My straitjacket: a suit, a shirt and a tie
Our man in the Dáil on the tyranny of the suit, inches of which have to be lopped off to fit him, has rubbish pockets and is useless for cycling in
Ann Finn, head of personal shopping in menswear at Brown Thomas, tries to change Harry McGee’s mind about suits by decking him out in a Canali suit, €1,050; Eton shirt, €129; Drakes of London tie, €125; and Prada shoes, €480. HARRY’S VERDICT: “The suit Ann chose was very comfortable, the shirt is easy to iron and doesn’t become a crumpled mess with movement. Her advice was to leave everything out of the pockets and go for a man bag – for many Irish men, that remains a step too far.” Photograph: Dave Sleator
Left: McGee in his sports gear. HARRY'S VERDICT: 'It's not exactly a red carpet outfit but, maybe it's the scout in me who never grew up, I could spend my whole life dressed like this.'
Every weekday morning I loop a necktie around my collar, fasten the top button of my shirt, and undertake the daily ritual of garrotting myself, knowing it will be at least eight hours before I can breathe again.
My job requires a lot of things. The ability to write. To be quick off the mark in getting things done. To be reasonably personable and perceptive. Shorthand. Fast typing. The occasional nice turn of phrase. The skill of getting excited at very uninteresting things in the bubble of Leinster House and inflicting it upon our readers.
Unfortunately, it also requires the wearing of a suit, a shirt and a tie.
For over a decade – half of my journalistic career – I’ve been living in the world of the suit. I am based in the Oireachtas and write about politics. Unlike Pink Mick or Luke Ming in his Muppet T-shirts, the political scribblers are subject to a strict dress code in Leinster House. But more generally, it is expected of us.
That essentially means a suit. And even 10 years after I started to wear one regularly, I still can’t get used to it and I still bear a resentment towards it.
My problem with the suit is this: to borrow the vogue political phrase, it is not fit for purpose. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, not fit for my purpose. Where does the fault lie? Well, it is partly it. And it is partly me.
Let’s take me first. For one, there’s a physiological issue. I’m small in height but stocky, with short limbs and the hips of a farmhand. So any time I’ve taken a suit off the peg, by the time I’m swaddled in it, the inches of fabric that have had to be lopped off have given it an unfashionable look and the nice details – such as four buttons on the cuff or fancy piping – have all hit the cutting-room floor.
Ah, you say, nothing that a good tailor couldn’t fix. But my difficulties extend beyond that, to suits themselves. They are ridiculously impractical.
Where do I begin? For one, the fabrics take little heed of technology or modern innovation. I am an avid mountaineer and I am constantly amazed at the new fabrics and designs to keep the wearer warm, cool or comfortable. They include hard shells, soft shells, wicking, wind-resistance, rain-proofing, breathability and innovative use of traditional fabrics such as merino wool and down. They keep you warm without weighing you down. They are reinforced where there is friction or impact, such as at the knees, elbows and seat. They have plenty of pockets in the right places to help you store things, including all your technology and accoutrements. No, the brand names that excite me aren’t Hugo Boss, Prada or Paul Smith; rather Patagonia, Mountain Equipment and Arc’teryx.
I cycle to work each day. It’s not far, a couple of kilometres at most. But it’s a clammy (or damp) experience when wearing a suit. It doesn’t keep you warm on cold days. It doesn’t keep you cool on hot days. Irrespective of whether you’re wearing a €100 cheapo or a €1,000-plus designer suit, you can be sure that the gusset isn’t going to have a long life on the saddle of your bike.
You can’t wash them and the dry-cleaning bills cost as much as the clobber. They don’t have breathable materials. The so-called cool suit – linen – makes you look like a crumpled hungover bum within five minutes.
I was with a colleague of less than perfect body size recently and noticed that he was wearing a Gucci suit. I thought to myself: what’s the point? For all the money he paid for it, it wasn’t going to perform miracles. Like a mattress with memory foam, the suit just assumed his general shapelessness. I think the most I’ve spent on a suit was €700. It wasn’t the nicest – not even close – and it didn’t last very long. Most of the ones I have liked the most cost around the €150 mark and were bought in Zara or in Reiss sales.
What else? I hate ironing shirts, and I can only manage bad half-Windsor knots (I’ve never mastered the full-Windsor). Shirts with cufflinks drive me insane. They are so fussy, are a pain to iron, and it’s a fiddly job to get each cufflink through four buttonholes.
Then there are the pockets. Or the lack of them. They don’t accommodate the stuff we need to carry. The lining of the inside pocket is so deep that by the time you excavate the mobile phone from its deep well, it has rung off. There’s no place to accommodate glasses and wallet, unless you are stuffing everything in the one pocket. If you are caught in rain, refer to the sentence above on the effect of wearing a linen suit.
In short, they are to comfort what Lough Derg is to the luxury hotel industry. But I’ll keep on wearing them, because I’m not a rebel, just a reluctant conformist.