- Words by Mr Alex Bilmes, editor of British Esquire
Where I'm from, in the UK - as, no doubt, it is in many places around the world - the idea of dressing up for a Friday night out is mostly a working-class notion, a boy-done-good thing. Blue collar, if you prefer, although actually the collar would more likely be white, because in a reverse of the professional-class custom of changing out of one's business uniform into something more casual to celebrate the coming of the weekend, the working-class dandy comes home from work, scrapes the grime from beneath his nails and puts on his smartest clothes for a night on the town, the sauce and the dance floor.
This ritual is as deeply ingrained as the dark lines in a labourer's hands. One thinks of Mr Albert Finney as the Nottinghamshire factory worker in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, straightening his tie for an evening of competitive pint sinking. Or Mr John Travolta as the Brooklyn shop worker Tony Manero, slipping into his white three-piece for a night throwing shapes at 2001 Odyssey.
You'll be surprised to learn that I've never done any heavy lifting, but I have always been seduced by the idea of the weekend as a release from the conformist grind of the nine-to-five, an opportunity for ordinary people to become fabulous creatures of the night; a brief respite from the quotidian, with clothes as the most powerful symbols of that temporary escape.
The weekend is a release from the nine-to-five, an opportunity for people to become creatures of the night; a respite from the quotidian, with clothes its most powerful symbol
But dressing up to go out changes as you get older. As the 1980s became the 1990s and my teens turned into my twenties I was a committed hedonist, habitué of dubious London night boîtes where we danced from Friday nights until Sunday lunchtimes (then we got the beers in). I had a different outfit - a different persona, almost - every weekend. There was the post-punk revivalist: Michiko Koshino bondage trousers, Bikkembergs bovver boots, deconstructed Demeulemeester shirt; the glam rock hanger-on: sparkly Burro shirt, leather John Richmond strides, snakeskin Patrick Cox Wannabes; the New York club kid manqué: Westwood jacket, W< T-shirt, Junior Gaultier trousers, eyeliner (don't knock it till you've tried it); the neo-mod likely lad: black Helmut Lang suit, Comme des Garçons grandad collar shirt, identity bracelet. And then there was the stuff I wore when I was feeling a bit more daring.
I realise that other men of my generation may have given no more thought to their Friday night outfit than a splash of Safari and a clean pair of pulling pants, but my youth was about peacockery and flamboyance. When it wasn't Friday night - when it was, say, Tuesday lunchtime - I wore a chocolate brown faux fur coat from Duffer of St. George. It went down a storm on the 36 bus from Peckham to New Cross Gate, let me tell you.
Mr Albert Finney as Arthur and Ms Shirley Anne Field as
Doreen in Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, 1960
Times change, fashion moves on, men grow older. In my late twenties and early thirties, at the coalface of 1990s and noughties London medialand, I dressed conservatively: Smedley crew necks and Lacoste polo shirts; Levi's jeans or cargo trousers; English brogues or Converse sneakers; Harrington in summer, Barbour in winter. The occasional item from YMC or Margiela 10 if I was feeling flush and flash. The nightclubs were now gastro-pubs. The party pills were razor clams. The dancing was drinking. And I wore the same thing for a Friday night as I did for a Monday morning: too old for skinny jeans, too young for tailoring, instead of going about as someone else, I went as myself. Boring, but more honest.
Times have changed again. One recent Friday night I went to a 40th birthday dinner party in a swank west London townhouse. I wore a Richard James corduroy jacket over a Polo Ralph Lauren navy gingham shirt; mustard yellow Drake's tie; A.P.C. jeans; Corgi striped socks and chocolate suede monk-strap shoes from the Tricker's Christmas sale.
The lesson for today - and next Friday night - is: when it comes to dressing up for a night out, acting your age is important.
Herewith are a few observations:
You're young, thin, single and ready to mingle. You can get away with anything. That doesn't mean you should, or you will. We'll take the pulling pants as a given, though J.Crew do good boxers, if you're in the market. You're going to need a decent pair of box-fresh sneakers - high tops if you are really trendy - (we like Bottega Veneta's), jeans from Nudie or Jean.Machine, T-shirt from McQ, and a hip French bomber jacket (try A.P.C. or Maison Kitsuné). You, my young friend, are a trendsetter - not a fashion follower. Enjoy it while you can.
You are older, perhaps not thinner, you may or may not be single, but you're still just about ready to mingle. It's in our thirties that we start to learn a bit more about quality, provenance and timeless style rather than disposable fashion. The look is contemporary classicism: Oliver Spencer shirt, battered Grenson brogues, slim-fit cotton-twill trousers from Burberry Brit, Acne Studios jacket. Hip and relevant, but not enslaved to trends.
You are as old as you feel. (You're old.) You should know by now that taking off your tie is not enough to separate corporate-guy you from party-guy you. At the same time, the scruffy T-shirt and jeans combo no longer looks dignified. It looks tragic. The look should be relaxed, elegant but still switched on: Richard James blazer or Burberry Prorsum shawl-collar cardigan over Incotex chinos, Margaret Howell shirt. You might even consider a tie: try Alexander Olch. Smart-casual is a horrible term - and curiously indefinable - but for once it's not far wrong.
Your fifties and beyond
Well done, you are on your way to achieving style seniority. You are also freed from the diktats of trendiness. You've earned your right to suavity and are happy to pay for true quality. You are what soft tailoring was invented for. So: Charvet shirt, Loro Piana blazer, tailored trousers from Canali or Ralph Lauren, John Lobb chocolate suede loafers, Turnbull & Asser pocket square. You are the man the rest of us hope to grow up to be. And you can still cut a rug with the best of them when the moment demands.