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The Read

Mr David Mitchell’s Easy Style

The Cloud Atlas author praises comfortable clothes and ponders the role of a writer’s wardrobe

My wife and daughter didn’t try very hard to suppress their laughter when I told them that MR PORTER, a prestigious online fashion destination, had asked me to write a few lines about my “easy style”. When my wife recovered the power of speech, she wondered if MR PORTER’s editor was joking. Our daughter recalled that when I’d worn my floppy grey sun hat during our summer in Japan, she’d walked a few paces away so that people wouldn’t guess we were related. I mention this to emphasise the fact that I’ve never read my name and the words “fashion embodiment” in the same sentence, until MR PORTER’s kind email, and neither has anyone else.

Doing the washing-up, however, I got to thinking how we all have a relationship with clothes, whether we call it a fashion sense or not. Maybe there are people in the world who would wear literally anything, but I’ve never met one. I’m curious. Where does this set of likes and dislikes originate? Gender plays a role, of course, and social background. In the rural, low-to-middle milieu I grew up in, a keen sartorial interest in clothes was deeply suspect until we got to nightclub age, when all 1980s hell broke loose. (Look up Kajagoogoo on YouTube and mix in a dollop of Worcestershire sauce.) Our decades of origin have a permanent influence, too.

For my peers, Y-fronts and flared trousers will remain fashion crimes until we cark it. Millennials, no doubt, have their own iron-cast dos and don’ts, and are as patronising about my generation’s as I am about my father’s. My skin influences what I wear. Coarse wool brings me out in a rash, and manmade fabrics often feel like cling film. Red makes me look boiled, yellow makes me look malarial, white makes me look like a prog-rock keyboard player, and not in a good way. Essentially, I dress for comfort: decent-quality jeans, a long-sleeved cotton T-shirt under an XL-short-sleeved one, a thick shirt, usually cotton. This is what I also wear when I write, unless I’m having a lazy winter morning when might I swan around the house in my Sir Noël Coward dressing gown.

I smarten up for festivals, events and book tours, though I’m still more “easy style” than Mr Leonard Cohen. People will make allowances for writers. My black corduroy jacket is a trusty standby. It can camouflage leaky-pen-in-pressurised-cabin incidents, and is crumple-proof unless you actually sleep in it. I have a few expensive (by my standards) shirts, including a couple of Paul Smiths. I like their craftsmanship and, I admit, they make me feel a bit classy. I’m not immune to quality clothes. To keep myself grounded, I wear the same dark red belt, made from an old recycled fire hose. It stays hidden because I’m not a big tucker-inner, but I’ve worn it so many years it might by now be a horcrux, with a little bit of my soul in it.

Clothes make the man? Not really, but they are major contributors to the image – and self-image – of the man, or woman, and we inhabit a world of images. What’s wrong with that?

Images are fascinating.

  • Mr P. Black Double-Breasted Cotton-Corduroy Blazer

  • Paul Smith Slim-Fit Slub Cotton Shirt

  • Mr P. Striped Cotton-Jersey T-Shirt

  • George Cleverley 3.5cm Cognac Horween Shell Cordovan Leather Belt

  • Mr P. Slim-Fit Selvedge Denim Jeans

  • Mr P. Slim-Fit Tapered Pleated Cotton-Corduroy Trousers