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Unlikely Style Icons: Mr Philip Larkin

November 2017Words by Mr Ashley Clarke

Self-portrait, 1961. All photographs © The Estate of Philip Larkin

Famous for poetry that finds poignancy in the provinciality of British life, Mr Philip Larkin is undisputedly one of the literary greats of the 20th century. He is not, however, generally regarded as one of its greatest dressers – known more for his miseryguts persona than his clothes, Mr Larkin once likened his physique to that of “a pregnant salmon”.

But we beg to disagree. Comprised of tweed jackets, gawkish bow ties and socks with sandals, Mr Larkin’s style was that of a modest British eccentric – sparse, practical, put-together, and with little flourishes of whimsy here and there: a bright red tie, for example, or a stripy shirt. His poetry was marked by what the former poet laureate Sir Andrew Motion calls “a very English, glum accuracy”. The same might have been said for his clothing. His dress sense was rather serious, but, again, like his poetry, was also defined by its sensitivity and wit. Shirts were always, always buttoned to the top, neckties were pulled up to the neck, and he had even his name sewed into the back of his nightshirts. Never dishevelled, never rakish, (you’ll find no trite Lord Byron-esque bohemian poet pirate shirts here), Mr Larkin’s looks conveyed poise and privacy: his clothes, perennially well-kempt, practical, and softly masculine, were almost sombre in their level of formality.

Mr Larkin, c. 1962-1963