Directly prior to death, I am certain, there is an anteroom where you remeet all the socks you once knew. My sock drawer is like a diverse but unsuccessful sock dating site: socks of every shape and colour, each of them alone, failing to find love. It never occurred to me until recently that it was ok to wear odd socks, that nobody would report me to a governing body for it. This is no doubt in part influenced by a couple of ex-partners: one, in particular, who admitted that seeing the wearing of odd socks sent her tumbling into a minor state of rage. Although I didn’t share it, this irrational dislike was one of those small flaws – such as her equally strong distaste for the wearing of watches – that made me love her a little bit more. In the summer of 2013, when we were out for lunch with my American friends Albert and Lara and their children Matthew and Nathaniel, who were seven and nine at the time, we all talked about her dislike of odd socks. Seeing Albert and Lara and Matthew and Nathaniel is always something that lifts my mood, not least because listening to Matthew and Nathaniel talk has, right from when they were very small, been more entertaining than listening to most expensively priced comedy gigs by adults. But we didn’t catch up with Albert and Lara and Matthew and Nathaniel for about five months after that. When they arrived at my house the next time we saw them, the first thing Matthew and Nathaniel did was lift up their trouser legs to show my girlfriend the odd socks they were both wearing.
I’ve got some shirts I was so, so excited about, when I bought them. Sometimes, when I’m wondering what to wear, I put one of them on, then go “Neh.” That’s been happening for a whole decade with a couple of them, and I really need to let them go. There’s nothing wrong with the shirts. It’s not like the shirts dislike me, or I dislike them. The shirts and I are just different people with different opinions.
You went down an alley to the good secondhand clothes shop in Nottingham, then up a narrow staircase almost completely wallpapered with gig flyers. There were two rooms at the top: the cheap room, and the almost-as-cheap room. There were always hundreds of badges on the counter, where a friendly bloke whose voice was Nottingham in all the best ways took your money. The almost-as-cheap room was where I got my flares – new flares, but made to original early 1970s patterns, in many different styles – because in my head 1996 wasn’t 1996, it was 1972, just as in my head 2010 wasn’t 2010, it was 1970, and in my head 2019 isn’t 2019, it’s 1968. In 1970, or 2010 as some people insisted on calling it, I went back to the shop after a gap of many years, but it was full of skinny jeans. I then remembered one other shop that used to stock the flares, which was a long way away, up a big hill, right on the edge of the city. It was a stiflingly hot day but something deep inside of me that likes trousers was very determined and I walked up the hill to the other shop, and discovered it was still there, but it wasn’t really a secondhand clothes shop any more, more of a fancy dress hire shop, full of cheap 80s crap and comedy wigs. Even so, I went in and, even so, something made me lift up some long coats on a rack in the back room, and what I discovered underneath them was 10 pairs of the flares: possibly the last ten in existence, each priced at a tenner. I bought them all, even the ones that weren’t in my size, and the shop knocked another £15 off. Over the next few months, I distributed the ones that didn’t fit amongst appropriately sized 70s clothes-loving friends, like some bellbottom fairy. The only ones in my size I didn’t keep were a bright orange pair: a choice I now have some misgivings about.
I admire those with hairstyles. I don’t have a hairstyle. I have hair. Most days, it has zero caterpillars in it. That’s as good as it gets.
“Member Of Unsuccessful Country Rock Band In 1969” tends to be my look, but I’m also a bit sartorially restless, within my own paramaters. I like to chop and change a bit, and I’m frequently off duty. My friend Seventies Pat is never off duty. I suspect even his pyjamas are flared. His style is so strong and memorable and knowledgeably embedded in 1972 that the first time I visited him at his house in Dudley and met his friends from the area, it came as a surprise that they didn’t wear cowboy boots and cravats too, and mostly – very unlike Pat, who is eternally 33 and radiant – just looked like ordinary blokes in early middle age. Pat’s stylistic reputation precedes him for miles around. One time he was in the Dudley branch of Gregg’s getting a veggie pasty, and the woman behind the counter, who’d never met him before, paused a second. “Are yow Seventies Pat?” she asked. “Yup,” said Pat.
Never take advice from your mum on hair. Mums are mostly brilliant but when it comes to hair their sole mission is to sabotage your wellbeing. This is a hard lesson that you have to relearn several times, especially when you have an especially great mum.
I am in theory not interested in celebrities but in the end it’s just a theory. Celebrities sometimes make great art, and are sometimes lovely to look at, sometimes both at the same time, and I’m only human. Celebrity hair that I spend most time thinking about includes that of Ann Wilson from Heart circa 1977, Robert Redford’s in Jeremiah Johnson and the first quarter of The Candidate, and Rick Nelson’s on the cover of his Rudy The Fifth LP and in this phenomenal clip. Rick Nelson’s hairline – though undoubtedly natural – is a hairline that, it seems to me, couldn’t exist if he was from the UK. It’s a hairline that is all America. Hairlines like that probably didn’t even exist until 1776, when America stood up, got a bit of an attitude on it and said, “From now on we are a proud country of our own, and everyone in that country will have hair: preferably as much of it as possible.”
Looking good for your age and looking young for your age are often – but not always – two very different things. Society mixes them up all the time and sometimes that’s why absurd things happen to humans.
I don’t think anybody should be nasty about somebody’s appearance, ever. I’m against it, one hundred percent. Yet at the same time, thinking back to a couple of periods of my life, I can’t help sometimes wondering, “Could somebody not have taken me to one side and had a quiet word with me about how shit I was looking?”
I was never quite sold on that “some people look brilliant in anything” school of thought. Then I saw Evan Dando from The Lemonheads play a gig in cargo pants, crap 80s Littlewoods-type trainers and a salmon pink shirt with no discernible fit to it. He still looked brilliant.
I didn’t even notice I had eyebrows until I was in my late 20s. Now they want to annexe Holland.
“He’s got curtains,” my friend Karina Dakin used to tell me, when talking about a boy she liked. After a while she didn’t even need to say it; she’d just to a slicing motion with her hands below both ears. I always knew instantly what she meant. 1992 was sliding into 1993 and everyone wanted curtains. I couldn’t have curtains because my hair was too thick and curly. I resented my curly hair and the way it seemed to resemble a vast straw mushroom every time I grew it. Curls are like large breasts in probably one way only: they’re brilliant and a lot of people want them but frequently not the people who actually own them. These days, I am happy to be curly, wouldn’t want it any other way, and admire the way many young folk embrace their curls and let them fly, but the 1990s were not a good time to be young with thick curly hair. One time, my pal Robin and I got chased across an industrial estate near Long Eaton by a couple of thugs in the dead of night. When they caught up with us, I asked them what their problem was. “He wants to beat t’shit out o’ you ’cause you got bushy hair,” said one of the thugs, pointing to his accomplice. This did not surprise me as much as you might imagine. It was that kind of place, and that kind of time.
I grew up in an era where it was – just about – still possible to shock people with the clothes you wore. But, because of the internet, and a greater fragmentation and more accelerated recycling of fashion, everyone has seen every look ever now, so has no need to be shocked by anything. Despite this, people still get weirdly upset by anything that strays outside the norm for any given period. In short: we still live in the world, and the world will always contain mean people. I am very aware that, say, when I wear flares, and a 1960s pea coat, there are people out there who think I’m wearing flares and a 1960s pea coat because I haven’t got the memo about the way proper, admirable people are supposed to dress for this particular six month period of the 21st-Century. They don’t realise that my reason for dressing like I do never has anything to do with what’s happening to clothes at that exact period of history; my reason for dressing like I do is because I’ve researched other potential ways of dressing and found them unsatisfactory for my needs. Of course, even somebody who doesn’t give a crap about fashion can’t claim to be totally outside fashion: I have made a lot of my choices about what to wear based on photos and footage of people between the years 1960 and 1978 looking great; I wear a headband in part because Cher looks great in one on the sleeve of her unimpeachable ‘1614 Jackson Highway’ LP; I have a belt like Warren Beatty wore in Shampoo because Warren Beatty wore it in Shampoo. But as far as fashion is concerned as “what is happening right now” thing: occasionally it comes back around, and rubs very slightly against me, before going elsewhere. At those periods I’m just biding my time and looking forward to the moment it pisses off and leaves me alone again.
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