couples at nearby tables,
the females radiantly chic, the males, wearing open-necked or T-shirts,
and decrepit jeans of a kind I last saw on washing lines when flying
over Hong Kong.
I have seen the same dress degradation among males in other
dining places - the women predictably making the dress effort; the men
often appearing as if dismissed from tramp steamers’ fo’c’sles for
There is now a dismal uniformity in the casualness of our
increasingly unkempt populace. A sense of occasion and appropriateness
is vanishing. Once, people dressed up to go to the theatre or dine-out,
and thus not only expressed a pride in their appearance, but signalled
that their garb was appropriate to the social significance of the event.
Nowadays, I have seen men in theatres dressed in rugby strips,
torn denims, ill-fitting, open-neck shirts out of which burst hair as if
from badly-stuffed sofas, and women sitting in plastic macs and, by
their feet, a scatter of shopping bags.
The past was a better-dressed country, always with superior width
and quality of time, when the Sabbath summoned worshippers in their
Sunday best dress to cut-on-the-bias sermons and well-tailored prayers
from men of the cloth, when nurses worked in crisp, skirted uniforms,
when many children were proud to wear school uniforms, and some male
teachers in my day wore stiff collars, dark jackets and striped trousers
- some female teachers, I thought, yearned to do the same - and
delivered a sartorial message that life was stern, earnest and you had
to work like galley slaves, to get yourself suited in life.
In line with my austere, sartorial approach, my informal clothing
is modest, but purposeful. I dress tidily to keep out the cold even in
summer - when I tend to wear a thinner weave of tie and a lighter pair
of cuff-links - and blend unobtrusively into the city background.
Thus my colour scheme includes sea-mist greys, industrial browns
with traffic-gridlock-choleric reds. In a Britain swiftly degenerating
into a rag-bag rabble of rancid-anoraks, scruffy T-shirts and jeans I,
with an unerring sense of appropriateness, dress for the great occasion
that is daily life in Edinburgh.
I have, as readers would expect, the gift of the garb.