Tim Dowling: confessions of a middle-aged scruff

'I have begun to digest the prevailing wisdom's core message: you are old; you cannot afford to be badly dressed as well'

When I was at high school, I stacked shelves in a supermarket for nine months. After I graduated from college, I spent a similar length of time working in the post room of a corporate HQ. These are the only jobs I have had where I was required to wear a tie, and yet my tie collection is pretty impressive.

The paisley tie I got married in is still there, hanging with the others, although I don't think I've put it on once in the intervening 21 years. There are two plain red, one gold and a luminous green; a single squared-off knit; a generous sampling of stripes and dots; and a flamboyantly patterned kipper tie I sometimes wear when I want to trick people into thinking I am the devil-may-care type. I am not a great buyer of ties, but I also never throw them out. The collection pretty well sums up my wardrobe at 50: agglomerative, barely intentional, its breadth more a mark of age than wide-ranging tastes.

I ought to declare a lack of interest: on fashion's cap, I am not the very button. I work from home, so getting all the way dressed in the morning is optional. All my jumpers are either grey or blue. All my jeans come from Uniqlo. All my white shirts were bought in airports under stressful circumstances. Socks are something I periodically add to the supermarket shopping list, alongside toothpaste and dog food.

There is a wealth of fashion advice out there for the 50-plus male, and most of it could be summed up thus: don't be like me. Your sixth decade is meant to be a time to start taking pains with your wardrobe. Buy quality items only, they say. Choose a deliberate look and stick to it. Pay particular attention to accessories such as watches, belts and shoes.

Most of this is simply beyond me. I don't own a watch, and I can't imagine having to choose between two belts. Who am I, the Duke of Windsor? But I have lately begun to digest the prevailing wisdom's core message: you are old; you cannot afford to be badly dressed as well.

For men, age brings an increasing obligation of formality; a need for good tailoring and stiff collars. It's easy to be underdressed and almost impossible to be overdressed. Shorts and trainers look silly unless you are actually exercising – but from 50 onwards you can wear a suit anywhere, even to a picnic.

I have two suits, and more and more I find myself relying on them when I have occasion to leave the house. It just means I don't have to think too hard, and at my age nobody ever looks at my suit and thinks I'm trying too hard. If nothing else, a suit makes you look as if you've just come from something important, or are on your way there.

The other great obligation of age is tidiness: a white shirt needs to be white, not the deep oyster of 100 rinse cycles, and crisply ironed. Shoes need to be shined. My huge repository of holey jumpers, frayed trousers and stained T-shirts simply emphasise my own decay.

By the age of 50, one is likely to have seen a fair number of trends come and go. This can be deeply confusing, but here's a handy rule of thumb: if you were old enough to indulge a certain fashion in its first heyday, you will be too old for it by the time it returns. Don't listen when people tell you rollnecks are back. Not for you, they aren't: you'll just look as if you never gave them up.

After 50, one should probably avoid trends altogether, and stick to apparel generally regarded as timeless. One of the benefits of age should be the experience to distinguish between the classic and the merely faddish, especially when it comes to footwear.

Sometimes, of course, this can feel like a retreat. I recently bought a pair of classic loafers of a style I had long dismissed as insufficiently urban (largely because, many years ago, I was mugged while wearing some, and in the ensuing scuffle one flew off and landed in a skip). But now I feel I'm finally dowdy enough to suit them. This is not an altogether pleasant realisation.

For the most part, however, I ignore my own proscriptions. My official position on ageing remains one of petulant defiance. I still wear shorts, badly frayed shirts and shoes so scuffed that their original colour is no longer apparent. I'll probably consider investing in some better-fitting, more expensive shirts in future. But I'm not parting with a single tie

• Tim wears suit, £795, and shirt, £99.50, both by Mr Start, and shoes, £290, by Church's, all from start-london.com.

Contributor

Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

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