I’m walking through the streets of Chelsea in an immaculate three piece suit on this perfect summer evening.
I have a tattered brown canvas bag, a flat cap, and a pair of 20 year old Brasher walking boots, more frequently used for dancing than walking, falling apart, absolutely covered in mud. None of this would have occurred to me to share with you had I not just walked past a woman and wished her a good evening. Her eyes measured my suit, then dropped to the footwear. Her cheeks sucked in and her lips pursed, fixated on the boots. She remained statue still as I passed her. Her disapproval was palpable, unless she somehow mIsheard “Good evening” as “I’m going to kick you.” I’ve got a four pack of beer in my tatty bag. Had I been a split second quicker off the mark I’d have pulled one out and offered it to her, just for giggles. Probably for the best I didn’t. She’d have called the police.
I remember as a small boy a friend of my parents told me by way of a useful titbit : “You can always tell the quality of a man by the quality of his cufflinks.” Aged 12 I stored it in the “How to be a grown-up” section, along with “One day you’ll like kissing just as much as they do in this film,” and “When you’re older you’ll wish somebody was offering you whisky this good.” I do now. Feel free to offer me. Unlike the other two things, that started to make sense eventually, the cufflink thing never did. How can you tell the quality of a man based on something he has voluntarily dressed himself with? But then I started to see how many people never leave school. Binary options. Right and wrong. Enforced over and over again.
You can wear the wrong shirt with the wrong hat. The wrong hat with the wrong watch. The wrong watch with the wrong trousers. Even the wrong branded ski suit in the wrong resort. “This is St. Moritz darling, not Aspen.” Drive the wrong model of car. Walk the wrong dog. Do the wrong exercise. Marry the wrong type of person. Live the wrong type of life. To make sense of the endless palate of choice that we have, people navigate narrow journeys through a flowing cornucopia, and lavish judgement on everyone who does it differently. I was wearing the wrong suit for the boots, I suppose. In the wrong area. And my shirt doesn’t even do cufflinks because I bought it in Primark. If it did they wouldn’t match. They’re all in singles these days. I usually wear a scrabble piece and a silver tiffany. I suppose that means I’m the type of person who doesn’t give a crap about cufflinks. So maybe there’s that…
The trick is to make the thing you do into the right thing to do. Most people who make that sort of judgement – they don’t have much will. Just you wait. In a years time everyone will be going to society parties in a three piece with walking boots and mismatched cufflinks.