The Deputy Editor’s trousers

Or, what do you think of Johnny’s out­fits?

Esquire (UK) - - Contents -

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.”

“Met­ro­sex­ual Lon­doner.”

“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’

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