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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.


guardian.co.uk © 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




June 12 2011

Photographer Stephen Wright's best shot

'At the time, I was using my bedroom as a darkroom – and storing all my chemicals in old lemonade bottles'

Click on the picture to see the full image

This shoot really should have gone to a big-name photographer – an Anton Corbijn or a Pennie Smith – but it went to me, a fan using a cheap Nikon with the wrong lens. I'd sent Rough Trade, the Smiths' label, pictures of the band playing, and Morrissey liked them. They asked me to shoot what would become the inside sleeve to The Queen Is Dead.

I barely slept the night before, but the band were all amiable. The setting was Morrissey's idea. He wanted an iconic Manchester location. We also tried Victoria Station but it was too dark, so we ended up at Salford Lads Club in the winter cold. You can see Johnny Marr shivering in some shots.

I like the casual, staggered way they are standing, and they're nicely framed by the arches. But I always say it's the band, not the photo, that is classic. Morrissey has a Mona Lisa expression: it's neither a smile nor a smirk, but he's very much in command. If you look at the body language, you can tell he was king of the pack.

The Queen Is Dead celebrates its 25th anniversary this week and this image is now in the National Portrait Gallery collection – yet it was taken by someone whose darkroom was also his bedroom and whose processing chemicals were kept in old lemonade bottles. I think the cheap equipment, and the fact there was so little light, gave it a grittiness, like a 1950s picture. Morrissey sent a card saying: "A sweeter set of photos were never taken."

Fans come from all over the world to recreate the shot. The round trip from the centre of Manchester is probably £25 by cab, so I've done my bit for taxi-drivers over the years.

CV

Born: Wallingford, 1960.

Inspirations: Alfred Eisenstadt, Anton Corbijn.

Dream subject: "I shot Miles Davis live, but never got portraits. I wish I'd photographed Marvin Gaye."

Top tip: "Photographers should be seen and not heard."

You can see more pictures on Stephen's website and, from 10 June, six of his favourite images are showing at the Idea Generation gallery in Shoreditch


guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds


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