I don't know how to dress.
Although a few weeks ago I was at an awards ceremony, a black tie function, and was told I looked like Michael Caine. Taking that to mean 'Michael Caine circa The Ipcress File' it was the absolute pinnacle of compliments. That proud day had come when the things I took from my wardrobe and draped on my naked self fit. They fit me and they fit what I wanted to say.
But the rest of the time I'm not so sure.
As a child it was all pretty straight forward. I wore what was picked out for me. It'd be something sporty in a very generic way. Some sort of sweater, more often Americana than anything homegrown - so there'd be some sort of baseball theme, or the football with the pads and helmets. There'd be a big number, or some meaningless combination of words like 'Pro' 'League' 'Champion' 'USA'. Marks and Spencer, or Debenhams...maybe BHS too. There were one or two items that were genuine merchandise - Wimbledon tennis gear, the old Crown Paints Liverpool kit - which, to be honest, were just as meaningless to me as something that said 'Stateside League Winners 88' on it. I did have a New York Giants sweatshirt. I remember I was fond of that. There was a baseball one too. I wore that, and my new Nike Air Jordans, on a date with Vicky Crowther.
That’s not Vicky Crowther, by the way. And in case you aren't familiar with me, I'm the one stood behind James Earl Jones.
If it wasn't sport, it was something hi-tech. A diagnostic of a sports car or jet plane. Maybe something with Batman on it from the Warner Brothers store. All these clothes had to do was identify me as a boy. They did that pretty well.
When I was old enough to start looking for an identity Grunge happened and Grunge was the easiest uniform ever. Obviously I didn't chose the scene for the clothes. I like to think grunge chose me. It spoke to me with its riffs and misery. The only other big trend in suburban Bromley was sported by the ravers. Branded jackets and record bags. YSL and Ben Sherman shirts. Everything had to look new, expensive. It had to look like it required effort.
Cue a few years of me in lumberjack shirts, striped T-shirts, black jeans with ripped knees. A big-ass German Army coat, with the names of bands painted on the back with Games Workshop acrylics: Alice in Chains. Faith No More, Guns n' Roses...and for some reason Hole. I think they were there just because knew how to do their logo. I'd been into Metal just before Grunge took off, so I had plenty of black t-shirts. The scenes kinda blended together. My Appetite for Destruction T-shirt with a chequered flannel shirt over the top. My hair was long, but not at the back - rock style - it was at the front, the type of deliberately shit look my SubPop antiheroes went to work in.
I became quite adept at finding the vintage in amongst the second hand. Hometown Orpington was a treasure trove of Charity Shops. My musical tastes started to broaden. Weezer were a bridge from the heavy to something that started to match my adolescence. Awkward, goofy, but with a sense of humour...the look evolved. I'd find weird old slogan T-shirts. Restaurant T-shirts. The type of company-logo tee that Camden market is thick with. I'd raid my dad's wardrobe for striped short-sleeved shirts. I switched from jeans to chinos and slacks. My clique took on a distinct look. My good friend Lorna has looked back at photos of us from then and said we all dressed like old men. We did. It was very deliberate. We started to take note of labels - but it was names like Farrah we wanted. I was listening to Check your Head and I had these eccentric, all-American threads to go with it. I mean, I was still a loser, but I was embracing it.
Towards the end of my teenage years I shifted again. That Preppy-look was being taken over by the high-streets. Skater fashion was making new versions of all the old stuff we loved. It was okay. My clique had become less cliquey. Some of us where embracing Hip Hop, some of us were shoe-gazey and me...well I was going a bit Rockabilly. It was really only the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, with a bit of The Reverend Horton Heat and a healthy slice of The Supersuckers. The look really should have been something skinny and New York, but the best I could do was Hawaiian Shirts, a quiffy hairdo and a beat-up Leather Jacket. It was kinda scuzzy, kinda sleazy. I liked it. I felt distinctive.
After that it becomes a bit of a blur. The Dark Ages. Halfway through my University I'd shaved all my hair off and I wore a Nine Inch Nails hoodie all the time. I didn't want to look good. I didn't really want to be out of bed. Black Dog dictated how it all came together. In the years that followed I really didn't give a shit. I was fat, my beard had gotten out of control, my hair grew back and I dyed it black and let it get messy. I dressed 'Like the Unabomber'. I was like a tramp Dave Johnson.
I'm not sure when I started to emerge from all that. There was a big upheaval in my life and by then I'm in my late twenties. There's no clique. I can be whoever I want to be...
Which leads me into this predicament. What do I look like?
I'm a big ham. I am. Big on melodrama. And I like dressing up. I went to gigs after school in fur coats and my hair in bunches. I liked going out at University in a dress. Liked facepaint at Halloween. I like that clothes can give me character.
So sometimes it's smart. I like wearing a shirt and tie. I like black V-Neck jumpers, cardigans. Lorna calls it my Mark Ronson look. David says I look like a gay civil servant from the 1950s. That's great. I'm happy with that. I look good. It seems to fit with being thirty. When it's cold, I dress like this, layered and smart. When it's wet, I grab my brolly and my greatcoat and I'm in character. It fits with my love of that Cold War era. Fleming paperbacks. John Barry. Saul Bass. The spartan apartment I live in...the pseudo sixties effect I want for my life. classic GQ, Esquire, Playboy. The jet-set bachelor. Well, ideally...
But then it gets hot. And I don't just like cocktails and Francoise Hardy. I like AC/DC and cheeseburgers. So the retro T-shirts come back. My faded jeans go on. I wear my aviators. I've got some natty cowboy shirts. It's all a bit 1970s Southern rock. It's not From Russia with Love.
But can I get away with it, at my age? I'm still wearing t-shirts I bought at 16. I wear band t-shirts still. (medium, not large). But in all fairness a lot of band tees are great designs. Is that enough? Does that let me go to work proudly declaring my love of Clutch?
And Jackets. I never know what to go for with jackets. Sometimes I'm happy in my tracksuit top. Sometimes I don't like that. I'll put on a suit jacket. Some days I get to work and feel dapper. Some days I get to work and I feel like Richard Hammond.
And then who is that. Spy-loving, Led Zep- living? Today I'm in my white cowboy shirt, and slim-fit black jeans, black corduroy . Yesterday I was in an NYPD Tee and a woolly cardigan. But then I guess yesterday I listened to Ennio Morricone. Today it's Deerhunter. I watched Pineapple Express, then I watched No Country for Old Men. I'm reading Peter Hoeg and Ultimate Spider-Man. In my front room I've got a travel poster up for the Cote D'Azure and another for Scott Pilgrim. I'm not saying I'm some wild eclectic, but what's tying all that together? Somedays I want to look like Steve McQueen. Other days I want to look like Jonny Knoxville.
See the thing is, I don't really like it when you see people dedicated to the one thing. Mods, only wearing the select few brands. I like the look: I like Penguin Originals. Harrington jackets. But the idea of only ever wearing Fred Perry, making sure your hair is fixed a certain way, listening to such a narrow spectrum of music...it seems boring. Wake up and it's the Small Faces. Again. As much as I loved my little brand of Rockabilly...when you see girls who only ever do that burlesque-look, the eyebrows painted on, the niche tattoos...it just seems odd. A fanaticism almost. I have tattoos, which will permanently brand me a certain type of person, I guess, but hopefully not just the one type of subculture. I still have the freedom to be more than one thing, I hope.
So is that a lack of definition? Have I blended into a big mess? Or is it good that I have this flexibility, and so long as a dress well I can dress however I want to? All that tribal identity some of us crave as a teen, whether we knew it at the time or not, it's not really identity. Maybe now I've found my identity. That's the bit about being an adult that's actually a victory over youth, yeah?
Maybe I should be more worried about how I act, than how I look. Not much point being a sartorially elegant drifter...although the movie poster would be good.
For someone who claims to be so down on himself all the time, I sure am one narcissistic motherfucker.