What not to have to wear

Written by Total Politics has a free weekly Friday email bulletin. Follow this link to register. on 30 January 2012 in Diary
Why do we impose uniforms on ourselves? Tom Greeves reckons a more relaxed dress code for politicians, for instance, would help the Commons feel more representative

What do you call someone who cares what other people wear? Answer at the end of the article; in the meantime, farewell to another two hours of my life. Now that I’m 36, time feels more precious than ever, so I get increasingly panicked and cross when I have to spend it on activities that I deem wholly unnecessary. Today I am veritably seething, having failed to buy a suit.

First of all, here’s the mea culpa: I shouldn’t be as big in certain areas as I am and I would feel a bit differently if, like my friend James, I could slip into an off-the-peg chain-store suit and look as though I were wearing something tailored for me on Savile Row. As a younger, trimmer man I filled a suit quite well and would enjoy getting dolled up for special occasions. If you form the view that the rant that follows is misdirected self-loathing you’ll have a point - but you won’t have the whole picture.

I’ve always resented being told what to wear. I was forever being made to tuck my shirt in at school. It’s never felt like a natural or comfortable thing to do, though of course it feels even less comfortable now that I’m no longer fifteen stone of solid muscle. You could always tell a crap, uninspiring teacher from the way they obsessed over uniform rules. Anyone who thinks that there is a causal connection between schools being good and schools having a uniform is a moron. It’s a coincidence, trust me.

Jackets are a major pain as well. I’m not a northerner, but I am at one with the Geordie folk in their day-to-day refusal to wear coats. A coat is required only if one finds oneself whitewater rafting or in Arctic conditions. In all other circumstances it is indefensibly effete not to go out in your shirtsleeves. In the summer it is a hideous, rivers-of-sweat-inducing sensation.

As for ties... Oh, where do I begin? I would gladly do lethal violence to the man who invented them. Naturally I would murder him via the medium of hanging, as a neat punishment for causing so many men to endure the indignity and genuine danger of constricted blood-flow.

During the prison sentence that I would first make this awful, awful man serve, I would have him share a cell with someone who thinks that novelty ties are hilarious. I would also infect him with a series of appalling diseases as a special thank you for creating a piece of clothing that is notoriously unhygienic. (They are so unhygienic that many doctors won’t wear them; oddly this has not led medical professionals to start botching operations or molesting their patients.)

The notion that sober occasions require a man to wear a tie is preposterous. Putting a piece of silk around your throat is dandyish at best and deviant and dangerous at worst. Ties serve no essential sartorial function at all. Yet even in this day and age a great many of us are compelled to wear them, to tuck our shirts into our trousers and to don a jacket.

It is particularly outrageous that, as Graham Allen found out in 2009, MPs are expected to wear a tie in the Chamber of the House of Commons. If an MP’s constituents don’t like the way their member dresses they can always vote them out. (Interestingly, Allen was re-elected in 2010.) If they want to elect a hippie, that surely should be a matter for them too. I was struck, pleasantly, when I first went to watch court proceedings as a youngster. There was something comforting in seeing a man in a t-shirt on the jury – that felt truly representative. I rather think the House of Commons would be the better for it too.

So, what do you call someone who cares what other people wear? Answer: A fetishist. Live and let live, that’s what I say. I am pleased for women that they can get away with a lot more when it comes to business dress and I’m afraid I don’t buy the argument that such choice is oppressive – you can always stick to a self-imposed uniform if you want to. And guys, if you rock a suit by all means wear one. If you disagree with me and think it’s the only way you can look smart or feel up for a day in the office, that’s your look-out. But I’m off to get measured up for some Bernie Grant-style robes. Now there’s a man who had style.  

Tags: Dress code, Graham Allen, House of Commons, Suits

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