Undressing the Irish male

 

Tracksuits, backpacks with suits, obscene jeans: when did Irish men stop dressing like grown-ups? ALAN O’RIORDANadvises on what not to wear

YOU STILL see them: auld fellas who know how to dress despite not having given their outfits a moment’s thought for their entire lives. Their shirts are white, their suits dark. They have a flat cap on, a dark or possibly club tie, and an overcoat. They dress like this because, in their prime, all men dressed like this. You didn’t have to think about clothes. They never changed. You never decided what they would be – the culture did. You bought them in gentlemen’s outfitters, like everyone else, and you looked pretty good, like everyone else. You could look smart, in other words, without actually caring how you looked.

Not so now. The male uniform is long gone. Every man has to choose how he looks. It’s an existentialist crisis for those who don’t really care about clothes. The 21st-century Irish male shopper is condemned to be sartorially free and entirely responsible for how he looks. Faced with a bewildering choice of mostly ill-suited juvenile clothing, you cannot look good unless you care about clothes, something the Irish male hasn’t twigged and which leads to all manner of fashion faux pas, some of which we’ve listed below.

THE TRACKSUIT

The infiltration of sport into fashion, as in most areas of life itself, has gone far too far. The ubiquity of the tracksuit is the worst manifestation of this. The most jaw-dropping site on the Eurostar from Gare du Nord after France beat Ireland was not William Gallas sauntering by as I queued up. The villain of the piece (well, one of them) within touching distance. No. What really had me gobsmacked was seeing a carriage full of my compatriots: dozing, swigging from cans held in plastic bags and, almost universally, in tracksuits. The contrast with the stylish French and dapper Londoner fellow travellers was stark. And, despite the fact that I have red hair, I was assumed first French and then English, because, I can only assume, I was dressed like a grown-up. Has dressing badly become more of an Irish trademark than my hair colour? Sad but true, it seems.

GIRLS' JEANS

Buying jeans is a minefield. It demands hours, which men never want to give, and possibly the help of a girlfriend, of which men are suspicious. But even amid a dizzying array of cuts, you can be sure of this: if they look like girls’ jeans, they are. It doesn’t matter that they say “skinny” and you got them in the men’s section: only girls should wear jeans that make you waddle like you’ve just finished a rodeo. Slim? Maybe. Straight cut? Yes. But anything figure hugging? Not on your nelly.

LONG SERVICE SOCKS

A man can lead a perfectly fulfilling life while owning only black socks. But they have to be the right black socks, not faded to grey or with busted elastic so that you show flesh between sock and trouser leg. Be kind to your socks: give them early retirement.

SHY CUFFS

So often, what could be a really smart jacket is ruined below the wrist, where an apologetic few fingertips emerge beyond the cloth. The man with hidden cuffs and largely hidden hands looks brow-beaten, struggling to get ahead in a game he knows he’ll lose. But the guy whose sleeves are well trained, kept at bay by a sharp show of cuff? He looks like a world-beater. People don’t say, “hey, nice cuffs” or “nice suit”. They say, “you’re looking really well” – and you are, because of the cuffs and your tailored suit.

SHOE HATE

The fashion-oblivious Irish male treats his work shoes as he did his school shoes: with contempt. These are the shoes he “has to wear” and as such suffer from neglect that is almost spiteful. And of course, the shoes are ill-advised from the word go: square-toed, rubber-soled yokes, perhaps with a buckle or even velcro. After all, tying laces would be time wasted on these 9-5 punishments. If the Irish male only allowed himself to love his shoes, or even just like them, he would see a world of opportunity for style and comfort in the category he has dismissed as boring black leather. A pair of handmade, elegant Oxfords can be yours for a couple of hundred euro. Kept in good nick these will last for years, and you can console yourself with the fact that you are supporting proper craftsmanship in Italy or some place, and not buying shoes made in a sweatshop.

THE SPORTY BACKPACK

You sometimes see the fella who seems to have got it right: the suit actually fits, the shoes aren’t weary-looking. But then you spy the tell-tale shoulder straps. Oh no – he’s only gone and slung a backpack over his jacket. Worsted wool meets nylon? Yikes. Get a briefcase or satchel.

UMBRELLAPHOBIA

The only thing that looks worse than our friend in the hoodie is our friend in the hoodie after a downpour. This is Ireland, and yet Irish men persist in defying the elements. It will rain. You will get caught out in it. So at least get an umbrella. And no, not a huge golf umbrella that’s a mortal danger to fellow pedestrians, but a sleek, simple black wooden-handled one. The men’s umbrella says it all about men’s fashion for those who don’t really care – you never have to change your look if you get the basics right.

POLITICIAN'S TROUSER

An Oireachtas epidemic this. The suit looks okay at the shoulder, but it all starts to go wrong below the knee. There, folds of material pile up and spill over the shoes, perhaps even touching the ground at the heel. Our ex-taoiseach is an inveterate offender, proving that your trousers needn’t be canary yellow to be all wrong.

THE HOODIE OVER SUIT TROUSERS

A common sight on the capital’s early morning streets. Young bank clerks and civil servants on their way to their desks will be sporting this look because, sure, in the office the shirt and trousers will look grand. Well, maybe. But what about the commute? Lunchtime? Post-work drinks? Impressing superiors? Keep this outfit up and eventually you’ll be as badly paid as you look. If you really must eschew the suit jacket, at least buy a trench coat.