The Deputy Editor’s trousers
Or, what do you think of Johnny’s outfits?
Johnny Davis wanted to know what everyone really thought of his dress sense — so we told him
Johnny Davis wears his own: 1 Massimo Alba sweater; Gieves & Hawkes trousers; Alden shoes. 2 Hardy Amies suit; John Smedley sweater; Thom Browne shirt; Church's shoes. 3 Drake's jacket; Gieves & Hawkes trousers; Berluti shoes; Rolex watch. 4 Turnbull & Asser shirt; James Perse T-shirt; Gieves & Hawkes trousers; Alden shoes; Tom Davies glasses. 5 Anderson & Sheppard jacket, Hardy Amies trousers; Alden shoes. 6 Club Monaco coat; Gieves & Hawkes trousers;
Berluti shoes. 7 Helmut Lang T-shirt; Hardy Amies trousers; Alden shoes; Rolex watch. 8 Hardy Amies suit; James Perse T-shirt; Crockett & Jones shoes
Most men who care about clothes know — or think we know — what impression we are trying to create by the way we dress, whether that’s ‘urbane sophisticate’ or ‘rugged adventurer’. But how do we know what people really think of us, based on what we wear?
With the help of an anonymous email questionnaire
(and his wife), Esquire’s Johnny Davis decided to find out
i look like an idiot, don’t i? It’s OK, you can be honest. This jumper does nothing for me. I’m trying too hard with the jacket. I’m too old for these jeans. That suit I spent half a month’s wages on: it’s all wrong, isn’t it?
Everyone wonders, occasionally, what the rest of the world thinks of the way they’re dressed. Not every day, perhaps. But at some point, surely everyone has left the house with that little paranoid voice? The one that says: I look like a berk.
We live in a culture where we judge each other’s appearances. Everyone’s passed someone on the street or sat near them in a restaurant and thought, “What’s going on with your shirt, mate?” Or, “I’d have gone for the next waist size up if I were you.”
Men, famously, are bad at asking for advice. While it’s perfectly acceptable for one woman to ask another, “Does my bum look big in these jeans?”, men are less likely to strike up conversation by asking whether their new chinos draw attention to their balls. That’s a shame, but there we are.
Clothes matter. There’s a ton of experiments to show they make a difference to the way people perceive you and the way you perceive yourself. That dressing well can increase your income. That blue cools and soothes. That brown signals dependability. In an episode called “The Secret Emotional Life of Clothes”, the podcast Invisibilia demonstrated that people performing a complicated attention task did so twice as well if they were given a doctor’s coat to put on beforehand. It didn’t work if they were told it was a painter’s coat. And it didn’t work if the coat was hung next to them. They had to be wearing it. (The participants weren’t happy about it: “I don’t like the idea that something as small as what I’m wearing, or what someone has told me what I’m wearing means, would have such a big influence on my ability to function in a certain situation,” one said. “I’d like to think that I have more control.”)
For this article, I proposed to Esquire’s Editor-in-Chief that we find out what people really think of the way a man we know dresses. We’d draw up a short survey and we’d distribute it to his friends and family, to his colleagues and acquaintances. The answers would be anonymous so that people could be as honest as they liked. The Esquire Editor liked the idea and he proposed that the person being judged should be me. That’s a shame — for me — but there we are.
My wife helpfully — a little too helpfully, I fancied — drafted the questions, then contacted 30 people who know me. I know only that they ranged from my father-in-law to my six-year-old daughter, to work colleagues and school friends, to a fashion designer and a sometime pop star. I still have no idea who said what. I’m assuming the person who said, “He looks like a poo” was my six-year-old. Though it could have been someone in Esquire’s art department.
First of all, you’re going to need to know how I think I dress. I have always liked clothes. Since my mum first allowed me to choose an outfit from C&A’s kids’ line Avanti (ooh, Italian… sounding) in Bristol in the Eighties, I’ve thought about how I dressed. That first independently curated outfit consisted of a Madras shirt, outsized red cardigan and grey jeans, topped off with an ice-white Harrington-style jacket. Get grease from the chain of your Grifter on one of those and it’s never coming out. By the Nineties, I’d moved to London and adopted a style Nathan Barley would recognise. Keeping it “Totally fucking Mexico” in paint-splattered Helmut Lang jeans, pink Converse and any number of baggy sweatshirts, as long as they came adorned with ironic slogans. A Kim Jones T-shirt depicting Snow White getting high with the Seven Dwarfs? Ninety quid well spent.
Today, partly because it’s good to look smart for my job, and partly because I’m 46 years old, I am more conservative. I wear proper shoes and I polish them. I like jackets — blazers, really — unstructured ones that don’t look too stiff or formal. Trousers not jeans. Shirts and cashmere crew necks. Lots of navy. That thing of trying to show people that I’ve made an effort but not to look like I have.
Then again, maybe I’ve got it all wrong. Because who’s going to tell me? I’m a man and I’m not about to ask. But now I’d been given the chance to do so. My wife emailed me the responses. I put off opening them for a day. Eventually she told me to stop being pathetic and read them out to me.
“A small and dapper magician.”
the first thing to say is that people really do take account of what you wear. They’d noticed (mostly, they’d noticed). For better or for worse I was being judged. Happily, I got a lot of comments like “Grown-up, tailored and unostentatious premium”, which I suppose is what I’m going for.
“Quiet confidence? Relaxed composure.” “He wants to say: ‘Listen, I value this stuff and I find some of it interesting. But I’m not going to dedicate my life trying to impress you morons.'”
“Modernity. Italian-style composure.”
“His job is a big factor in his dressing style — he obviously needs to look up-to-date and authoritative. He wears nice suits well but does not come across as ‘a suit’ when he’s in one.”
“I suppose what he’s trying to say is that he’s professional but that he’s also laid-back, that he wants to be taken relatively seriously but that he’s not standing in front of the mirror for hours agonising over how to achieve that reaction.”
“Never, ever any logos or indicators of what (or who) he is wearing. That seems like a deliberate rule that he sticks to. Nothing baggy and nothing tight, either. He clearly knows what he likes and sticks to the plan.”
“Johnny battles with fashion. Everyone else gives up and wears crap. He doesn’t care or is so far down the road he can’t back out. He’d look weird in clothes from Gap. He is like a lone warrior fighting something — age? Conformity? No idea but it’s great.”
“He has very good taste.”
“Well, he’s got a job and you can’t argue with his obligation not to look like a clown or a tramp.”
And then there was, “A small and dapper magician”, which I’ll also take.
So cheers for that. Italian beers on me, whoever you all are.
“I didn’t realise he had a sense of style.”
one of the questions was, “What do you dislike about the way Johnny dresses?” which is asking for negatives. More than one person answered, “It’s a bit obvious.” They were pointing out I was a bit of a cliché. “Creative type by numbers.”
“There’s a certain older, gallerist/Michel Roux Jr look that I feel is a bit common.”
“He always wears the same T-shirt, like he thinks he’s Mickey Rourke in 9½ Weeks or something.”
“He should think about what really suits his size and shape instead of going with the same uniform everyone else wears.”
Others suggested that clothes were a frivolity, an unnecessary indulgence. (Hold the front page!)
“Expensive clothes worn haphazardly.”
“His clothes are always expensive: you could look good with stuff that cost half the price. Waste of money.”
“I imagine he has a secret wardrobe of Nineties and Noughties stuff in an attic/ panic room. He should dig it out, squeeze back into it.”
People suggested I might like to step away from the blue and grey.
“It’s sober to the point of sombre.”
“A pop of colour might be nice once in a while.”
“I would add some summer pieces. Summer tailoring, more colour, some lighter trousers and shoes.”
“Not enough variety. There are lots of other shades of blue to be explored.”
“I think he could get away with more colour and mad stuff. Some really good bonkers Cutler and Gross glasses, more coloured shoes, bright jumpers. Could even see him in one of those vintage Versace bomber jackets. That kind of thing.”
“I genuinely haven’t thought much about Johnny’s style. I didn’t realise he had one until this email.”
Then there was the stuff that was just plain offensive:
“Danny DeVito crossed with Moby.”
“He looks a bit sticky-outy from other people because he’s bald.”
“I reckon he’d suit some sort of hat.”
THE UGLY “He probably looks taller now than in his raver years.”
“Something about his face makes me think of a crab.”
“Occasionally a bit floppy, by which I mean he looks like he wants people to stroke him.”
“He probably looks taller now than in his raver years.”
“He should at least carry a coat if rain is forecast.”
“I wish he learned how to DJ.” (I’m not sure this person understood the exercise.)
“Occasionally he looks Napoleonic.” “I’d make him look more like Brad Pitt.” Some people had really overthought it. Their answers were quite cosmic.
“The way that he dresses reminds me of that moment when we thought we were significant.”
“He is trying to convey, rightly, that there is a shared community of progressive folk who think about looks, life, politics and the oddness and specificity of that shared common space.”
“His way of doing a kind of impeccable taste that somehow suggests invisibility. He looks like a man with secrets or at least intriguing interests and misadventures. It’s not camp, it’s a more English version of straightness. If there was a West End musical about characters from The Smiths’ songs, the mystery millionaire producer would dress like Johnny.”
“I’ve never seen him wear jeans. Maybe he does wear jeans — but just not on the days I see him. Which begs the question: why is he so keen on me not thinking he wears jeans? Come to think of it, I’ve never seen him wear shorts, either. Or maybe I’ve blocked it out of my memory. So I guess I focus more on what Johnny doesn’t wear, than wears.”
To a question about what people would change about the way I looked, several people suggested I should try growing a beard. (Note to them: I did this once. A lump had appeared on my cheek and my GP suggested it might be cancer. So I did what many men would do faced with terrible and potentially devastating news and ignored it. It was a couple of months before my wedding and I stopped shaving and grew a beard. So I’ve got a beard in my wedding photos. The lump eventually vanished and the beard went with it.)
so what have i learned? Maybe it seems like a lot of conflicting comments but I don’t think so. Generally, people noticed that I was making an effort, and there was a lot of consensus that I have a neat, presentable exterior. Broadly that what I wore suited me. That I was dressing appropriately for my age and for my job. Looking back at the question, “What do people really think?” I felt liberated. I seemed to be OK.
Then I had to consider: did I care about the negatives? Do I actually care what people think? Maybe if they’d said I looked like a dog’s dinner and that nothing fitted me, then yeah. But you know what, I’m not going to try and “get away” with “more mad stuff”. I’m not going to buy a load of colourful jumpers. For better or worse, my vintage Versace bomber jacket days are behind me. The next item of clothing I buy will almost certainly be in navy. To those people I say, with respect: you can keep your advice, you’re wrong.
‘Creative type by numbers’‘Johnny battles with fashion’
‘A pop of colour might be nice once in a while’