The Brits have grown incredibly fashion-conscious in the years I’ve observed them close up, but they remain, how shall I put it, endearingly inconsistent about clothes. So I decided to devote a whole chapter of my memoir, (chapter four, no less) to the phenomenon.
I started by noticing that despite the ubiquitousness of everything, the sameness of everywhere, despite the fact that countries and people are all slowly merging into one pulsating, digital, grey soup and we all shop in the same shops and buy the same stuff and listen to the same music and aspire to the same virtual dreams, despite all that, it is still possible, walking down a British high street, to pick an Italian man from 20 metres away, and before they’ve opened their mouths.
There are potent and telling details – the fluorescent Invicta rucksacks and scuffed Superga trainers of the under 18s, the beautiful leather shoes and dark blue quilted jackets the over 50s, the stylish eyewear, the layers of jumpers and padded waistcoats and scarves even at the height of summer. But this is easy, I hear you protest.
I’d be prepared to accept a much tougher challenge: pick a British and an Italian man who have the same colourings, clothe them in exactly the same suit and shoes and I can still tell you which is which the minute they sit down. If you can discern a strip of bare hairy flesh between the trouser leg and the edge of a Bart Simpson sock, there’s your Brit. The Italian will have subdued dark woollen socks reaching up all the way to the top of his calf and firmly held in place there by an elasticised edge.
Nothing can prepare an Italian adult woman for the sartorial mess that is the British adult male. Before arriving on these shores the only instances in which I’d seen grown men in short socks emblazoned with cartoon characters was on tennis courts and at visiting hours on hospital wards (psychiatric wing).
So how about you, or the man in your life? Could you, could he take the sock challenge? For more on this and other tips on urban camouflage to unleash the Italian in you (deep, deep inside you, somewhere) you can read the whole chapter here.