The Style Column: Anarchy & the Unexpected – December 2013
When I was 17, I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean and discovered Johnny Depp. As a child and teenager I didn’t watch too much television, especially not American TV. For me American TV meant Friends – and Friends was the most awful thing I’d ever seen. So I don’t think I’d ever knowingly watched a film or TV show with Johnny Depp in it. Films, like TV, were not my thing; music was. From as young as I can remember, I’d always been thrilled by the Rolling Stones. To see on screen this anarchic, larger than life character soaked in the spirit of Keith Richards, I was hooked. I poured over all the photos and magazines I could get hold of with him in; I remember a particular article in Vanity Fair where he saunters into the lobby of a posh London hotel dressed in his hobo get up, and the well-heeled crowd are oblivious – I just thought that was so cool, to be in that environment and to have no care for tradition or propriety.
I already had leanings towards the outré and the confrontational; I wanted people to think me different, difficult or interesting. To see that Johnny Depp was already doing what I was – and had been for years – I felt there was a kindred spirit out there. It spurred me on.
For two years at school I spent my art classes deconstructing and vandalising my clothes (much to the annoyance of my mother who thought I was ruining everything I wore and my teachers who were frustrated that I’d fallen from A* to F in a matter of months). Acrylic and oil paint, scissors and sandpaper were my weapons of choice. Pockets were removed (some found themselves sown on in more obscure places), holes were cut and distressed, hems and seams mutilated, collars & belt loops discarded, then jeans and jackets were daubed with paint and graffitied. I’d start with impressionistic smears and scrapes, and move on to Pollockian spots and drizzles. I’d add song lyrics or slogans in either paint or marker pen; sometimes I’d add a bit of sparkle and sew on sequins.
I turned my school tie into a belt for a while; I donned suits on a Wednesday and encouraged others to do the same (“Suit Wednesday”). I was also never out of flip flops, even when the weather didn’t permit.
The customised jeans and jackets would then be teamed with suit jackets, smart shirts and when not in flip flops, purple Zara loafers – I moved on from these to pointy black jack boots – some of my all-time favourite foot wear. I’d then paint my nails and accessorise with various rings, bangles, beads, bracelets, necklaces and my mother’s silk scarves. To put this in context, I attended a state school in West Yorkshire where this sort of behaviour was tantamount to social suicide. However to be fair to many of the kids I think they were sometimes so shocked that, albeit grudgingly, they were rather impressed.
It was playful, creative, anarchic and fun – I was finding my style, I was looking for a look, but more than that I was trying to discover who I was and what I stood for. Looking back now – and it was before I knew what the term meant or signified, before I’d listened to The Clash or the Ramones – it was punk rock.
I’ve been thinking about those outfits recently, I feel sad to have lost some of that playfulness and subversion. Perhaps more generally menswear today lacks that spirit; it’s all a bit serious, from the Lord of the TopManor tweeds and brogues, to the young men of Hackney who appear to have become separated from Scott’s Antarctic expedition or have wandered from Hillary’s Everest base camp and found themselves in Victoria Park. It’s all a little anodyne and derivative – it is worth remembering the trinity: rucksacks are for hiking, ganseys for fishermen, and beards are a plain no-no.
What should the new rules be? Mine might be these: be unexpected, be awkward, be original – don’t be too contrived. Ultimately it has to come from within you. It isn’t about dressing up; it’s about being playful and genuine – projecting something of your personality as you go about your day.
Do you want to blend in? Or do you want to be different? A few tips:
1) If you have to go to work in a suit everyday then make sure it’s a good one. If you can’t afford bespoke or made to measure then buy a quality off the peg one from the high street – M & S have some good ones, whilst J Crew’s Ludlow suit range looks superb. Find a good tailor, have it altered with a few nips here and tucks there; a perfectly fitting suit will set you apart from the everyman – it will be unique to you
2) A garish tie does not mean individuality – instead go for a pocket square and keep it ruffled.
3) If you work in an office where a suit is not expected, or where the curse of ‘smart / casual’ still holds then I’d recommend you read points one and two.
4) Hats – a hundred odd years ago men wore hats to blend in, these days they are worn to stand out – if you’re going to go in this direction may I recommend something from Christy’s or Lock and Co. In hat stakes the high street just won’t do, go for a classic style in fur felt.
5) Like hats footwear says a lot about the man, from Johnny Depp’s beat up boots to the Ramones worn-in monochrome Converse. I’d recommend you have both of the above, but if you’re not an A list movie star or punk rocker and you have to be a little smarter on an everyday basis then perhaps a classic English shoe with a bit of flair – I’d go for a double or single monk strap from somewhere of repute (Northampton is where it’s at).
6) For the more daring man may I suggest looking into shawls and pashminas, jewellery, velvet jackets (with jeans and t-shirt), and your own customisations.
To be publsihed in the Geronimo Inns newspaper January 2014