Having the courage of your fortune

Men are like sheep, especially leaders. I saw a photograph of the heads of government of the G7 recently and all of the men among them were dressed the same: dark suits but open short collars and no tie. Not coincidentally, perhaps, there wasn’t a strong face among them.

The fashion for wearing suits with no ties is one that I abominate with a more than a merely rational abomination. It is the fashion of those who are trying to be all things to all men. It is the sartorial incarnation of Blairism, with its connotation of casual matiness on the one hand but of belonging to an elite on the other, an elite that knows that the wearing of ties is now only for underlings and those who have not arrived and never will arrive. (In Amsterdam, the only people who wear ties are the taxi drivers.) As it happens, I don’t think the fashion is a very elegant one, either.

It is strange how, in general, we are becoming sartorially more equal as we become economically less equal. The Hungarian-British humourist, George Mikes, pointed out a long time ago that Britain was the only country in the world in which the upper classes often wore shabby clothes, but they were, of course, shabby clothes of a certain kind, that one – perhaps a two or three decades before – would have been of high quality, generally tweed, and not the kind of garment ever worn by the poor. But nowadays some of the richest men in the world dress as if they were unable to afford anything more than a T-shirt. I don’t know whether they do this consciously to disguise the economic gulf between themselves and the rest of society, but I find it depressing. A man should have the courage of his fortune and dress with the aplomb of a dandy. If he does not, I suspect him of having a bad conscience.

But to return to the leaders of the G7: if only one of them had had the guts to appear in a tie I should not have been so upset; but that none of them shows their mediocrity, conformism and moral cowardice, all the qualities that go to make a modern political leader.

The tie, that accessory of infinite variety, allows for some expression of personal taste – about the right dose, I should say. It has traditionally been taken itself as a symbol of conformity; but that conformity is bohemianism itself compared with the conformity of the shirt open at the collar worn with a suit.

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