COLUMN: November 1, 2012

I HAVE always considered myself fairly average. Some might believe that I am “bigging myself up” undeservedly by stating that, and I think I understand that position.

Nevertheless, I don’t think I ever understood just how commonplace and unexceptional I was until I visited a “designer outlet village” last week in search of a charcoal grey suit.

You don’t really need to know why I required a new suit, but anybody who sat opposite me on the bus during the past three weeks would be able to enlighten you, assuming their shuddering had ceased.

In any case I found myself traipsing around the “designer outlet village” looking for a sartorial bargain. This was very difficult.

If you are not familiar with the “designer outlet village” you will require an explanation. It is jam-packed with various shops which sell end-of-line specials, slight seconds and stuff which, despite their best efforts, they have been unable to offload to discerning customers – the textile equivalent of me being picked to play football as a child.

The major retailers have such outlets here, but I always suspect that, at the Christmas party, the people who work for the high street branches look down on the people who work for the outlet stores, and would probably pretend they’re all going home, then wait for the outlet staff to leave, before heading off to a club together. I imagine they refer to the outlet staff as “red felt-tippers.” I do not condone this apartheid, I merely report it.

Incidentally, I have no idea why the set-up is called a “village.” It should, strictly, be known as a “designer outlet hamlet.” My understanding is that a village has to have a church. Or an idiot. Perhaps that was me.

In any case, I could not find a suit in the retail outlets, because, apparently, I have an incredibly common shape. I must be the most average man in the UK.

Every item of clothing in my size had been sold, probably in the non red felt-tip shops. The only items of clothing left were for men with either very fat bellies, or very long thin legs. If you are a man who looks precisely like a giant Chupa Chup, you will find a wealth of garments to suit you, so fill your size 14s.

Bargains being beyond me, I was forced to go to an actual suit shop. I walked in and started to look through the designer suits. I have no idea why. I’ve owned cheaper cars.

A man appeared behind me. He clearly worked there as he had a tape measure draped around his shoulders. “You might find these suits more to your liking, sir,” he said, and deftly he guided me to the very cheap suit section of the shop. He had sized me up quite correctly, but, it turned out, much more thoroughly than I had imagined.

I was wearing an overcoat. It was not my very big coat, Big Coat, but still a substantial garment. “You’re a 40 regular, sir, try this jacket. Charcoal grey, I think.”

“What?” I thought. “How could he possibly know that?”

“And you’ll need the 34-in waist, with the 31-and-a-half-in inside leg.”

I was starting to feel very uncomfortable. Part of me was amazed by his skill, but mostly I was disturbed that he was quite so accurate with regard to my inside leg measurement.

“And how about a shirt, sir? A 16 neck, I think. For comfort, sir.” This was like being attended to by an inappropriately intimate Jeeves. He was right, of course, the swine.

“Perhaps some shoes, sir? We have…”

“What size?” I said. “Come on, then. What size shoes do I take?”

He looked down. He stroked his chin. “A nine, sir,” he ventured.

“Wrong!” I said, triumphantly. “Dead wrong. I’m a 10.”

He looked genuinely baffled as he bagged up the suit, shirt and shoes, as if something didn’t add up. And I walked out of the shop, yes, £40 over budget, but pleased that I had won.

Until I started to think about why he was so puzzled, and what had made him assume my feet were smaller than they are.

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