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Regular readers of these pages will know that not only do I often like reminiscing about the past (we are Silver Surfers after all!) but reflecting on the many facets of life that we have observed over the years.  I was intrigued recently to hear of one sixth form of a well-known school who had voted to return to uniform wearing right the way through their remaining two years because it was so much easier to wear a standard uniform and not have to think what clothes to wear every day to keep up with the norms of fashion that so often prevail in teenage years (and increasingly in much younger years as well). It also overcomes the feeling that Truro school voiced in their dress rules: “Please note that the general rule is that eccentricities of dress and appearance are not allowed.”

I think men seem to have cracked this idea of uniform clothing much more than women. Go to a formal dinner and there are men all in their black evening wear, white shirts and bow ties while the ladies will be wearing a tremendous ranges of dresses that have no doubt caused hours of angst on how to match the occasion. Yes, there will be some small varieties in the style and expense of dinner jacket for the men, maybe even in variety of shirt and nature or colour of bow tie but overall the varieties tend to be fairly minimal in comparison to what the female of the species will be wearing – and worrying about! (Perhaps ladies you should take note of Audrey Hepburn: “The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries or the way she combs her hair.” Easier said than done!)

Having the right matching kit for playing soccer or rugby is necessary to distinguish teams, wearing a helmet and fireproof clothing is a necessary prerequisite for grand prix racing, as are shorts and tee-shirt for playing tennis, but I also notice standardisation among bowls players and cricketers – although it has been fascinating to watch professional cricketers’ apparel change over the last decade. Professional golfers appear to be freer in their choice of clothing and, although I have never been grouse shooting, the pictures I see rather seem to indicate a rather strict code of dress. (Gunmakers’ Purdey say it well: “It’s important to dress appropriately, not ‘to be seen to be seen’, but rather to make sure you stay warm, dry, and good company throughout.”  I like that not ‘to be seen to be seen’!)

Weddings and funerals create their own rules, I have noticed. The more expensive the wedding the more formal the clothing, at least for those close to the bride and groom. Informality has crept in to lesser weddings, particularly the further away from the bride and groom in relationship you tend to be. Funerals are tricky and often appear to depend on the wishes of the remaining partner to the deceased. Some still see it as a time for deep grief and for formal mourning. Others – particularly those with a belief of an afterlife that their loved one has gone to – often ask for clothing to reflect a measure of celebration to offset their grief, viz. less formal with even some bright colours.

Moving in circles or circumstances that require a modicum of dress rigour, means thought and care. Failure to do this means you can stand out like a sore thumb. Eating in hotels or on cruises reveals an amazing change that has taken place over the last decade or so. Frequenting fairly reasonable hotels, I note there are two groups of people who wear suits and ties or the female equivalents: they are business people or those who have turned up to celebrate an event and want to stand out from the rest of us ordinary people. In recent years I rarely see ties in the hotel restaurant – more so in summer – but instead open shirts and, in summer especially, short sleeves. Cruises are a thing on their own with different cruise companies, varying from those who organise formal evenings to those who encourage informal most of the time. Read the brochure carefully. Those men turning up in even a  suit jacket and open shirt, really do stand out like a sore thumb when the evening has been designated ‘formal’ or ‘black tie’ (a suit with bow tie is just about OK sometimes, but you are still a lesser person than all those uniformed peacocks around you.)  Ladies, please forgive me if I don’t even venture in your direction; cocktail dresses versus evening gowns, I salute you in ignorance. A little black number???? (Apparently fashion designer, artist, and photographer, Karl Lagerfeld said “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.” There you are, a helpful quote!)

Now I don’t know if this has all changed much over the last sixty years, and it is probably only because as a child you are instructed what clothes to put on, but life in the dress arena seems both simpler and more complex depending where you are. I confess I watch people and although at more formal occasions men appear more at ease in their uniform, I wonder if it has always been that ladies seem to convey a question mark, which they try to hide, “Have I managed to hit the right level here tonight?”

It may well be the curse of a changing climate that causes us to have to think about these things, for I notice that in warm climates increasingly, even among the wealthy young, there is an informality in comparison with life back here. The wealthy old still, it seems from my observations, still like to maintain colonial formal dress, but that no doubt changes from climate to climate, country to country and diplomatic level to tourist, as well as formality of occasion! Someone once said, “Summer is the time when one sheds one’s tensions with one’s clothes” and there seems a certain truth in that, that when the heat gets turned up, we care less about what we are wearing.  What a strange lot we are. On one hand we want to stand out above the crowd and on the other hand we want to ensure we absolutely comply with custom. It is a confusing area.  Someone else said, “Dressing well is a form of good manners.” I would suggest it is a sign of having sufficient money to be able to worry about such things!

One area where casual-almost-sloppiness seems to reign across the board is flying. Yes, it is different in business/first class where formality and expense add to the ticket in shouting out, “I am better than you lot in the cattle shed.”  In the big cabin there are not rules about clothing except comfort. Sitting in one seat for anything between five to twelve hours does nothing for your clothing so you don’t wear your best. You have nothing to prove and the effort of traipsing along miles of airport corridors pulling your little two wheels makes you past caring. It is a bit tricky getting on the flight in the winter in London with clothes that have kept out the best of British when you realise that at the other end you will walk down stairs onto tarmac in thirty two degrees thinking, “How soon can I get out of these wretched clothes?” Smart travellers are seen nipping into the aircraft toilets a half an hour before landing, doing a sneaky change into clothing more appropriate to your destination. They are also the ones who amble down the stairs nonchalantly looking totally part of the local scenery and are not sweating profusely by the time they get to the immigration desk. Cool dudes – literally!

Upbringing and no doubt social class also contribute quite a bit, I suspect, to how important dress code is, and that can appear all over the place and at some levels is one of those things that has changed considerably over the years.  For instance, how many older men do I come across in a variety of circumstances where they are the only ones wearing a suit – even doing odd jobs abound the home. Seeing a man doing carpentry in a shirt and tie has often left me feeling disconcerted, or even the man digging his garden in smart clothes.  No, these are times where even tramps would refuse to wear my clothes. It is the time and place to wear out clothes until they are literally falling off me. (Some of these old faithfuls are not going to be discarded despite what my wife says!) Now there’s another whole area for contemplation – the impact or effect of the opinions of ‘the other half’. I’ll conclude with a brief glimpse of honesty. A friend chided me once for not being complimentary to my wife when she came in with some new clothes she was trying on. “Come on,” I reply in defence, “if I don’t tell her the truth when she is wearing something unflattering, however will she know I am being sincere when I say how nice she looks.” You may not agree but I think honesty is the watchword in such times. My wife is sufficiently at ease with my assessments that if she disagrees, she just says, “Tough, I like it, and anyway it’s what everyone is wearing this year,” and what male would be stupid enough to disagree with ‘fashion’?  (Another whole area for consideration!) Let’s try and find some light hearted or thought provoking comments as usual to finish off.

Sweater, n. Garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.”   - Ambrose Bierc

“Never use the word “cheap”. Today everybody can look chic in inexpensive clothes (the rich buy them too). There is good clothing design on every level today. You can be the chicest thing in the world in a T-shirt and jeans — it’s up to you.” 
- Karl Lagerfeld

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, 'Do trousers matter?'"
"The mood will pass, sir.”
- P.G. Wodehouse

“When a woman says, ‘I have nothing to wear!  what she really means is, ‘There’s nothing here for who I’m supposed to be today.” 
- Caitlin Moran

Clothes and manners do not make the man; but when he is made, they greatly improve his appearance.  - Arthur Ashe

If most of us are ashamed of shabby clothes and shoddy furniture, let us be more ashamed of shabby ideas and shoddy philosophies.... It would be a sad situation if the wrapper were better than the meat wrapped inside it.  - Albert Einstein

Any man may be in good spirits and good temper when he's well dressed.  There ain't much credit in that.   - Charles Dickens

Dress is at all times a frivolous distinction, and excessive solicitude about it often destroys its own aim.   - Jane Austen