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CRAIG BROWN: Good news for scruffs like me – we’re in fashion

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Decades ago I worked at the glossy monthly Tatler. My job—which consisted largely of writing funny captions and making headlines for party photos—was only taking up two hours a month, but I had a job eight days a month, so I had plenty of time.

I found the comings and goings in the fashion department very distracting. Skinny models arrived clutching folders, then had to watch as people from the fashion and art departments flipped impassively through their photos, sassy customs officers at the barriers of the world of glamour.

Equally fascinating were the fashion designers themselves. These men and women, with names known from their own designer labels, from time to time stuck their heads to smuggle the door and be dazzled by the fashion editors.

Models on the catwalk at the recent Prada show in Milan wore clothes made from a paper-based fabric that has been pre-folded and crumpled

What surprised me most about them was that, when it came to clothing, they seldom practiced what they preached. They never seemed to make any effort. Not for them the absurdly expensive clothes they urged other people to wear. Instead, like bourgeois priests, they opted for scuzzy T-shirts and distressed jeans.

From my detached position, I felt like they weren’t playing the game. It was like watching a butcher eat a lentil pie, or a peacock at closing time in a stately home that bites behind a bush and emerges like a thrush, or an astronaut undresses his spacesuit in casual clothes as soon as he closes the rocket door.

Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to make a fortune selling expensive and often ridiculous clothes to your customers while choosing to wear old stuff yourself?

Forty years later, there are finally signs that the fashion world is starting to get clean.

Models on the catwalk at the recent Prada show in Milan wore clothes made from a paper-based fabric that has been pre-folded and crumpled. This meant that they all looked as if they had been on a long trek across the country.

To show that this shabby effect was intentional – rather than the result of a last-minute rush to a charity shop – the catwalk was covered in brown paper, while the front row benches, where the ‘A’-listed movies stars and fashion editors were covered with corrugated cardboard.

‘The clothes are about simplicity,’ Miuccia Prada explained after the show, ‘Not embellishment but traces of life – clothes shaped by humanity.’

‘Shaped by humanity’ will surely be seen as one of the great euphemisms of our time, a scruff out clause around the world.

To show that this shabby effect was intentional — rather than the result of a last-minute rush to a charity shop — the catwalk was covered in brown paper

To show that this shabby effect was intentional — rather than the result of a last-minute rush to a charity shop — the catwalk was covered in brown paper

Reprimanded by principals for ink stains on their jackets and mud on their trousers, schoolboys will now be able to say, “But sir – I was shaped by humanity!”

Shane MacGowan, Albert Steptoe, Dennis the Menace, Jeremy Clarkson, Stan Ogden, Boris Johnson, Just William, Worzel Gummidge, Jeremy Corbyn, Leo Tolstoy, Wayne and Waynetta Slob, the Gallagher brothers: all ‘shaped by humanity’.

I too have been shaped by humanity, and not only shaped by it, but also scraped and sanded by it. Most of my clothing, except socks and pants of course, is second-hand, or ‘vintage’ as it is now called.

We have never had an iron in our house, let alone an ironing board. A cartoon in Private Eye several years ago showed a row of tight-fitting men in smart suits and ties next to a single man with a two-day beard and unkempt hair, dressed in old pajamas. A supervisor sticks his head in the door and asks, “Which one of you is the freelancer?”

Since I’ve always been freelance, I identify with that man. Why take off your pajamas if you don’t have to?

I sometimes think King Charles III's double-breasted suits look a little too spick and span

I sometimes think King Charles III’s double-breasted suits look a little too spick and span

On the other hand, it would be a shame if all designers went the way of Prada. I sometimes think that King Charles III’s double breasted suits look a little too spick and span. Paradoxically, he is too well-dressed to be well-dressed.

But at least he’s doing his best. If he showed up as king at his first state opening of parliament, not in his formal robes and crown, but in an anorak and a cap, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Those of us who prefer to live like a scruff need others to clothe ourselves with, otherwise there’s no point in our little rebellions. And if we can’t rely on the best fashion designers to lead us by example, who can?

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