Those of us who have lived here in London long enough have well learned the maxim that, if we are to succeed in living lives of which we feel proud, we must first feed the great whore that is this city. Our own tireless efforts improve the way she behaves and the way she looks, while permitting us to feel privileged to serve her. We give her our love and she rewards us with her beneficence.
But things are no longer as clear cut. It's tough out here, the old city now operating by the laws of diminishing returns and diminished responsibility. Trapped in a city close to sliding back into the Dickensian soup from which the Mayor claims it has removed itself, we walk the existential tightrope; we're five minutes from the abyss or five minutes from success unbound, and more often than not, delusional in our outlook.
Take the classic London scene of the porcine lawyer flinging a coin at a homeless man in the doorway of a West End eatery. We've all witnessed that. There, but for the grace of god, go I, is our first thought on witnessing the cruel interplay.
The metropolitan life calls upon those who dwell within the city walls to face the music - a discordant one at that - so like our Italian cousins way down south in the Med, who have for centuries suffered the ignominies passed down by a heartless political caste, perhaps we are left with one recourse to action: we must get sartorial, we must style it out.
"Where the Italians and French trade in style, in London the street will take a look and corrupt it and make the look its own. The street influences the designers, not the other way around," says Simon Parr of Gibson London, a gentleman's outfitter that offers affordable suiting.
So London man, by tradition, owns a mind as sharp as the crease in his trousers. But of late, tradition is being challenged by a conspicuous interloper of indeterminate persuasions.
Here's a general sketch of his sartorial template: a meagre torso shrink-wrapped by a lumberjack shirt of a soft nap is supported upon legs restricted by an abomination commonly known as "skinny jeans" that ride too high and expose a well-turned girlish ankle, his feet adorned with clod-hopping brogues, his blazer so small he must surely have robbed it from a seven-year-old at a prep school, while a vast Nordic beard, shampooed and combed, hangs like a dead beehive from his face.
Meet the Hipster - a creature so studious in his demasculinised sartorial arrangement as to have rendered himself asexual. A human capon. From where he hails no-one knows, his taste in music and art unguessable. He is a large, hirsute man child whose styleless existence is condoned by a stampede opinion which fails to call to attention the descent in our standards of dress, a descent which echoes falling standards across the board. And the region in which he is most comfortable? Shoreditch.
To paraphrase Albert Einstein, we should leave elegance to the tailor, but elegance is not something with which the hipster bothers himself, chiefly concerned as he is with the uniform of his brigade.
The anti-style credo of this modern male also endangers the livelihoods of every bespoke tailor within the confines of the M25 as the hipster's off-the-peg outlook threatens to take root. Where the tailor can assist you in ascertaining your own personal style, the hipster prefers the anonymity of the uniform and the comfort of the herd.
Disconnected from youth culture traditions, arguably owing to him having decamped to the capital from a bourgeois shire village where the televisual writhings of Shakin' Stevens were considered to be seditious, the male hipster offers up a terrible sterility that threatens to supplant classic youth cultures - be it Mod, rude boy, rockabilly or otherwise - with his premature dotardy.
The result is the stolid bore whose polite presence somehow manages to douse the very energy that has for so long made London the first-choice destination for those seeking freedom of thought. Historically, the capital has been an oasis of ideas where creativity in the arts has fulminated, but no longer if the triumph of the hipster comes to pass.
So as the economy chokes, London staggers to the feckless beat of Shoreditch man who would rather conform than rebel, while those of that shrinking tribe called the Individuals continue to style it out. It is all we can do to forestall our social demise, trapped as we are in the rat run from bunk to office, eyes twisted shut with sleep, we a strap-hanging army heading to our desks, to our tepid high street coffee, to breathe the same air as a colleague who can only return the hopeless stare that we direct at him.
Photograph by Bespokeman ℅ Flickr.com
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