I recently received my Christmas gift from Julie. This was a bit early, but there was a good reason. It is a new pair of Wellington boots. Not just any old boots, but serious winter boots, made by Grubs, all the way from America, where they are designed to endure cold of up to -40 degrees, and to face up to any mud, snow, and rough ground. This may seem extreme for reasonably gentle dog-walking in Norfolk, but experience has taught me that I needed the best. Three hours in the thick of winter, and your feet can suffer badly in conventional rubber boots. These neoprene wonders, with a sole like tractor tyres, reinforced toes, and unbelievable insulation inside, should solve all winter walking problems. With not much change from £100, I certainly hope that they live up to their claims.
Getting excited about Wellington boots, is not an experience I ever believed would happen to me. Life in the countryside, and advancing years, have drastically changed my outlook on fashion, clothing, and what I consider to be acceptable to be seen in. When I was a teenager, I was only interested in the Mod fashions, all the rage in London at the time. Smart suits, shiny shoes, tassel loafers, and high collar, or button down collar shirts. Any casual clothing had to be the right brand, and I would sooner have not gone out, than not looked right when I did. Of course, I did not always have enough money to look the part, but I tried hard to fit in, and to always be considered smart. Trips to the barber every week, ties worn in the latest way, and of the correct width. We would never wear a raincoat, or heavy coat, as it covered the expensive suit we had waited so long to acquire. The suit had to be right too. Narrow lapels, centre vent at the back, covered buttons, ticket pockets, all De Rigueur. This changed constantly too, with jacket lengths, cloth styles, waistcoats, trouser turn-ups, all coming and going. It was hard to keep up, but it had to be done.
Over the years into my twenties, this continued, with wearing suits for smartness changing to wearing them for work; a transition that was seamless. There were occasional fashion blips, best forgotten. The huge wide lapels and flared trousers of the 1970’s, unfortunately recalled for eternity, in the photos of my first wedding. Stacked heel shoes, that may have afforded the benefit of two extra inches in height, but were undeniably clumpy and ugly. A made to measure grey leather coat, bought at considerable expense, out of fashion almost by the time it arrived. Throughout all this time, I never owned a T shirt, or a pair of denim jeans. I would not have been seen dead in a sleeveless jumper, high waist trousers, or a kaftan. I never grew a beard or moustache, and always had short hair. During the next two decades, I allowed myself to mellow. I bought some canvas trousers, and even my first pair of denim jeans. I had a polo shirt, and unbelievably, a cardigan, knitted by my Mum. I was still careful what I was seen in, though as I started to wear a formal uniform for work everyday, I did seek out some more casual clothes for my leisure time. My saviour was always the onset of hot weather, when I could wear shorts, and a cotton shirt, my summer uniform ever since.
Mind you, I still wore suits for anything remotely considered to be a social event. Work parties, meals in restaurants, visiting friends for dinner, and even taking one on holiday. I occasionally allowed myself to drop the wearing of a tie, though I remember thinking it disgraceful (and still do) to see men attending weddings, christenings, and even funerals, wearing casual attire. I carefully avoided the trend for rugby shirts and cargo pants, and certainly did not own a hoody, or a baseball cap. The only trainers I ever bought were all white, and completely unadorned, only to be worn on long walks, usually abroad on holiday. I still spent far too much money on good shoes, and never owned less than four suits. The first T shirt I ever owned, was issued to me as part of an ambulance uniform, after 1990.
As I got older, I started to consider a smart shirt and trousers to be acceptable wear for a restaurant. I began to prefer the fashions popularised by some criminals; heavy leather coats, all-black attire, and overcoats, or trench coats. I cut my now-thinning hair even shorter, and began to look for classic, high-value clothing items that would remain timeless. Fashion had escaped me by then, and it seemed to only apply to someone else, but not to me, not anymore. Once I turned fifty, I would even occasionally carry an umbrella, and I started to look at clothes for warmth, waterproofing, and practicality. Waiting at bus stops, or walking long distances on London streets, has a way of dramatically changing your sense of style. I got a full-length parka, with a fur-trimmed hood, and some heavy, and sensible, walking shoes. Trousers were purchased for ease of care and economy, so had to be washable and easy to iron. Without uniform to fall back on, I had to have a reasonably extensive range of shirts, for all seasons, so they had to come from high street chain stores. I had to settle for acceptable; smart but normal. I still wore the suits when I went out, often to comments of derision, that I was ‘over-dressed’. I didn’t care though, as I wasn’t over-dressed by my standards.
Go forward almost ten years. retirement is looming, and we have bought a house in the countryside in Norfolk. I soon buy a zip up fleece, to combat the cold. Then I need Wellingtons, to cope with the mud. Trousers of choice are fleece joggers, and I need T shirts, to layer under jumpers and fleeces. Socks are as thick as rhino skin, and I have slippers that are lined with lambswool. In 2012, I move here for good. My first thought is to buy more fleeces, more jumpers, and extra T shirts. I have to have a better outdoor coat, so get a Schott parka, with an additional inner quilted layer. I buy knee-length socks, to wear in the boots, and start to peruse catalogues, and the Internet, for extra-warm clothing and footwear. The suits go into storage bags in the wardrobe, and the shoes into a box in the loft. I spend an astronomical amount on a new pair of bootee slippers, wool-lined, with a hard base, for trips to the freezer and garage. Most mornings and evenings are spent wrapped in a snuggly dressing-gown, and it takes me forever to get dressed, with all the layers and zips, when I go out. I even bought a hat; a sure sign that it is all over for me now.
So, farewell Fashion. Welcome old age, and the countryside