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Fashion notes for writers: Elbow patches and bag ladies.

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Michael Blackburn
  • Fashion notes for writers: Elbow patches and bag ladies.

MOST WRITERS I know are not noted for their fashion sense. At best they tend to be dourly but comfortably unnoticeable. In my view not having anyone notice what you’re wearing is a good thing because it means that you look neither ridiculous nor overly eager to be űber stylish.

I have to say that the worst dressers can be found in the ranks of female poets. Where male poets may specialise in stubbly faces, frayed jumpers with holes in them and trousers that are too short, the worst of the women just look like bag ladies. I have my wife to back me up on this one, just in case anyone wants to accuse me of sexism: she’s a snappy dresser herself and knows a badly-accoutred poetess when she sees one.

A number of them I’ve encountered have sported multicoloured, multi-mismatching clothes, headgear and footwear (and, indeed, bag accessories) that would not have looked out of place on someone who had dressed themselves from the contents of a skip outside a burnt-out theatrical costumier’s. The multicoloured theme is particularly important, because I assume it makes a statement: “I may be poor and a bit odd but I’m a profoundly creative and free-spirited individual!” Unfortunately it’s only the poor and odd bit of the statement that comes across.

AS A BAD dresser myself I suppose I shouldn’t be critical, but at least I’ve always known my own failings. That’s why I eventually decided to apply the minimal approach: no bright items, nothing “creative”, nothing too fashionable, everything plain. I would be a poet in mufti, as it were, moving among the populace without advertising my true status as an unacknowledged legislator of the human spirit. That’s why it came down to dark suits with plain shirts, black socks and black shoes. My inspiration is the character played by Jeff Goldblum in the remake of The Fly: his wardrobe is full of the same set of items repeated a dozen times. This makes life easier by reducing choice, and choice in clothing is a minefield for the sartorially-challenged.

However, this concern for fashion matters was provoked by a feature in today’s paper, rather than a lifetime’s obsession. A Mr Edwards discusses how to dress in order to be taken seriously as a writer (now you see why I was interested). I’ll take it as a given that Mr Edwards, despite the fact that he seems to have worked in television, does not dress in his everyday life like the male model illustrating his article. That is, I do not think Mr Edwards normally dresses like an utter ponce, for ponce is what the model looks like. He certainly doesn’t look like any writer I know, not even a poncey one; not even the pretentious type who calls himself a writer but hasn’t had anything published and yet claims he has half a dozen novels and film scripts ready to go. In fact, the closer I read the article the more I suspect Mr Edwards is either not real or has never seen the items he mentions. He describes himself as wearing glasses, for example, yet his mugshot shows him plainly unbespectacled. Perhaps he was without lenses when he inspected the atrocities being advertised. That would explain a lot.

Anyway, what amused me about the examples featured in his article was a “blazer”. It’s a disgusting object, even I can see that. It’s tweed, double-breasted, is an unpleasant colour and has pocket flaps. I think most of those preclude it being a blazer, but never mind. The greatest sin, though, is the elbow patches. These are excellent real-chap things when fulfilling their original purpose, ie covering up holes in the elbows worn by years of leaning on tables, desks and bars. As fashion items – and they have recently made a comeback as such – they are the height of inauthenticity and pretentiousness. Especially when they’re slapped on a revolting jacket priced at £175. For that money I’d expect to have all of my clothing requirements sorted for a couple of years at least. It’s surely an irony, too, that the company making this monstrosity has the word “common” in its name.

When it comes down to the fashion stakes it’s clear that only those involved in the theatrical and visual arts should try to be stylish. Painters and conceptual artists have their own specific codes, especially eyewear, while actors have almost total rights to the artfully-draped scarf. Writers just don’t cut it. Best for blokes to stick with suits, jackets, shirts and even ties. It was good enough for true revolutionaries such as William Burroughs and Dylan Thomas (even if most of his clothes were stolen from someone else) so it should be good enough for today’s Milquetoasts. As for the women you can wear a tricorne hat like Marianne Moore if you’re going to a publisher’s party but that’s about it. Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath never dressed like bag ladies, so neither should you.

Michael Blackburn.

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