The Indo asked me to write a bit on men’s fashions, so – after a breakfast pint in the wonderful Welcome Inn and on a bus ride to Walsh Distillery in Carlow, I wrote this:
The sight of Bono dining out with the Obamas this week raised some profound questions for the Irish man. Obama was in full style mode, ditching his brown leather bomber jacket and mom jeans in favour of a smart black suit and crisp, open-necked white shirt, offset by his 50 shades of grey hair. Bono, who clearly got a load of All Saints vouchers for Christmas, looked like Bono. But it did make you think – how stylish are Irish men? Back in the Nineties, Paul Costelloe made the shock announcement that Irish women didn’t have style. We were horrified. Apparently A-line skirts and twin sets were not the most fashion forward items one could wear, and there was horror around the country as Irish mammies realised that Paul wasn’t their fashion messiah, but rather a very naughty boy. Things did improve after that, with a steady transformation from ICA chic to MILF (Mammy I’d Like To Fornicate). But their male counterpart has stalled in his fashion evolution. The younger generation has taken a giant leap forward in the fashion stakes, being born in an era with the confidence to wear espadrilles to a ploughing championship, but for many Irish men, we are still making some basic errors. Let’s start from the ground up.
Shoes: In much the same way that sports clothes are really for sports, trainers, as the name suggests, are for training. Despite this we have expanded the concept of exercise to include sitting at our desk in work for eight hours a day, going to the pub, and fine dining on date night.
The average Irish man’s idea of dress shoes are some sort of chunky boot, as you never know when you might need to dig a ditch or cross several miles of rough terrain on foot, even though you are an accountant at a breakfast briefing in a four-star hotel. Our problem with shoes sums up the entire dilemma – not knowing how dressy is too dressy, or what dressy actually is. Do we dress like a slick tech billionaire, like Obama did, or do we just show up to events dressed like a gothic trawlerman, like Bono did? For most of us, the latter is the safer option. You don’t want that most dreaded of reactions – ‘who does yer man think he is?’ Thus you think those Rockports from 2003 are just the ticket for your wedding day, which is why you are still single.
Jeans: Even Obama, America’s Coolest President, makes mistakes in the jean department, having been photographed several times in his mom jeans – high-waisted, shapeless, saggy mom jeans. Irish men would never make such a mistake, wearing as they do a pair of bootcut jeans in the style of 1996. Bootcut jeans, with their slight flare at the end, are a great idea in a country that is 90% puddle. This enables your knees to keep hydrated as the water seeps halfway up your leg. They come in a variety of options, from dark denim – ideal for the afters of a wedding or the funeral of someone you didn’t really like – to the classic stonewashed, which makes you look like a vacationing Russian oligarch (you hope). Most important is that you wear them one size too small, so the world knows that you’ve still got it. ‘It’ being ‘a large arse’.
Belts: You’ve had the same one since birth, and see nothing wrong with the fact the buckle is a confederate flag. So two reasons for you you to not tuck in your shirt.
Shirts: A shiny Ben Sherman shirt is a handy way of telling the world that you are past your prime. Nothing says ‘larging it in 1999’ like a well-washed shirt with flaccid collars, open to the sternum. You call it your lucky shirt, because every time you wore it out you somehow got home safely. You think it makes you look a bit like Gary Lineker, but with its bright colours and your large gut, it really makes you look more like a spinnaker.
Polo shirts: Polo shirts look great on mods, and make everyone else look like a creatine-riddled rugby fiend, who has to pop their collar to show where their neck used to be and thus makes their massive head look a little bit less like a thumb.
T-shirts: T-shirts are for the under-25s and those with superior physiques. For the rest of us they are like the flashing age alarms in Logan’s Run, highlighting our muscle wastage and the grim passage of time since we bought the T-shirt at the Something Happens Irish Tour (it spells a swear word!) in 1991. Something did happen – we got old.
Suits: There is a vast chasm between what the Irish male considers ‘well-dressed’ and ‘actually putting on a suit’. Most of us still suffer from PCSD, or Post Confirmation Suit Disorder, where we will do anything possible to avoid putting on a suit. Heightening this is the modern trend of the fitted suit. Most suits we own are fitted, as we bought them ten years ago and wore them twice – to get a wife and a mortgage, in that order. Fitted suits are great for the fey flaneur, wasting away from galloping consumption as they exist on a diet of free jazz and Proust. The husky Irish male was not born with skinny genes, so when Daniel Craig dons his shiny, tiny suits which look like 007 accidentally washed them at 700 degrees, we are under pressure to try and shoehorn ourselves into a glistening cocoon of polyester. Try to stick with classic fit, which along with classic rock, classic cars and golf classics are all signs that you will soon be dead, and nobody wants to be buried in a suit that makes them look like a black pudding that got stepped on.
Hats: These are varying degrees of ‘no’.
The trad cap: You will either look like a Healy Rae, never taking off the cap even as they battle hordes of Triffid-like rhododendrons, or you will look like a tourist, and thus get overcharged for taxis and pints, which, frankly, is more than you deserve.
The stylish hat: You think you look ‘fedorable’ but instead you look like someone who talks during movies and doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.
The baseball cap: You look like Larry Murphy.
Hopefully trailblazers like Paul Galvin – who show that it is possible to be both brutally Irish and fabulously stylish – will inspire us all to make the grumbling move from pints of porter to pret a porter.