I have a certain sartorial elegance. It is not everyone’s idea of high fashion, but no-one can deny that I have consistently rocked a look that is wildly different to all others. And it may be that ‘tramp-whose-only-set-of-clothes-got-munched-by-a-combine-harvester’ has never exactly taken off among the fashion cognoscenti, but at least it is, as my friend Fi would say, ‘a look’.
In short, I am reliably scruffy. The only way to make my hair look like anything other than something wildly hairy having died on my head is to cut it so short I look like a criminal. My shirts are always untucked, because the ones that fit my absurdly long body either cost a fortune or have pockets – and I hate pockets on shirts. My shoes regularly fall apart, because my deformed feet bend them out of shape. And my trousers are frayed at the hems, because my legs are exactly 32.5 inches long, which is just short enough to make my trousers too long and just long enough to make them impossible to turn up.
Quite why I decided to top this ensemble off with a selection of luridly coloured waistcoats I do not know, but for much of the 1990s that is exactly what I wore to work, every day. It all started with a black one with coloured diamond patterns on it, which I saw in a Marks and Spencer sale. To that were added, over time, a plain black one (for wearing to court), a cream corduroy one with a picture of Bugs Bunny on (what was I thinking) and then, once my mother volunteered to make them, a whole selection of them, including an underwater sea scene, a gold moon and stars motif that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Discworld wizard, and even a special Christmas one, blood red with tiny little gold Christmas trees.
For a time, this worked as a marketing ploy. When I was in private practice in Manchester, people knew me as the lawyer with the loud waistcoats. Once I got to working for a large regional firm, it was helpful as a way of making myself stand out from the crowd (because I wasn’t big enough and ugly enough already, and because the firm hadn’t quite got around to having identity numbers tattooed onto employee’s wrists yet).
After a few years, though, the novelty began to wear off. I moved to working in Bath and it didn’t have the same effect and I am pretty sure that when I moved to Reading in 1999 I ditched them altogether. (In fact, I eventually ditched ties altogether, too. I wear those for meetings and that is about it, having decided that life is short enough without putting a noose around your own neck.)
It was, in retrospect, the end of an era. Well, to a certain extent, anyway. I still have some of the waistcoats, those that weren’t completely unwearable even for me after a decade of use. And the Christmas one still gets an airing if I can be bothered to go to a Christmas party. We’re another decade on now, and I do wonder if I should think about bringing them back.