(Just so you know, I will not be able to write this post without sounding like a snobby elitist bastard, and since I have no desire to engage on class warfare debates, if you’re a New Age left-winger I suggest you leave now and return to Stephen Fry’s Twitter page.)
Nowadays, I live in a tiny apartment in Tbilisi, which is basically a corridor divided into two floors which function as two rooms. It’s comfy, homely and cheap, and I’m very happy here. It does, however, sometimes make me forget that I grew up a spoiled little bastard of a rich kid, who went to a prestigious school and is still a season ticket holder at Royal Ascot’s exclusive Royal Enclosure. If it wasn’t for the expensive gym membership and the fact that I spend my days lounging in the Marriott or the Radisson, I daresay I’d forget where I came from entirely.
My family are a contradictory mixture, owing to the fact that (unlike me) they were not born to money and had to work hard for every penny they had. My mother went to a school where stabbings were monthly events and the alumni included only criminals and failures. Nobody from her school had ever been sent to a university; my mother was the first, and she got into Oxford (the real Oxford, not that Oxford Brooks nonsense). I wasn’t even close to being alive at that point, but I’m still so proud of her, and for the career she later built for herself. By the time she left government service five years ago, she was the third or fourth most powerful woman in Britain’s judicial service.
My step-father had a similar sort of career path, though he never came close to wielding the kind of influence and power my mother enjoyed in London. He never would have made it there, anyway; he’s far too intelligent, kind and honest for the kind of riffraff who run things in our capital (my mother, however, being of Scottish descent and therefore naturally inclined towards evil, fitted in perfectly). The point is, unlike my brother, step-brother and myself, my mother knew what it was to have nothing, and I never let any Georgian tell me different, and I don’t care how hard it was here in the ’90s. The council estates of Wolverhampton, Tipton and the heart of the Black Country were little better than the extreme poverty of the post-Soviet republics, though it’s impossible to convince anyone of that who’s never been there.
My step-father had a more affluent upbringing than my mother, since his father was a bank manager and he attended a grammar school, hence he was raised as a gentleman. My mother’s own refinement didn’t take place until she went to Oxford in her late teens. What I’m driving at is that unlike the upper classes, they live in the real world of the here and now, and do not isolate themselves from the rest of the planet; by the same token, unlike the lower classes, they are cultured, educated and are as easily as civilised as the Lords, Knights and Counts whom we drink with at Ascot. You can’t tell them apart, except my parents know the price of a pint of a beer at the local pub.
Which leads me nicely on to the point of what I’m writing about today. When it comes to dress, I have two modes; either a total jeans and T-shirt slob or the tailored business suits that I actually feel most comfortable in (nobody believes me when I say that, but I swear to God it’s true). I simply cannot do ‘smart casual’ (whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean), which meant I was never cut out for activities such as clubbing. I couldn’t very well go in my suit, but the whole chequered shirt, tight jeans and quasi-sneaker shoes is, in my opinion, nothing short of ridiculous. The best I can manage with smart casual is wearing my suit without my tie, but that makes me feel decidedly naked.
During my twenty-one years on this Earth, I have indulged in the most eclectic bunch of outfits. My private school uniform (which changed as I got older, but never lost its smartness); my collection suits, varying in colour, pattern etc.; the tuxedo I wear to balls and evening functions; the morning dress of top hat and tails necessary for Ascot’s Royal Enclosure; the camouflaged combat uniform of an infantry soldier, complete with regimental beret (a garment that represents centuries of history, warfare and the shades of your predecessors, and if you think that fanciful, you don’t know the British Army); ceremonial military dress, which is something special; and everything in casual from the boxing trunks I wear with the British and Georgian flags stitched on to the T-shirts of TV shows I like.
My upbringing and, later, the demands of military fashion, have imbedded in me a certain idea of what is and isn’t acceptable…by which I mean I am the most judgemental bastard when it comes to the way people dress. My brother has always had a preference for incredibly Left-wing women, and I remember one of them mewling ‘You’re saying, people judge you by the way you dress?’, to which my mother gave her the kind of withering look one usually reserves for the parents of crying children on planes or particularly dim-witted airport workers. It is, of course, the truth, and I didn’t learn it until I was about sixteen.
Before I joined the Army, I had originally applied to the Royal Marines and, by extension, the Royal Navy, which doesn’t call itself the Senior Service for naught. At my mother’s insistence, I wore my suit to my initial written test, though I was reluctant to do so at the time. I was, after all, enlisting as a rank-and-file Marine, not an officer, and I didn’t want to be marked for a posh kid from the get-go (which would have happened anyway, and later did when I started Army Basic). As I suspected, of all the recruits taking the written test that day in the Careers Office, only myself and one other chap who was joining as an officer wore suits, and I stuck out like a sore thumb. At the end of the test, we were given our instructions for our interview that would take place the following week, and the Petty Officer who was talking suddenly glared at me. ‘You, Marine,’ said he. ‘Get up.’ Wondering what the hell I’d done and reflecting on the fact that military bullying seemingly started far earlier than I’d imagined, I felt my face turn an embarrassed shade of crimson. ‘Listen in, the rest of you. I want all of you scruffy cunts dressed like him for your interviews.’ Which, as you can imagine, did wonders for my self-esteem.
I used to roll my eyes whenever my step-father would talk about the importance of double-cuffed shirts, the way the tie was tied, or the gentlemanly preference for a double-breasted jacket, but the incident describe above and others like it suddenly turned his droning into pearls of wisdom. It became easy to tell the difference between a Marks & Spencer off-the-shop-wall suit and the real deal. ‘Ah ha,’ I hear you say, ‘not everyone is lucky enough to be a spoiled little bastard like you, not everyone can afford this kind of rubbish!’. To which I would answer; true, but the kind of young office worker who turns up in his Next suit is the kind of man who believes that his Audi sports car and brand new smartphone constitute money well spent, and that investing in garments to wear while he attends the job that he hates is nothing short of a waste of money.
The fact is, I’m not the only one who judges people by their appearance, as copious amounts of time around military officers, lawyers and government executives (the latter two by virtue of my parents’ work) has convinced me. I usually prefer to travel on planes in a suit, since it usually leads to preferential treatment. I’ve been upgraded to first class thrice, and received free drinks on the flight to New York (with British Airways, who else) while my friend Rob, who was dressed in a hoodie and jogging trousers, was forced to pay (HA!). The uncharitable would say that this is just a conservative old-fashioned form of snobbery, but even if that’s true, it’s still rife and, therefore, important.
Look at Georgia, for example, and someone like Dmitry Shaskin or Irakli Alansia, both previous and serving Ministers of Defence respectively. I have seen both men meeting with foreign delegates wearing no tie. Consider the fact that the kind of men they’re meeting, leading European military and government officials from a more upper class background than I, and then remember the fact that they’re supposed to be representing Georgia for things like EU and NATO membership…it’s not surprising that they’re not taken seriously. It might sound like a trivial thing in itself, but not when you apply the standards I’ve outlined above, and remember the fact that Georgia is trying to prove itself as a civilised country to the Western world with similar values. These sorts of people who represent Georgia are supposed to be the best and brightest the country has to offer, and if I, an insignificant snob, find their dress totally unsuitable, imagine then what a French or German government official would think (especially when you consider the fact that the former are renowned for their elegance and style, and the latter for their typically solemn and commanding presence).
My step-father would often divulge his own beliefs on what made the thing he vaguely described as ‘a gentleman’. Over the years, I’ve formed my own view, and rather than describe it in detail I instead recommend you read about the life and times of David Niven, a soldier-turned-actor who also famous for his womanising and his skills as a raconteur. I enjoy the kind of behaviour that the uncharitable would describe as boisterous or rowdy as much as the next man, and when I was single and younger, pursuing women was one of my favourite pastimes. But there is a distinct difference, I feel, between the modern lady-killers (whether it’s rappers talking about ‘fucking bitches ‘n hoes’ or the young British men yelling ‘mate MATE I shagged this well fit girl last night!) and the charm and style of yesteryear, which is still around if you look hard enough for it.
The David Nivens of this world are still around, mostly in the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and its sister Air Force and Navy academies. During my brief military service, I actually had two careers, one as an enlisted soldier and one as a ‘potential officer’, which exposed me to both the highs and lows of the Army. I have a particular fondness for Sandhurst and its young gentlemen, shaped and formed by centuries of tradition and the grizzled sergeant majors yelling ‘You will address me as “sir”, and I will call you “sir” in return. The difference is you will fucking mean it!’.
If you didn’t know from reading my other posts, my old school is the sixth oldest in the world, and when I first started attending, the seventeen and eighteen year olds (who made up what we call the Sixth Form) were young gentlemen, no other word for it. They wore smart suits (of which even I approved), carried briefcases and umbrellas, sported smart haircuts and carried newspapers under their arms. Within a few years, however, they were gone, and the generations after them were different. The smart haircuts were gone, replaced by spikes held up with too much gel, the elegant aftershaves superseded by cheap deodorants, the jovial countryside drawls turned into affected common accents, with shouts of ‘mate MATE MATE!’ in the manner of football hooligans becoming the norm. Keeping up the news and paying attention to the world outside was considered ‘sad’. No longer did the Sixth Formers chuckle about taking girls into the countryside for a picnic that had turned into a frolic in the grass; instead, they bragged about taking drugs in seedy nightclubs before going to a girl’s house and ‘fucking her senseless’. The carefully tied ties became stumpy and short in defiance with convention and tradition, the suits were the cheap variety of Next and Marks & Spencer that I’ve discussed already, and the shoes were slip-on affairs that I stopped wearing when I was fourteen, unpolished and drab.
The people who attended the school hadn’t really changed; they weren’t from different backgrounds that were poorer (which perhaps would have validated the change in behaviour), but they desperately wanted to be. They wanted to be seen as being ‘street toughs’, though in fact most have never been in a real fight and avoided confrontation despite all their aggressive behaviour. The teachers, too, changed, so the old ways weren’t enforced any longer. Instead of the old masters who were scholarly and pensive, we had new young teachers who looked younger than I did at eighteen and were about as much use as nipples on body armour. The school I attended was not the same as the one my family and I had been so impressed with as a boy.
I imposed my own standards during my latter years at school, vindicated by my concurrent military service. I adopted double-breasted jackets as my signature (and still do, more or less. Not many wear them, and they give a very elegant appearance), wore regimental cufflinks and my own tie, ostensibly due to the fact I lost my school one but in fact because my own were infinitely smarter (and, as I told one teacher who told me I’d be sent home if I didn’t wear the issued school one, ‘Go ahead, sir. Throw me out for dressing better than half the staff’. He didn’t, oddly enough. Mostly because I threatened to write to the Standard, and the school already had enough bad press after an arrest and a suicide all in one year. My God, it really went to the dogs in the end).
I’m also a firm believer in the fact that a man should wear a watch. It says a lot about yourself; in a lot of places it is a status symbol, particularly if one is lucky enough to own one or more luxury models, and at other times it gives off the impression of punctuality (according to my German friend and they, really, would know about that). Despite the fact that my brother has been as fortunate as I am in his watch collection due to gifts and inheritance, he rarely wears one, something for which I chastise him for whenever I see him (which isn’t often, lucky for him).
The above rant and assorted anecdotes have probably made whatever point I was trying to make by now. So leave your comments. Or don’t. Or maybe you’d like to discuss Megan Fox and Mila Kunis?