Is Covid lockdown's legacy to be the end of the suit and the rise of a scruffy nation? – Aidan Smith

There are some who would argue I’ve been impersonating a journalist for years but to my mind I’ve only done it once – in 1999 when I was an extra in Complicity, the movie version of Iain Banks’ grisly murder-mystery with a gonzo hack as the anti-hero.

The "Suits, you, Sir" tailors Paul Whitehouse and Mark Williams will be out of work if the fad for casual and sportswear continues beyond lockdown
The "Suits, you, Sir" tailors Paul Whitehouse and Mark Williams will be out of work if the fad for casual and sportswear continues beyond lockdown
The "Suits, you, Sir" tailors Paul Whitehouse and Mark Williams will be out of work if the fad for casual and sportswear continues beyond lockdown

The hack’s newspaper was an Edinburgh-based broadsheet called The Caledonian so the producers asked if they could film in our offices. In return I was given access-all-areas to hang around the set, interview the stars – and play a truth-seeker who would run up the building’s grand marble staircase just as Jonny Lee Miller hobbled in the other direction following a bout of particularly adventurous sex with his married lover.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-me part but one I approached with the method-like rigour of Al Pacino or Robert De Niro. I remembered Banks’ observation in the novel about my profession’s dismal dress-sense – a cheap suit with an anorak on top, the jacket extending inelegantly beneath – and kitted myself out accordingly.

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I mention this because the suit – already in peril when I wore one every day – is in even greater danger now. Shedding traditional workwear when Covid hit, we now can’t get out of our joggers. We have become a nation of scruffy gits – sartorial disasters trapped in elasticated waistbands. (Though these are not constricting in the slightest. That’s the point of them, and the joy).

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What do we do in moments of crisis, when we’re not sure who we are anymore? Look to our leaders for guidance and inspiration. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, knows this, which is why he’s urging MPs to set a good example.

For their return following the summer recess, Sir Lindsay has toughened up the dress code with a banned list of lockdown faves: “Jeans, chinos, sportswear or other casual trousers are not appropriate,” runs the revised “rules and courtesies”, with casual shoes and trainers also receiving black marks.

If elected members put on their suits again, then maybe we will too. And if the politicians have gone back to their place of work after 18 months of Zooming into parliamentary proceedings, this should encourage the rest of us to venture once more to the office where the hope is that, in matching jaikit and breeks, we will be infused with a renewed sense of purpose and mission, having been assured that our every commute, tuna sandwich and flat white will help revive the economy.

But if a week is a long time in politics, then a year and a half in joggers seems like forever. We remain reluctant to ditch them because we are not inspired by this government and even less by what they wear.

For instance, if I ever worry about how far I’ve dressed down while WFH – working from home – I need only think of Boris Johnson in his combo of flowery swim-shorts, bobbly fleece and moobs-enhancing T-shirt.

Our premier inflicts this look on the public when he’s running or playing tennis. I, on the other hand, confine myself to my eyrie. Even my wife isn’t exposed to my shambolic appearance, which strangely and semi-tragically, isn’t so different from BoJo’s shambolic appearance. She just leaves my toast and macaroon bars by the door.

When Johnson’s being PM, he’s wearing a suit but it’s a poor fit and the trousers are too long. His Chancellor of the Exchequer’s strides, though, are too short and too tight.

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When I think of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in a suit I can’t see beyond him in that Aberdeen nightclub, jerking a leg, losing control of a hip and pointing an index finger in a manner that will never, ever, be described as Travolta-esque.

When I think of the now former Health Secretary in a suit, he’s like Alan Partridge in mid-grope: “Do you like me doing that? Shall I do it more quickly or maintain the same speed?”

When I think of the still – just – current Foreign Secretary, he’s not in a suit despite all the frantically arranged posed photos of him back at his desk, pretending to be masterful over Afghanistan, but instead he’s sporting bright orange Speedos as he casually tosses his phone into the swimming pool of a five-star boutique resort on Crete.

As the old song, Pass the Dutchy of Lancaster, goes: “This generation, rules the nation.” But its representatives in government don’t make me want to get into a suit again.

In fact, with Marks & Spencer no longer selling ‘tin flutes’ in many of their stores, are top Tories glimpsed in varying degrees of inelegance, embarrassment, comedy and humiliation to blame for the plummet in sales rather than lockdown?

If the end of the suit really is nigh, then maybe Charlie Watts chose a good moment to say goodbye. His obituaries hailed not just a great drummer but a great dresser. The owner of more than 200 suits with two tailors in his employ, he would often despair of his scruffy bandmates and a photograph of his drumkit, jacket carefully hung alongside to avoid creasing, seemed to sum the man up.

Now it’s been revealed that Watts’ vast wardrobe included suits once worn by Edward VIII, purchased at a Sotheby’s sale in Paris but never flaunted, so now I have an image of him getting into these dazzling checks for just a quiet afternoon at home.

Well, it’s a whole lot more attractive than some listed here. We can’t all be as cool in a suit as Charlie but I still own the last one I bought some years ago and reckon I can look better in it than Johnson, Hancock, Raab and the rest do in theirs. All I need is an anorak, causing the vents to flap in the classic manner.

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