Famously, the last time I went into the city to buy trousers, I came back with an Xbox 360 instead. It was a couple of years ago and I made the mistake of going into GAME at the start of my trip. I was so surprised to find the consoles in stock, I bought one immediately. I hadn't counted on how much they weigh. I was an aching, sweaty mess within minutes. I half-heartedly glanced round the menswear department of John Lewis and headed home.
Bearing in mind that my second-best pair of trousers had a hole in the knee so large that it kept catching on furniture as I walked by, I should have dumped the Xbox in our hall and headed straight back to the shops. I hate clothes shopping, though. Psyching myself up to go twice in one day was beyond me. (Not to mention that I had a new games console to play with.) The following Saturday seemed soon enough to buy trousers.
Unfortunately, it was another three months before I bought any. We were staying with my parents in rural Norfolk and I ended up going to the nearest small town to buy some. The situation was desperate by that stage. Even my best pair of trousers had developed excess ventilation. There was only one shop in the town that sold clothes that I might wear and that were in my price range. It was a case of buying anything which fitted. I did that.
The results looked fine and I had no more clothing worries until a six weeks ago, when I discovered my current second-best pair of trousers had a gaping hole. It wasn't in the knee this time. I got by for a while by coordinating my underwear with the trousers but it wasn't really a long-term solution. I had to return to central Edinburgh and brave the horrors of Princes Street in search of something to keep me decent.
A few years back, a couple of menswear retailers weren't doing so well and I saw an interview with a director of one of the companies on Working Lunch. He basically blamed us for his woes. With a touch of irritation, he noted that men in an age range between twenty-five and forty-five don't buy clothes.
This isn't entirely true. We do buy socks and underpants when our partners insist. We also need two sets of work clothes (one to wear, one to wash). Housedads even need five sets of work clothes (one to wear, three to wash, one to beat with a stick until it stays still long enough to be incinerated). Then there's a few t-shirts for sunny weekends, a new pair of pyjamas every decade or so and, erm... er... ...
Yeah, anyway, we do buy clothes. What the guy was really saying was that we only buy what we need to keep us warm and to prevent us getting arrested. This is true. My mission objective as I boarded the bus was purely to find sufficient apparel to stave off hypothermia and custody. Avoiding looking ridiculous was desirable but not essential.
Since it was last Tuesday, everywhere was plastered with adverts for Grand Theft Auto IV. I ignored them. I had to concentrate on buying trousers. I had to not think about it being release day for one of the greatest computer games ever made.
Must buy trousers...
It was harder than I expected. I don't mean steering clear of GTA. That was easy - every shop selling it was too full of people wanting their copy for me to be able to get inside. I'm talking about finding trousers I liked enough to cough up the asking price. As it's a while since I regularly went clothes shopping, my expectations were out of kilter with reality. I was looking for trousers that had fallen through a worm-hole from 1995, complete with a 1995 price. Worse yet, there were shops I used to patronise that I walked into and felt almost too old for. I can probably carry off wearing faded jeans at the moment but in a year or three? I doubt it. Considering how infrequently I buy clothes, this was an issue. I didn't know what to do.
My feet took charge and carried me into Gamestation on autopilot. After fighting my way past all the people buying Grand Theft Auto IV, I discovered that Wii Fit was in stock. (The emergency team digging Nintendo's minions out of a mountain of cash must have hurried the job along so they were ready for a call-out from Rockstar.) I had games to trade and some vouchers to spend and, well, one thing led to another and I found myself without new trousers but carrying a heavy piece of interactive hardware. This felt spookily familiar.
I considered going home with my prize but I knew I'd never live it down. Perspiring slightly, I continued my quest.
Luckily, the Wii Fit balance board isn't quite as cumbersome as a 360. It is close, though. I resolved to find some suitable clothing as quickly as I could, before my arm fell off.
Things didn't improve. Everywhere I went, there were more bizarre clothes that would have needed to be half the price for me to take a chance on them. I thought one pair of trousers was OK until I realised the legs zipped off to turn them into shorts. I'm sure that's a feature my kids would love to experiment with endlessly but I wasn't so keen.
It was all a succession of baggy sacks with too many pockets, odd jackets and pink shirts with blue stripes and matching purple ties. I was tempted to flaunt some of my rips and get arrested, just so I'd be able to wear some decent coveralls.
Then I walked past British Home Stores. I stopped and walked back. I didn't feel quite old enough to shop there but I decided I'd better have a look, for the sake of completeness. Sagging from despair, weariness and the knowledge I'd turned into my dad, I went inside and took the escalator up to the first floor.
I was greeted by row upon row of chinos in unremarkable colours. They were even in the sale.
I had come home.
Despite it being lunchtime, there weren't many other shoppers around. I can only assume they were off buying Grand Theft Auto IV somewhere. The couple of blokes I did see hunting through the racks were fifteen to twenty years older than me. This was disturbing. I'd apparently moved up an age bracket in my consumer preferences. Who knew what I was going to start feeling the urge to purchase? Slip-on shoes? A cloth cap? A newspaper that didn't come free on the bus?
I found myself called towards the tartan slippers.
Must buy trousers...
I concentrated on the task in hand. I was surrounded by suitable trousers and I needed four pairs. Which ones to buy? First choice was black. I'm not keen on brown. It lacks the style of black. White was out of the question. It needs washed more often than other colours (like black, for instance). Beige (or biscuit or light brown or whatever it is) was nice but almost as impractical as white - I need something which doesn't show grass-stains and dirt. You know, like black. I considered getting a grey pair but, although I'd wear them, I'd be wishing they were... well... black.
Basically, I was thinking black.
I couldn't quite bring myself to buy four pairs of identical black trousers, however. I opted for two black pairs and two dark blue pairs. I'll probably only wear the blue ones in emergencies but, hey, I tried...
I bought some plain, white t-shirts as well and checked to see if they had any shirts in my colour (light burgundy). They didn't but the three I have already will last a while yet - they're only threadbare, not full of holes. Who cares that one has paint on and the cuffs are frayed on another? At least they still have most of their buttons.
I cut my losses, went home and collapsed. Mission accomplished. More than that, Wii Fit had given me its first work-out and I hadn't taken it out of the box.
Why is it so hard to buy clothes? I like to think it's because I don't care what I wear and so it takes me ages to get round to it. The truth is more that I'm incredibly fussy about what I wear and I know that it's going to be a real effort finding the things I want. These things are smart-casual, trousers (preferably black), plain t-shirts (white or black) and collared shirts doomed to a life of unbuttoned crumpledness (burgundy) i.e. what I always get. I should simply walk into shops, point to myself and go, 'Do you have this, except without the holes and stains?'
I could change my look but it's not worth it. When I got contact lenses as a teenager, one of my friends said, 'Why do you have those? You looked better with glasses.' Six months later, when I couldn't wear the lenses for a few days, the same guy said, 'Why have you gone back to glasses? You looked better without them.' Since then, I've never been much bothered by fashion.
I like the way I look and other people have either got used to it or just don't care. Why mess with that?
I'm going to regret not buying more of those black chinos...
Yours in a woman's world,