There will be a time, and it will not be long from now, when certain men will see a photo of themselves taken in 2020 and they will stagger backwards as if punched, and they will put a hand to their brow, and they will shake their head in disbelief and they will mutter to themselves, "Ye gods, what was I thinking?"
There ought to be a word for such a shudder of retrospective shame, and I expect the Germans have one, though on reflection "shudder of retrospective shame" will do nicely. And the cause of this shudder will be a suit.
The suit is the suit of today, of 2020, or at least the suit as worn by television presenters and similar lofty personages. Poor mannequins, they probably have little choice in the matter, but if they could only see themselves today as they will see themselves tomorrow they would wonder how they could be such gulls and dupes of fashion.
We men like to think we are immune to fashion. We think of ourselves as sure in our sense of self and independent of the herd. Fashion, we think, is for the flighty female and the weak of will. But we are wrong. We are as flighty as a soaring bird. Either by choice or cowardice we are all prone to fashion.
The suit is archetypal menswear. Look at the sepia photos of the early settlers with their horses and their dusty streets, and every male above the age of 10 is in a suit of sorts. They wore a suit to work and they wore a suit to play and it was the same suit.
A road-mender wore a suit and so did a ploughman. That suit would be a rough and durable thing - loose trousers to protect the legs and the decency, and a jacket of the same coarse material with pockets to carry the things that men found indispensable - cigarettes, a pen-knife, lunch. But it was still a suit.
My grandfather, born in 1895, wore a suit throughout his life. He was at various times a tobacconist, a railwayman, a locksmith and a mender of furniture and he did all these things in a suit. The only time he dropped the suit was for a uniform in World War I. From the age of 12 to the day he died his wardrobe held only socks, underwear, shirts and a suit or two. He had no concept of leisure wear and little concept of leisure.
During the past century or so, however, the suit has shimmied up the social ladder. It has gone from being the uniform of the working man to the uniform of the ostensibly working man. It has become the executive's badge of office.
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And as it's climbed the ladder the suit's been subject to the vagaries of fashion. Look at any photograph of men in the 20th century and the suits will tell you the decade. I got my own first suit in the early 1970s. The lapels ended at the armpit. The bellbottoms hid the shoes. But to me it was just my first suit.
One's first suit is memorable. The rest are as forgettable as executives. I had maybe half a dozen suits over the years. Where are they now? In landfills and photographs. Some of the photos make me wince a little, but none give the shudder of retrospective shame that today's suit will give.
Today's suit might have been designed by a vaudeville comic to suggest idiocy. It's two sizes too small. It is worn tight to the leg and high on the ankle. The wearer seems to be in clown shoes.
The jacket is narrow and tight on the chest. When buttoned at the front it causes the back flap to jut out like a letterbox on all but the skinniest frames. On thin young men the effect is odd. On anyone else it's a joke. And yet it is the fashion and newsreaders dutifully squeeze themselves into it.
Quite what spins the hamster wheel of fashion I can't tell you. Is it the constant human lust for novelty? Is it the desire simply to reject what's gone before? Or are there some manipulative bastards in Milan, Manhattan and Shanghai deciding in advance what we are going to dupe ourselves into liking and buying in the year to come?
If so, you have to be as impressed by their persuasiveness as you are unimpressed by our persuadability.