Strolling briskly around mid-town Manhattan, one cannot escape the style-savvy well-cut thirty-somethings who populate the place. More than any other city, perhaps, in New York there is no compunction about fine tailoring, and no reticence about showing it off. Yet, strange to report, it is by-and-large pretty conventional; where it isn’t, it stands out.
Standing out, as The Sartorialist is wont to show us, ought to be a good thing. A man who knows who he is ought to be applauded for following his heart. But I must admit I received mixed reactions from the conventionally clad over a moderately daring pair of plaid trousers. My nether man was perfectly attired in the well-fitting, English-designed, Italian-stitched, product of Scottish sheep. Never did such a sheep turn so many heads! Looks of admiration were welcome; looks of confused bewilderment were confusedly bewildering; exclamations of ‘oh boy, oh boy’, replete with shaking heads and expressions implying moral transgression, were rather vulgar. A woman rudely exhorted me to stop as I helplessly ascended an escalator in Bloomingdale’s, in order to ask me where in the world I bought such ‘pants’. In the same store, a member of staff eyed me up and down, particularly down, and commended me on my ‘very nice plaid’. Workmen in sweatshirts and jeans (blue collar is an outmoded image), smoking cigarettes, called after my lithe legs, partly to ridicule, partly as masculine recognition. In short, my lower half has never received so much attention… in public.
I had not intended to shock. I had not sought the limelight – God knows, Broadway has enough people clamouring for that – or any semblance of notoriety. I merely wore what I thought were rather spectacular trousers. It seems that I am not the only one to have an eye for the spectacular, but the jury is still out on whether I am the only one to have a taste for it. What I take away from the experience is a deeper knowledge of what constitutes acceptable behaviour on the part of strangers as they encounter me in that haphazard manner wrought by urban living. It is rude to stare. It is more rude to stop and stare. It is more rude still to stop, stare, point and gawp. And it is rudest of all to stop, stare, point, gawp and declaim aloud the ill-made decisions of others. A man should have enough about him to be able to take what he sees in his stride; quietly to acknowledge good taste where he sees it, if it is appropriate so to do; and discreetly to go about his business without comment or any outward sign of recognition where he disapproves. Nobody was hurt by this particular pair of trousers. Some even found pleasure in them. But whatever one’s inner reaction, there is no real need to risk offending the sartorially splendid stranger, or the victim of fashion, by sharing those feelings in crass and conspicuous ways.
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