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August 17 2012

At the age of 37, you needn't start dressing like J*r*my Cl*rks*n | Charlie Porter

Men may lose interest in fashion in their late 30s, but a sense of personal style is another matter

Pity poor men. It has long been a curiosity why, after a certain age, men appear to lose interest in fashion. It is a conversation which turns menswear into a forum for mockery: those that have gone to seed are scorned for the inadequacies of their appearance, while those that still make an effort are goaded for vanity or self-importance. A recent survey has made this mockery specific: it has found that the age at which men lose an interest in fashion is 37. I am 38. Poor me.

Fashion is about identity. For many men, identity is something that matters most in their years of prolonged adolescence, from their teenage years into their 20s, even early 30s. It's especially true for men whose adolescence occurred pre-internet, before social media overtook fashion as a means to express character. In the late 20th century, clothing played a primal role in youthful identity, especially with the obstinacy of punk, the baggy of acid house or even the sharpness of mod that is still so important to 32-year-old Bradley Wiggins.

In their late 30s, the need for identity in men seems to wane, overridden by the individual male's growing responsibilities or life-changes: parenthood, employment or unemployment, changes in body-shape and health. The identity of adolescence goes. Fashion goes with it.

When fashion goes, what seems to remain for men are those unprintable words: "J*r*my" and "Cl*rks*n". Of course what no one realises in this is that Cl*rks*n uses his non-identity as an identity in itself. He makes great profit from dressing badly. It is his uniform for hammy belligerence. Cl*rks*n symbolises the male menopause as a return to adolescence. Sadly, it is an adolescence stripped of its need for style and difference. The Cl*rks*n look allows men to shift from identity to non-identity as they head towards the grave.

But this is not always the case. Most of my contemporaries not working in fashion still seem alert about their appearance. As the identity of adolescence has waned for me, what has become important is how I appear to myself. I do not mean by this self-image. As I'm typing this, I can see in my lower field of vision the white shirt I'm wearing with its blue and orange polka dots. I love it being part of my visual experience. I don't care if I look daft. As long as I like it, I'm happy.

There are obvious male celebrities over the age of 37 who could be listed now as examples of middle-aged male style, but these are red herrings, usually actors involved in profiting from image to further their career. Celebrity fashion is something separate from real-life fashion, and citing male celebrities as examples of how to dress is a futile, empty exercise.

Much more interesting to cite examples of men who retain personal style for whatever reason of their own:

Chris Dercon, the new director of Tate Modern, is an extraordinarily dapper man, now in his 50s. He has a particular way with wearing jackets and coats with an upturned collar.

Seventy-five-year-old David Hockney has long dressed his body in the colour that is placed on his canvases, or more recently selected on his iPad.

The 40-year-old Savile Row tailor Patrick Grant came to his profession from his love of clothing and his continuing interest in how garments are made. And it is clear from the severity of 53-year-old Steven Patrick Morrissey's obsessions that he would have dressed in his chosen manner even if he'd not become globally known by his surname.

Examples of such personal style go deep into the past. The recent male fondness for Breton striped sweaters always makes me think of Pablo Picasso. The multidiscipline of Jean Cocteau extended to the drama of his clothing. And examples of male style beyond the age of 37 will only increase in the future. Today's post-internet male adolescents take looking good for granted, their appearance ever Instagram-ready. Cl*rks*n already feels antiquated. When post-internet adolescents reach maturity, he will have been an aberration. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

February 16 2012

What Clarkson can learn from Picasso

The Top Gear presenter's recent mockery of people with facial disfigurements contrasts sharply with Picasso, who painted the human face in all its beautiful, distorted glory

I am not a regular viewer of Top Gear. So someone had to alert me to a recent segment in which presenter Jeremy Clarkson started going for people who look different. He compared a new car with a person suffering from a facial tumour: "You know sometimes you meet someone and they have got a growth on their face and it is bigger than their face … one of those really ugly things..." The, er, joke was extended and repeated in the programme.

Did he really need to be that specific in singling out a group of people for mockery?

It is easy to see why the charity Changing Faces, which campaigns for more inclusive attitudes to disfigurement, is seriously upset. It is the precision of Clarkson's remarks – he referred to a real illness, that real people are experiencing every day – that makes them cruel.

But I don't want to waste too many words on this ugly television performance. What I want to do is contrast Clarkson's attitude to the human face with the view taken by Picasso.

There is a powerful painting in the Picasso exhibition currently at Tate Britain of the mother of the artist's lover. Picasso's 1939 work, Portrait of Emilie Marguerite Walter (Meme), shows a woman who appears to have a nose on the side of her face, a sideways bulge from one of her cheeks, and eyes at different heights behind her thick round spectacles. I would love to hear Jeremy Clarkson describe her (no I wouldn't).

Instead, let's consider what David Hockney had to say. Picasso's painting of Emilie Marguerite Walter is shown with works by Hockney in the Tate Britain show, because the Yorkshire Picasso fan has commented on, and done his own versions of, this particular work. Hockney pointed out that Picasso is actually showing what anyone's face can look like closeup – and he is surely right. When we speak to one another, when we kiss, when we touch one another's faces we encounter mysterious, changing landscapes, not the simple icons that adverts promote.

Hockney's observation or something like it applies, I think, to all of Picasso's paintings. Picasso is the artist Changing Faces should endorse, for he changed how we can see all faces. There is no such thing as fixed beauty or ugliness through Picasso's eyes. People are endless vistas of wonder, and when he paints a mistress, he distorts and reinvents just as gleefully as he does in any other picture. What he is painting is the truth of life's boundless surprise.

Picasso is the antithesis of Clarkson when it comes to ways of seeing the human face. Our society would be kinder and better if we learned to look through his eyes. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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