Saturday, February 24, 2018

This is what the weekend papers call a 'long read'

I have another domestic post in mind this morning, and it's occurred to me that a stranger happening upon my blog might think I'm a puny-minded person who deals only in trivia, who is uncaring about the state of the world, insouciant about the horrors in Syria and the Yemen, politically uncommitted, blind to the lack of compassion and morality displayed in the current government's callous approach to the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised, the people fleeing to safety from war and terror. Such a stranger wouldn't know that the news tears me apart every morning, and that I do try to contribute to making the world a better place, and on Thursday night in a meeting about refugees I heard myself say in a raised voice too loud for the sitting-room venue: 'I want people to be outraged at the way the Home Office treats asylum seekers.' 

Such a stranger reading just one post wouldn't know that this is a place where real things are talked about as well as little bits of nothing. 

Now, I'm going to be trivial...

I go to have my hair cut every seven weeks. At this week's appointment I was restless and looking for change. I toyed with the idea of having it coloured, but decided that with my hefty dose of wrinkles, it was too late to be having turquoise streaks in my hair. It's not my age, it's the wrinkles. (Despite the fact that when I was flicking through a Poetry catalogue this week, looking for something to wear at the upcoming wedding of the family member who declines to be named, Dave said: "Shouldn't you be looking in a catalogue for biddies?" Get back in your shed, Dave!

Actually, his comment annoyed me so much, I'm going to interleave this piece I had in the Times years and years ago, when Dave could still be described as middle-aged.

Marks and Spencer’s U turn: succour for the middle aged male
 This may be the era of the grey pound when trendy fifty-somethings refuse to grow old, and avidly scan the fashion pages for what is hip. But there is a sartorially disreputable underbelly of middle aged men who are unmoved  by new styles, and who wish it was still the 1950’s when custard was custard, and middle aged men were middle aged men, in cardigans and slippers. These are the men whose wives buy all their clothes for them, who would like to wear the same thing year in and year out, and who don’t care whether black is the new black, or if bottoms are the new bust, as long as M&S still stock the same trousers as they did three years ago.
Since M&S moved away from “classically stylish” clothes, and began trying to keep up with the competition, wives who could formerly swoop in and rekit their husbands in half an hour, have been traipsing the high street looking for the middle aged look that doesn’t exist any more.
Granted, Oxfam is a godsend: I recently found four M&S (as new) shirts in my local branch for £2.99 each. And in the past few years my husband has bought three perfectly respectable jackets there.
This is the university educated, middle class professional who reached the age of forty without owning a suit, and who took Richard Branson as his role model in dispensing with ties. Some years ago he had an important job interview coming up, and he temporarily put aside his favourite Thoreau dictum that you should beware of all enterprises that require new clothes: I was dispatched to buy him a suit. Still reeling from the idea that my husband would not be visiting the shop, the shop assistant offered me something as “the most up to date style,” and was horrified when I explained that I needed a classic design that wouldn’t date, as the item would be worn for interviews only, and would be the only suit my spouse would ever own.
Having finally acquired a suit from M&S, we realised that he had no black shoes to go with it. We found some old beige ones in the back of the wardrobe and transformed them with a bottle of instant shoe colour. But during the interview, my husband was disconcerted to see the panel chairman staring at my husband’s shoes, transfixed. The black dye was flaking off the shoes, and revealing the old colour underneath. (No, he didn’t get the job.)
Whilst M&S have been chasing hot fashion, there has been an increasing danger of these middle-aged men - children in the market place - losing their way. For the past few years, two pairs of old patched jeans have been sufficient garb for my husband’s favourite pastime of DIY. But these got to the stage of being knee deep in three layers of patches, with new rips appearing just above the patch zone. One day I heard pathetic whimpering coming from my husband’s deep litter clothes storage system in the bedroom: it was the said jeans begging to be given sanctuary in the fabric recycling bin.
He let them go, and in our local agricultural suppliers he was seduced by a Dickies boiler suit in a subtle bottle green, for only £25. Here was a garment he could relate to. It was practical, comfortable, warm, commodious, cheap and had, joy of joy, 9 pockets, three of which were zipped.
But the boiler suit was so new, so comfortable, so smart, he refused to wear it for jobs such as mending the shed roof, because it might get dirty. Instead he would don it as soon as he got home from work, slipping into it as “smart leisure wear.” At the weekend he would wear nothing else, and I colluded with him, and bought him another one in navy blue.
I was on the point of persuading him that in fact they weren’t classy leisurewear, when, by some freak chance, he spotted a men’s fashion article in a colour supplement. This featured a boiler suit by Kenzo Homme, at ten times the price of his. He was trendily dressed – the only recorded time since student days.
Last week, something similar happened. The family had at last convinced him that his battered sixties white leather belt (with the white cracking off ) was past it, and I was off to M&S for a new black one. Then the photo appeared in the paper: Bob Dylan clutching a Golden Globe award and wearing a black suit with a white leather belt. Apparently, “If it’s good enough for Bob Dylan, it’s good enough for me.”

            So, come on M&S. Take the weight from our shoulders, and get back to what you do well: providing clothes for middle aged men who want to dress as they’ve always done. They can be boring and respectable, and we can have the biggest bit of the clothing budget.

Back to the hair salon...I sat waiting for my hair cut, flicking through Marie Claire. I love waiting because it's the only time I ever look at a women's mag and Marie Claire appeals to me with its intelligent writing and its focus on FASHION. Where else would I find out how to build a capsule wardrobe? The trouble was that before I began, I had to categorise myself as a Modern Romantic, A Minimalist or a Statement Maker. I plumped for Minimalist but was appalled at the suggestion of trousers priced at £250, as men's straight cut indigo jeans from Sainsbury's (£14) are my current favourites. But then Nicola arrived and asked what I wanted me to do this week and I said 'something different.' I trust her. She's been cutting my hair for 27 years, she knows my hair, and she's a good cutter.

She cut it beautifully. It's a really pretty cut. 


...isn't it a shame that just as you can take stuff back to M and S and get your money back if you decide you don't like it, you can't go back to the hairdresser and ask her to put your hair back because actually, you don't like it this short? Hey ho. Worse things happen at sea, as we've already established.

Times piece published with kind permission of News International.
Copyright: Sue Hepworth and Times Newspapers 2018


marmee said...

oh sue! This post! That Mary Oliver poem just grabbed my heart. But I think we can apply it not just to countries but to us, to humans, to people...we should all fall with out faces in the mud with shame. And then you make me laugh and laugh at your Dave's carry on with clothes! And then the hair: I will be 68 this year and in the past year or so I have begun to play with my hair as if I was a teenager. I have changed colours ( several times) and cuts and am now for the first time in decades I am growing it into what I have learnt is a lob(!) and it will be an untidy lob ( technical description) and I am loving all of it!

Sue Hepworth said...

Oh you too!
What colours have you had? Tell me.
Do you really mean lob? Not bob? I'll have to look it up.
I'm so glad you liked the post, Marmee.

Sue Hepworth said...

Looked it up!
I'll have to grow mine for that.

marmee said...

I am very grey in bits but not all over so decided to try a brindled look to segue into grey: so darkish topped with lighter highlights. Did NOT like that, so did a strong auburn and am now a paler with auburn with some highlights to tone it down and allow for a longer period between doing the colour!! I am liking this colour and am now in the bob phase but working towards longer! Oh my, when i put it all down like that!? Vanity they name is woman!

Sue Hepworth said...

Thanks for the deets, Marmee! Isn't it a shame we'll never meet?