COLUMN: June 2, 2016


I DECIDED I needed to buy a new black shirt. Following the surprise destruction of my previous such garment, a reader had told me that black shirts are actually a style faux-pas, along the lines of double denim or yellow corduroys, but I pooh-poohed this person.

“How,” I asked, “are men supposed to know if they have dandruff if they do not own a black shirt? Answer me that.” And, of course, my interlocutor could not.

So I went in search of a black shirt and experienced some difficulty. Either there is no demand for black shirts, or there is currently a black shirt shortage. I suppose somebody must be buying them for Donald Trump rallies.

The first shop I entered had a plethora of shirts, in a variety of colours from white to not-white, and a disturbing number of Hawaiian and lumberjack patterns. I am neither Hawaiian nor a lumberjack, nor do I frequently come across either category of man on the 80A bus, so I can only assume this was some sort of inventory error.

However, the only black shirts I could find had short sleeves or were “slim fit”.

Firstly, I do not understand the existence of the short-sleeved shirt. I get T-shirts. They are designed for people who want to look casual and keep their forearms cool during warm weather. Nothing is worse than a warm forearm when the sun is out.

But what is the purpose of the formal short-sleeved shirt? Are there men out there who are happy to button up the front of a shirt but absolutely draw the line at rolling up their sleeves? Where are these men? Hawaii, presumably.

Secondly, slim fit shirts…? I am not a rotund man. Despite the fact we both wear glasses, I am never going to be mistaken for Eric Pickles, even by somebody in a hurry who has been given the vaguest description.

If I had to describe my body type it would be “slim, but not slim enough to wear a slim fit shirt”. I have tried, obviously, and I can just about get away with it as long as I am standing up.

But when I sit down, my 44 years gather for a conference around my waist, and the shirt finds it has a little more work to do than it had anticipated. Essentially, nobody needs to know what my belly button looks like, and it is my responsibility to ensure this does not happen.

What I need is a tailored fit shirt, something which does not billow in the wind, making me look like a flying squirrel, but also does not look as if it has been applied by a bored spray-on tan beautician who has accidentally filled up the tank with creosote.

And so, luckily, in the fourth shop I visited, I found the shirt of my dreams – not my actual dreams, of course. Given that my last nightmare starred a 2cm duck that turned out to be a transformed Captain Mark Phillips, former husband of the Princess Royal, you may assume that shirts are far too mundane to feature in my actual dreams.

It was black, it had long sleeves, it was tailored, and, crucially, it was £50 cheaper than its £70 price tag when it was first on sale. I cannot swear that I did not hear a choir of angels when I found it.

I was cock-a-hoop, readers, especially the reader who said I should not wear a black shirt. And then it all went wrong.

I handed over the shirt and the nice man behind the counter confirmed the price and asked me if I wanted a carrier bag.

Now, it’s clear why he was obliged to ask this, given that he has to charge for a bag if I want one. But how many times must he ask this question every day in order to hear the answer “No, thank you?” He works in a clothes shop. Who buys clothes and does not want a bag?

Who says, “No, thanks, I’ll just tie the sleeves around my waist?”

The answer is me. I said that. And then the nice man rang up my bill without a bag.

And then I had to explain that I was being sarcastic, and I really did want a bag. But it was too late. And I had to dig in my pocket for 5p to pay for a bag.

I hope you are satisfied, my black shirt-sceptic reader.

One thought on “COLUMN: June 2, 2016

  1. Oh dear Gary, you appear to be, yet another, fashion victim, like those middle aged ladies who insist on wearing leggings that were the height of fashion in their youth, despite having more body than is decent to squeeze into the bulge revealing garments!
    I was well into flared trousers as a teenager, they were great for disguising my oversize feet at the time, but I dare not wear them now!

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