For some time now, my son’s clothes have looked better than my own, and I’m starting to resent it. We deliberately keep him nicely, if cheaply, dressed, but I hadn’t anticipated him having so many outfits I’d happily wear myself if they came in my size. (I’ve asked and they don’t.)
Not that they’d even have the same effect if they did. When I wear high-top trainers and skinny jeans, the philistines in Hackney’s parks barely notice. When my son does it, they clutch their faces like he’s Jean Paul Gaultier, scandalising Milan with another of his audacious creations, albeit while falling off a swing. His oilskin jacket, covered in tiny little dinosaur icons, stops traffic. Stick him in a woolly orange overcoat (with fox ears on the hood) and planes fall from the sky.
I had no such luck at his age. Having eight older siblings, I was dressed in whatever was lying around, rinsing the last thread from outfits bought 10 or 15 years previously, and which hadn’t been particularly fashionable at the time. Many’s the sports day I cut a dashing figure among my classmates, they decked in the mundane, predictable kits of that year’s premier league, me wearing a Celtic top dating from the Napoleonic wars.
Part of this was frugality on my father’s part, since clothing 11 growing children demanded a little penny-pinching. But he was also born in midcentury Ireland, where thinking too much about clothing simply wasn’t done. Like all new-born boys, he was only a few seconds old when he was swaddled in a white shirt, tiny suit trousers, grey socks and sensible shoes. After a brief exam, the doctor cut the umbilical cord, shook his hand, and welcomed him into the civil service.
He has never worn anything else since. I don’t believe he has ever worn jeans. There is one surviving photograph of him wearing shorts, on a beach somewhere, but I get the sense he would rather it was never mentioned.
I’m speaking for myself, of course. My wife is usually immaculate, favouring the streamlined fits of Nordic brands that make her look simultaneously classy and clinical, like a pharmacist on The Jetsons. I, on the other hand, find that making an effort seems more and more pointless as I get older.
My options for going out were dwindling even before the entire world shut down, and successive lockdowns have made me realise how much of my own fashion sense was tied to a need for other people to actually see the clothes I was wearing. I don’t feel like spending good hard cash on new clobber in the hope that someone on Zoom might tell me my pixellated paisley looks fantastic. Maybe I’ll feel different when the world opens back up again, but until then I’ll let my son take the compliments for me. If you see me by the swings with a 3ft-tall fashionista, feel free to gush over his fox-eared garms and snazzy kicks. Just don’t be afraid to compliment mine, too.