A British woman who thinks that clothes make the man
I don't think this woman is wise. As I am nearing 70, I too am a serious sartorial offender, despite spasms of fashionability in my earlier days. Anne heroically puts up with my largely absent dress sense but her patience does occasionally earn rewards. I bought a new suit (charcoal grey with a faint chalk stripe) to take her to Die Wiener Philharmoniker when it came to Brisbane. And she has other occasional triumphs. Patience and forbearance is needed with us old guys!
Baggy corduroys with worn patches; faded short-sleeve shirts; dingy, threadbare jumpers and exploding trainers. Glance at most older men in the High Street and this is what you will see.
And could these decrepit garments not only make them look past it, but be the real reason why older men fail so spectacularly when it comes to forming new relationships with their female peers?
A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece in the Mail pondering why older men are such emotional cripples — born out of eight years searching for a man after the death of my partner.
Among the many letters in response were a few from older men themselves which particularly piqued my interest. They claimed that the real divide between older men and women is not their emotions, but their attitude to clothing. While older men are comfortable in their decades-old outfits, women, forever fickle and changeable, always have to be buying something new.
And this difference of opinion causes a distance between the sexes. It might sound flippant, but I think these men have a point. My respondents intended this as a criticism of women, of course — yet it says something not too savoury about older men as well and the pitiful way they will go on wearing the same ancient clothes year after year.
For while men view women’s obsession with fashion as vapid, women see men’s sartorial reticence as, at best bad manners and, at worst, unattractive. My ex-husband Neville Hodgkinson, 68, is a case in point. He was once so smartly turned out. Now it’s a very different story.
At a family funeral three years ago, he arrived wearing a suit that looked both strangely familiar and weirdly old-fashioned. Dark blue, boxy and double-breasted, it was too tight and slightly spivvy-looking.
‘How long have you had that?’ I frowned. ‘Don’t you remember, you helped me choose it,’ he said.
We had been divorced for more than 25 years at that point. And his excuse for still wearing it? ‘Well, it was ahead of its time when we bought it,’ he said. It turns out that since our separation, Neville never buys any new clothes if he can possibly help it. Our two sons, Tom, 44, and Will, 42, have tried to shock and bully him into getting himself up-to-date, but to no avail. They now say he is ‘beyond redemption’.
It seems he is typical of the older man who will cling onto clothes bought decades ago, rather than face the ultimate horror of going into a shop and choosing new ones. When I pressed him for his reasons, he said: ‘I hate shopping for clothes almost more than anything else in the world, and it’s nothing to do with money. There has to be an absolute necessity to buy something new before I will even enter a clothes shop.’
Very many of my male friends share Neville’s view. The other day, one of them, also in his late 60s, turned up at my house in a 30-year-old mac that made him look like something out of an episode of Seventies detective series Columbo. When I suggested he might get a new one, he said: ‘But why? This one is still in perfect condition. What’s wrong with it?’
He, too, said that his only suit was one bought in the Eighties. ‘But it is an Ermenegildo Zegna,’ he added proudly, as if that made it all right.
So many men do not seem to realize that even the sharpest Italian suit will eventually go out of fashion. To them, fashion stands still, and it’s a major reason why women — who stay up-to-date with trends — find it so difficult to connect with older men. If they persist in wearing shabby old-fashioned clothes, what does it say about their minds?
For me, and most of my women friends, outdated clothes indicate outdated attitudes and a reluctance to take on board new ideas. All of which is terribly off-putting. Even older celebrities are not immune from looking shabby and scruffy when they are off-duty.
I once met Chris Tarrant, the supersmart host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, at a party... In short, he looked like a tramp
I once met Chris Tarrant, the supersmart host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, at a party. He was in ancient torn jeans, those all-too-familiar dirty exploded trainers and dingy, once-white T-shirt. In short, he looked like a tramp, and we all know he could afford several shops full of new jeans. But he, like so many older men, apparently prefers to hang on to his existing ones.
Yet while today’s older men seem to be getting shabbier and more ill-dressed than ever before, the very opposite is happening with older women, whose fashion sense seems to improve with each decade. One woman friend was informed by her 30-something daughter that she had just reached her fashion peak — aged 67.
A new book of photos, Advanced Style, pictures women in their 80s and 90s looking fantastic and proving that there is no age limit when it comes to flair and style. The author of the book, Ari Seth Cohen, now says he has so many images on his website of women aged 80 and over looking wonderful, he hasn’t room for any more.
There is even a successful fashion label, The Old Ladies’ Rebellion, aimed specifically at the 70-plus woman who wants to look ‘a bit rock ’n’ roll’. Nobody could possibly produce a book of octogenarian men looking fantastic or launch a fashion label aimed at this age group.
In fact, I can think of only one very old man who is well-dressed: the 91-year-old Duke of Edinburgh. He emerged from hospital recently looking totally appropriate in smart-but-casual tweed jacket with jaunty hanky in the pocket, plus shirt and tie.
Any other nonagenarian coming out of hospital would be in a nasty anorak and old sweatshirt. So is there something about Phil being Greek [He is actually German -- a Battenberg] that allows him to look dapper into extreme old age?
Whatever the reason, there is no denying the slump of disappointment when you go on a date with a man wearing an outfit older than your children.