Friday 28 June 2013

All Things Must Pass

I’m a straight, white, middle-class Englishman, and as such have absolutely no interest in fashion. I’ve nothing against it in principle; if it floats your boat then good luck to you, everybody needs a hobby, but it’s not something I can force myself to worry about all that much.

Fashion forward.

It’s not that I don’t care about how I look, it’s just that I don’t care about how I look beyond a certain socially acceptable minimum. While obviously it’s important not to look like an utter slob, to look like you still give a shit about what sort of image you’re projecting to other people, if after any sort of professional or personal exchange what sticks most in other people’s minds is the way I looked then it’d be hard not to conclude that something must have gone badly wrong. I do want the way I dress to make a statement, but I’d like that statement to be, “My clothes are not the most interesting thing about me.”

I never really went for the whole nightclub scene, and the whole concept of Smart-Casual dressing just makes me shudder. I’m also fortunately past the stage of my life when I needed to dress for work accounting for the possibility I might get soaking wet (with water or other fluids). So I now basically have two sartorial settings: Jeans and T-shirt, or Suit and Tie.

This also simplifies buying clothes, and lord knows I need as much help as I can get. I’m tall enough that even in the UK I’m at the very upper limit of what’s usually available in the shops. I’m generally OK, but I never do particularly well during the sales when there’s only the strictly average sizes available. And in Japan you can forget it; I walk into shoe shops and they just laugh at me and my hysterical clown-feet. So out of necessity I’ve ended up doing Dad Shopping, which means that when I find something that I like and that fits I automatically buy as many of them as they have in stock.

I don’t enjoy this. Please believe me, I’m not proud of what I’ve become. When I was a young and carefree teenager hanging around the shopping mall – spitting on the pavement and buying chips from McDonalds then flinging them at my mates for as long as possible before a security guard shouted at us – I never would have believed me if you told me I would be that old guy walking out of Debenhams with half a dozen identical polo-shirts under his arm. But we all grow up to become the thing we despised, and so it is that I’ve descended to the simplifying bulk-buying strategy of middle-aged men the world over.

In my defence I only do this in the UK, because I need to have some clothes that actually fit and I essentially only have two or three days to stock up for the next couple of years. And I neither shop at Debenhams nor buy polo-shirts. I still have some pride. Plus Uniqlo is fairly reliable for pants or anything else that you’re comfortable in if the fit is best described as ‘snug’.

Tighty Whitey.

We’re heading back to the UK this summer, so it means I’ve got another stock-up session in store. I’m actually dreading this one a bit more than normal because I’m going to have to buy a suit and that’s an especially painful experience. I’ve got a larger than average drop, you see (Hello, ladies).

For those of you who didn’t waste far too much of their lives reading GQ as a teenager I should explain that when talking about suits the drop is the difference between chest size and waist size. Having anything significantly different from average makes buying off-the-peg a real pain, and it hasn’t been a problem for such a long time. A little over ten years ago I went on holiday to Thailand and got a couple of suits made, and with one or two cheaper and uglier additions to occasionally throw into the mix they’ve done me just fine ever since.

And now let’s all just pause for a minute to appreciate the fact that I can still fit into the same suits that I could over a decade ago.*

My suits don't have capes, though. More's the pity.

But, recently they’ve been showing their age. By which I mean that they’ve been falling apart in the most awkward and humiliating manner possible. Literally coming apart at the seams. In the crotches. The crotch seams and flies have all been popping and ripping and snapping at the most inopportune and downright degrading times.

The first went when I was visiting a new school with a colleague. I sit in the car and notice that there’s a bit more of a draught around my balls than I usually prefer in such situations (I refer you back to the ‘snug’ comment above). I check to see if she’s got any purposefully positioned air-vents designed specifically for passenger crotch-wafting – this being a Japanese-made car it’s not something I feel I can instantly rule out – but no. What there is instead is a six-inch gap where my inseam should be. I briefly pause to give thanks that my Dad Shopping long ago led me only to buy black or dark grey underwear, so it’s only the pasty whiteness of my mid-thigh that’s giving the game away.

I do, however, have the prospect of fifteen minutes of make-nice with the school’s Head in store. Now, every Head Teacher’s office in Japan has an identical meeting area which consists of settees that are only higher than floor-level by virtue of a single layer of cheap imitation leather (so fun fun fun in the summer, sweat fans!) arrayed at a distance of two-and-a-half inches around a coffee table with edges like razorblades. If you’re taller than 5’2” then you’ll end up sitting with your knees around your ears, and wearing shinpads is strongly advised. It’s an arrangement which is obviously quite deliberately designed for maximal groin exposure on the part of all concerned.

You scoff, but it’s clearly a highly sophisticated greeting ritual, designed to display trust and acceptance. By shaking hands we’re occupying a physical position that says, “I trust you enough to enter within a range where you could strike me if you bore me ill-will,” bowing places you in a position indicating that, “I trust you enough to avert my eyes, so allowing you to strike me undetected should you bear me ill-will,” and the low-seat/coffee-table leg-stocks force you to occupy a position that says, “LOOK AT MY BALLS. LOOK AT THEM.”

Tonguing optional.

It’s all about trust. But by this stage of our societal development it’s more of a symbolic gesture that a literal one so I don’t feel that actual bollock display would go down particularly well. We’re running a little early so I have time to request a quick diversion to a convenience store, where I buy a pack of safety pins and disappear to the toilets to make running repairs. I’m gone for a while and when I exit, with half a dozen bits of thin and pointy metal jabbing at my inner-thigh, I’m walking with a noticeable limp that I didn’t have before. My colleague obviously has questions but bless her says not a word. I haven’t worked with her since, though.

Thanks to the combination of both safety pins and strategic clipboard deployment the rest of the visit passes uneventfully, if not particularly comfortably. But while it’s uncomfortable it’s not a wholly unpleasant experience, if I’m honest. I’ve never been tempted to get a Prince Albert, but now on some level I can understand the appeal.

When I got the suits made I actually got a couple of pairs of trousers for each jacket, anticipating just such an eventuality. Clever me. However, they’ve all decided to go at almost exactly the same time. Another pair went last week in exactly the same way. I was at school and thankfully noticed before I had a lesson. I gingerly step down to the Home Economics office hoping that I can borrow a needle and thread without having to explain why. My Japanese vocabulary doesn’t yet include the word ‘inseam’ and I feel that trying to explain using gestures would, at best, result in a written warning and a stern talk about appropriate professional conduct.

It’s with mixed feelings that I find the Home Ec teacher has a class and the point is moot. I thus find myself in a toilet cubicle with a stapler trying to effect running repairs as best I can.

And just the other day a third pair go. This time it’s the fly. Same day, same period, so once again no help from the seamstress. The only stapler I can find this time is one of those huge long-arm ones you use to do dozens of A3 pages at a time, which I then lug to the bogs. A colleague is exiting just as I’m going in and sees what I’m carrying. I nod but decline to explain further, realizing full well that now I probably won’t get invited to this year’s bonenkai. I void myself fully, as clearly these trousers aren’t coming off until I get home, then proceed to rivet myself in. It’s a tentative process as I was only joking about the Prince Albert before, and even if I weren’t then I don’t think that it’s really a procedure one should attempt without professional involvement.

All of this means that I’m now down to my final pair of original, non-fucked trousers, which I’m wearing as I type this. I’ve got a demonstration class this afternoon in front of all the new first graders’ parents. I’ve done so many of these things that I usually really enjoy them but today, for the first time in a long, long time, I’ll admit to being just a tiny bit nervous…

*In the interests of full disclosure I should point out that they’re actually slightly looser fitting now than they were back then. For those with naturally ectomorphic tendencies the lack of gym time caused by having kids is a more effective weight-loss strategy then dysentery. 
Credit where it's due.


  1. The mem's suit chain, Aoki or Mens Aoki always worked for me (6'2", long arms. long legs) they'll adjust the trousers to measure (same day if you go in the morning) & usually some funky offer like buy one suit and the second one is a 1,000 yen.

    1. Thanks for the tip. Have to confess I'm not entirely I'd trust a 1,000 yen suit any more than my current ones, but nice to have options :)

  2. I have two university degrees, am better read than anyone I know in person, speak more than just English (which is rare, for we Anglophones), have run a half-marathon, paddled an isolated coast and hiked the length of the Hida-Sanmyaku several times, but I am most proud of having the same waist in early forties as mid-twenties. Damn right.

    1. I think all that running and paddling might be related to the waistline, no? And the cycling.

      I was quite late to the facebook party, and while I should reiterate that I'm not a facebook stalker, not even in jest, it was something of a shock to see how much collective weight my old school friends had managed to pile on.

    2. Schadenfreude is petty, but imagine what the girls who wouldn't have you now look like (or those who broke your heart). As a Canadian, my bet is they now outweigh my 180 lb.

  3. Ten years out of a suit is phenomenal. I bought 5 suits my first year in Tokyo, including two summer suits at different bargain shops (Aoki, Konaka, etc...), and none of them lasted more than 2 years.

    "... the low-seat/coffee-table leg-stocks force you to occupy a position that says, “LOOK AT MY BALLS. LOOK AT THEM.”"

    With the way boys here in Japan, from elementary to high school, grab each other's junk all the time, it's not hard to make the balls-inspection-as-part-of-social-indoctrination connection...

    1. In fairness I didn't wear them so much for the first couple of years, but they've been pretty well hammered over the last four or five. I have to confess to being pleasantly surprised how well they've lasted. I loved many aspects of Bangkok, but not the constant nagging sensation that I was being taken for a ride.

  4. My suit (aka the suit, no plural) is into its 6th year and at the current rate will see its 10th easily, provided it does not develop incompatibilities in the waistline department or fall victim to moths or the local climate. Mind you that's mainly because the poor bugger lives a hikikomori existence, and after the last attempt to put it on when I got a phone call warning me explicitly *not* to wear it (job interview), I suspect it is getting a little paranoid and nervous of the outside world.

    1. Well, if you've managed to get yourself a lifestyle where a suit isn't necessary, I guess a bit of sacrifice has to be expected. I guess The Suit is just going to have to take this one for the team. Don't tell it about the team. It'll just freak out...

      Thanks for the comment.

  5. I don't own a suit. That was not good for the funeral last Winter but as a teacher it's awesome. I' don't even wear shirts after work. Spring/Summer/Fall I walk around naked from the surf shorts up and a wife beater draped over my shoulder or stuck into my surf shorts in case I go into a shop or something.

    1. The joys of being self-employed in a warm climate, eh?

      It is, of course, all utter bollocks, but we've talked before about dealing with the things that don't matter so you can focus on the things that do, and this is one one those things.

      Incidentally, where do you get your shorts? In addition to the waist/chest thing, I've also got a weird proportion between my waist and thighs so finding shorts is a bit of a nightmare too. Or at least ones that
      a) fit, and
      b) don't look like they were designed by a tweenage girl high on sugar in 1985.