the ultimate menswear style swap
When people meet me in the flesh, they often seem disappointed that I don’t resemble Mark Donovan, the character I played in The Inbetweeners, a bit more closely. “Where is the French crop, where is the sportswear?” they think. Instead they find someone with a lifelong enthusiasm for dressing snappily – for men’s tailoring, militaria and exotic vintage. But sports casual not so much.
In fact my all-time fashion inspiration goes a bit like this: West Indies cricket teams of the 70s-80s. David Niven. David Hockney. Joe Strummer. Jack Nicholson. Chet Baker.
My clothes mean a lot to me; they have history. The more long-lived the item, the greater its ranking in the wardrobe. I’m thinking of a shabby Italian tweed jacket of my mum’s that I poached when I was 15. I remember being told I was dressed like a “young fogey”; I took it as a compliment, and never looked back.
Not that I don’t rock shiny new sportswear. I do – but normally sticking to a singular theme. I might be doing my best impression of a West Indian cricketer from the 70s, with bucket hat and wide collars, or Jamel Shabazz-era hip-hop style, high-tops and bomber jackets. Or more recently, travelling long haul, I might go full Nike Tech Fleece. What I don’t often do is cross the streams. I always want an outfit to feel complete.
At lunch, my friend Jemima points out the almost matching shades of plaid on my Fred Perry shirt and my jacket lining. “I like the coordination between the collar and the jacket.” “Thanks,” I reply, grateful for a bit of early reassurance. But as always I’ve underestimated her French sarcasm. “I mean it’s too obvious,” she says. Ouch. “Your casualwear is more stylish,” she offers by way of comfort. “Is this normcore?” I ask the table. “You look more like the slick guy in a movie about football hooligans,” my friend Nikesh muses. I’ll take that… I think.
The one thing I hadn’t bargained for is the cold. My winter wardrobe is full of layers, shirts and cardigans tucked under thick coats and blazers. I feel very exposed in my lightweight jacket. I resolve to dig out an old fishtail parka for the rest of the day. It’s kind of sports casual, so I hope it’s not cheating.
On day two I wear my second outfit – a blue-grey Adidas Spezial Beckenbauer tracksuit – to the football. It’s a warmer affair, thanks to the Stone Island x Nike coat that comes with it. To my surprise, the outfit gets a rapturous response. Unlike the first ensemble, which seemed to remind people of something I might wear, albeit with the brightness dialled down, this full-on casual look is enough of a departure for people to really take notice.
“You look perfect,” my dad chirps as I meet him outside the Loftus Road stadium. One of the football regulars, Ben, takes a shine to it, too. “You should keep this as your look,” he says. My wife has given it her stamp of approval – she says it’s “very attractive” – and I start to wonder what all of this positive feedback says about my usual clothes. I think my mates enjoyed seeing a laddier side to my personality; they appreciated my style without the flamboyant edge. As I leave, I ask my friend Alex why people prefer me in this outfit. He gives it some thought. “You look like it’s 1997,” he says, “but you’re pulling it off.”
It feels good to have had so many compliments in a single day, though afterwards I relish the return of the sense of expression my own style gives me. Elgar’s style is unfussy and practical, and there’s something comforting in that for both the wearer and those around them. Looking at my own colourful wardrobe, perhaps I’ve learned that, sartorially, sometimes less really is more – for a trip to the football at least.