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.


Tim Dowling

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
What every man should know about fashion in 2014

What does smart casual actually mean? How much should one spend on a suit? And is it ever OK to wear a fleece? Alex Bilmes answers 2014's most pressing style conundrums

Alex Bilmes

11, Apr, 2014 @6:00 AM

Article image
Men's spring fashion: trending topics

Simon Chilvers: From 'modern camo' to double denim and the socks and sandals debate, here are the 10 hottest talking points in menswear for the new season

Simon Chilvers

02, Apr, 2013 @6:07 PM

Alexis Petridis: Party like it's 2010

What is it with the fashion industry that no one seems to give a damn about men's party wear?

Alexis Petridis

02, Jan, 2010 @12:10 AM

Article image
Men's fashion jury: the celebrity take on the looks of the season

The latest menswear might look great on models, but what does our celebrity panel think? Simon Chilvers asks Gareth Malone, Jon Snow, Dermot O'Leary, Louis Smith and Nick Grimshaw for their take on the looks of the season

Simon Chilvers

16, Nov, 2012 @10:59 PM

Article image
We are family: the cool clans inspiring this season's fashion
From Dynasty’s super-glam Carringtons to the modern gothic of the Addams family, meet the screen families influencing the high street

Jess Cartner-Morley; styling: Melanie Wilkinson, images: David Newby

26, Sep, 2015 @9:00 AM

Article image
Men’s fashion jury: ‘Even by Pharrell’s standards, this outfit is a bit crazy’
Is George Osborne overdoing the makeup? Can André 3000 pull off double denim? And does Pharrell make a pink coat look cool? Our expert panel get personal about the men of the moment

24, Oct, 2014 @2:00 PM

Article image
How stylish are World Cup footballers and managers?

Where do Roy Hodgson, Lionel Messi, Fabio Capello, Cristiano Ronaldo, Jack Wilshere and other World Cup players and managers come in the style league? Our experts, Reggie Yates, Ken Loach and Simon Chilvers, decide

11, Apr, 2014 @10:00 AM

Article image
Men’s fashion: five key trends
From the perpetual student to the hippy who won’t grow up, this season’s trends nod to the seven ages of man

Priya Elan

21, Oct, 2016 @11:00 AM

Article image
Paul Smith design showcase is 'absolutely not a retrospective'
Second Design Museum homage to veteran British designer focuses not on trademark designs but all aspects of the business

Jess Cartner-Morley

14, Nov, 2013 @5:02 PM

Article image
Catwalk shows that shaped fashion – in pictures
The runway can be home to flights of fancy, supermodel star power and the building blocks of a dream wardrobe. With shows going digital this month, here are 14 that form the history of modern fashion

Matt Fidler , Jo Jones, Lauren Cochrane,Helen Seamons Peter Bevan

11, Jun, 2020 @5:01 AM