Shopping is hell—but Savile Row offers another way © Mark Allan
One of the many downsides of being a man over, say, 35, is the psychological desolation that must surely attend any kind of clothes-buying experience. In recent years, I have come to think that when it comes to shopping Dante was right and that there are indeed nine levels to hell.
First, there are all the obvious uncertainties of not knowing where to go, what to buy, how, when or even why. Then there is the instant depression occasioned by the “retail environment”—a kind of soul-cancelling crucible of human despair dreamt up by “creative” departments enthusiastically replete with the world’s least creative people. Third, there’s the merciless anti-music. Fourth, the face-melting lights. Fifth, the risible atmosphere of self-satisfaction that surrounds the absurdist theatre otherwise known as “brand values.”
Sixth (we’re descending fast now), there’s the atrocious décor forced upon your recoiling psyche by some interior designer out for revenge after being labelled a failure at school. Seventh, there’s the horror of so many semi-naked men—the delusions of the flabby, the narcissism of the thin, the dead eyes of Mammon mid-gorge. Eighth, there’s the asphyxiating choice. Why so much? Tops; bottoms; who really cares? Is pink covertly fashionable?
Ninth and worst of all, there is the secret lurking like Gollum in the darkness. That despite the bluster, despite the pooh-poohing, you come here because you still want to be cool. Even though you’re clearly not. That’s why you are standing in a closet listening to One Direction while desperately cramming your gonads into some Filipino fantasist’s idea of a trouser.
There is another way. There is yet a bastion for the beleaguered and the weary, a place of wisdom, experience and murmured reassurance, a refuge and a sanctuary: Savile Row.
Once every five years or so, by way of a birthday present from friends and family (to which I contribute), I have a suit made. I look forward to this event with a kind of anticipation that outshines all other gifts, trips, encounters or holidays.
Why? The quiet. The knowledgeableness. The sense of civilisation. And the kind of personal attention—and attention to one’s person—that seldom visits a man’s life after his childhood. From the moment I step into the shop, there ensues a fascinating series of conversations about colour, fabric,…