A.A. Gill, feared food and TV critic, sometime advisor on many of life’s other vexing questions in UK Esquire and all round clever-clogs passed away in December 2016 at the too-young age of 62. As brilliant a writer as he was on any number of subjects for The Sunday Times, GQ and others, his caustic observations on men’s style set him apart in a tepid sea of breathless fashionistas (he would’ve hated the term) bent on slavishly following the latest trend. As Esquire’s resident Uncle Dysfunctional he had this to say when asked by a young upstart why anyone today should care about different clothes for different occasions, and it is as good advice as you’re ever likely to find. Unable to link to the article or sufficiently talented enough to disguise his writing and pass it off as my own, I have reproduced it here. I think he pretty much nails it.
There are a very limited number of potential occasions where you should have the appropriate clothes:
• Obviously, you need a black tie: every man at some point in his life will have to wear a black tie, and when choosing a suit, think, “Could my father or grandfather wear this?” And if the answer is no, then you shouldn’t either: black tie should be ageless. And learn to tie a bow – it’s not difficult and there’s no excuse for either a clip-on or the hideous Hollywood straight tie. You do, though, need a straight black tie for funerals. Everyone has to go to a funeral at some time and you need to be dark and sombre, and in a black tie. Wearing a football scarf because he’d have appreciated it, or a Hawaiian shirt because he loved a laugh is not the point. Funerals are about respect for the bereaved, not a punch line for the dead.
• You need something smart that isn’t a suit. That probably means a blazer, the most versatile piece of clothing ever invented.
• And you need a white shirt – not expensive, not fancy, just ironed. A white shirt is the ultimate dress, the most seductive thing a man can wear. It’s our equivalent of high heels and stockings. Every message a white shirt gives out is positive. It’s unflashy but romantic.
• Advice to men about dressing tends to be formal but every man needs to have a good fancy dress. The rules are “wit rather than guffaws”, “amusing is better than hilarious” – laughing with you, not at you. And nothing that’s made out of polyester: you become a sweaty static-magnet. Nothing with a carnival head. And nothing that you couldn’t hail a taxi in at four in the morning.
• And a dressing gown, every man needs a good dressing gown. Not necessarily like Noel Coward but something that doesn’t look like a DNA encyclopaedia or evidence from a crime scene. Nothing above the knee, and nothing with dragons, eagles or Chinese writing on it. Oh, and not plucked from the Bangkok Four Seasons or a health club. It should be attractive enough for a date to wear it the next morning without gagging, laughing or regretting.
• Remember that clothes can never make you something you’re not: they don’t fool anyone but they do let people know who you think you are. Nature gave you your look and there’s only a limited amount you can do about that, but what you wear is the skin you choose for yourself. More importantly than what it tells others, it reminds you of who you can be.