Sunday, 13 April 2014

The sartorial clues that tell you where your new neighbours hail from

So I’m in our bedroom yesterday afternoon getting ready to go out and I glance out of the window to see a car pull up and a thirtysomething couple get out, followed by their daughter, who’s four or five. What’s striking about them is how well-dressed they are. It’s not so much the mother and daughter who impress me as the father. He’s slim, about 5’11”, with well-coiffed dark hair, and he’s wearing a black jacket, blue jeans, black canvas shoes and a loosely-knotted grey scarf. He’s carrying his daughter’s scooter under his arm. He looks incredibly relaxed and cool. He is evidently foreign.

Mind you, he doesn’t look particularly foreign – none of them do – but you just know they’re either French of Italian. Again, it's the bloke who really gives it away. I’ve seen English mothers and their daughters dressed this tastefully (just take a gander at the Duchess of Cambridge in New Zealand) – but no heterosexual Englishman who isn’t in the entertainment or fashion industry ever looked this effortlessly stylish. Of course, Englishmen, Germans, Scandinavians and Spaniards can doll themselves up in all the right clothes and look good (or at least neat) – but they always looks unnatural, somehow, as if their clothes have been bought for them by a professional stylist, and you suspect they’ll change into something comfortable and slobby as soon as they reach home. But I bet this guy looks this cool from the minute he gets up until he rolls into bed – like a male model, without looking camp or silly.

I’m not in the least jealous: there’s almost nothing in life that interests me less than being stylishly dressed. I try not to look like a total twassock, but I long ago gave up any attempt to look cool – perhaps because I know the battle is lost before it has begun: I can’t go for thirty minutes without my shirt coming unstuck from the waistband of my trousers, every pocket ends up stuffed with all sorts of bulgy crud, shirts and sweaters inevitably accumulate a spattering of food stains, my shoes tend to eat my socks etc. etc. I don’t do any of this on purpose – it just happens. My only excuse is that, being on the large side, I’ve never had a choice when it comes to buying off-the-peg clothes: in the unlikely event that a shop actually stocks XXXL shirts, there will never be more than one, and it’s usually the magenta one with 2” stripes from the M&S “Romanian Pimp” range. As for shoes, the ones in the Size 13 wide-fitting category usually look as if they’ve been designed for the “special needs” market, i.e. yellow with one-inch thick soles and Velcro fastenings. (I’m pleased ties have disappeared, because most of them – if tied properly – tended to stop an inch short of my navel.) Still, even if I’d been slim and 5’11”, I doubt I’d have scrubbed up any better.

So, here’s the question: what is it about French and Italian males that allows so many of them to achieve seemingly effortless sartorial coolness? Are they born with it? Do their parents refuse to feed them unless they're elegantly attired? Do they study it at school? Or do girls simply refuse to go out on dates with any chap who doesn’t look as if he’s off to a Dolce & Gabbana photo-shoot?

The family in question just moved in a few doors down. If I get a chance to say hello in  passing, I will – and if the bloke answers in a Brummie accent, I’ll keep quiet about it.


  1. It is called narcissistic personality disorder. One aspect of this condition is a distinct lack of martial ambition.

  2. If I were French or Itralian, I'd have been jolly upset by that vile aspersion. As I'm neither, I just sniggered.