I am pleased September is here. Summer fashions do not suit me. Autumn, I am fine with. I simply don a cravat and throw on the layers – not a problem. I just pile it on. Floral shirts, cardigans, a hat even – all the vintage tat I can find. My autumn look is slightly medieval: a fox thrown over the shoulders with a cloak hanging about my knees. I am Oscar Wilde. I am the ’70s Warren Beatty. My avatar is the Naked Civil Servant as the King in the North. Autumn is easy.
Summer on the other hand is a struggle. I have to pare it all down to shirt and jeans. I cannot wear shorts. There is something sinister about men in shorts. The promise of something unseemly, perhaps a little foreign, colonial even. Shorts just aren’t British. As for the alternatives: chinos are vile, tracksuits are unnerving and black trousers remind me of the office. This leaves me with jeans – always the jeans.
Given I also stick to shirts, and prefer brogues, my summer look is slightly buttoned-up. Every now and then, however, I try to ride the summer trend. And every time, I am left wounded.
There is something sinister about men in shorts.
The last time I attempted this was on my last date. It was a bright Saturday afternoon and I was to meet Laura on the South Bank. As I waited by the skate park I considered how much I loathed the place. Amateur photographers snapped away at the skateboarding youths. If there is one thing London does not need, it is more street photographers.
Laura and I met through Guardian Soulmates. The South Bank was therefore our default venue. I had already flaunted my cultural credentials. My favourite film is ‘McCabe & Mrs Miller’, my favourite album is ‘Blood on the Tracks’. I label myself a box-set fanatic (while insisting that nothing beats The Wire). It seemed I was a typical ‘soul mate’ – only my class set my apart. I am indelibly working-class. And all the HBO shows in the world cannot change that.
We had planned to catch a special showing of ‘La Dolce Vita’ at the BFI. While waiting for Laura, I considered my hero (the star of the film) Marcello Mastroianni and stood scowling in black sunglasses. I pretended not to see her approach.
“You look serious,” she said.
It was our third date and we had developed a certain jokey rapport.
“I am serious.” I flashed a charmless smile.
“Ok, Mister Serious, fancy a drink before the film?”
We headed to the balcony of the Southbank Centre. Down below, bewildered tourists mingled with idle lefties.
“Lovely view,” I said, facing the Thames.
My hidden eyes were actually staring at a couple of women in shorts.
“Yes, I love this place.”
“So do I. The culture…” I scrambled for the words, “…is good.”
“It is good.” Laura closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
I lifted my sunglasses to inspect my wounded feet. I had decided to wear flip flops, for the first time. This, along with my jeans/shirt combo, gave me the look of a sinister music mogul.
“You ok?” She said.
“Yes, it’s just these things are killing me. They’re new.”
I needlessly rubbed my feet. She looked away, her mouth down turned.
“Hey, look over there,” I said.
A man was blowing bubbles through a large hoop. Not impressive, but it was all I had.
I am a debonair man out of time. I am Marcello.
Laura forced a smile. “Cool.”
I removed my sunglasses. Then, aping what seemed to be the modern style, placed them under my chin and hooked them onto my ears. They rested like a plastic chinstrap.
“And look over there,” I said, pointing, “I love that book market.”
Laura glanced over then let out a burst of laughter.
“I’m sorry.” She touched my arm. “Your sunglasses…”
I smiled, and considered placing them on the back of my head. Instead, I pushed them up my forehead, mussing my delicately styled hair.
“Shall we go?” Laura said.
“But you haven’t finished your drink.”
She shrugged, so I downed my beer and we headed to the cinema. I tried to take her hand but she slipped away.
Outside the BFI there was a poster of Marcello Mastroianni smoking a cigarette. He stared into the distance with knowing eyes. My summer look was not fit for London, I thought. It had been a mistake to copy the amateurs. I looked at the great man, he would have never worn flip flops. It was obvious – I should have worn one of my work suits. No matter, I studied my reflection in the glass. I am no doyen of summer. I am no casual Joe – no middling Mike. I am a debonair man out of time. I am Marcello.