A URL from End Clothing was flung across Slack, and caught with both hands by an Esquire colleague of mine. Upon clicking the light blue jumble of numbers and letters, one was brought to an oversized bucket hat by Nike's All Conditions Gear offshoot line. It was pitch black, and it had an adjustable drawstring fastening to keep it in place. It's undeniably part of the gorpcore buffet that menswearheads obsess over – mountain man essentials worn not just on Shropshire walking tours but at DIY techno nights. The punters are all south of 27 years of age.
My Esquire colleague gave the hat a thumbs up. I also liked it a lot. But, considering the people I'd seen wearing such things (younger, smoother, sanguine-r people than I), and considering my own birthday last year (the big 30, which was minimised by Covid-19 legislation from A Proper Mad One into a tiny gathering), I was immediately plagued by question marks. Could I wear this? And more importantly, should I wear this?
Because nobody wants to be that guy. You know him, or at least you think you do: the man who supposedly 'dresses too young for his age'. In the popular imagination, he's the post-divorce Peter Pan propping up the bar in the skinniest of jeans. Often we dream these men up to be a lot older than ourselves, and yet I too have recently found myself struggling with the historic expectations of what a man of my age should be wearing.
In a cracked world that makes billions on the idea of perpetuating youth, why this sudden, innate instinct to second guess the stuff in my wardrobe that some young people happen to wear? What's driving this fret and worry about what is age appropriate? What does 'age appropriate' even mean?
Like all good armchair psychologists, I blame the parents. When mortgage and wedding costs skyrocket just as millennial wages stagnate, we're slower to hit the usual, material signposts of maturity set by our progenitors and those that came before them. By measure of the old ways, then, we're slower to grow up. And when the old ways became old-fashioned, and out of step with the way things are now, then we eschew them entirely. My old man had two children, a house and a Bob Marley record collection to fund. I do not have any of those things. It is reflected in how I carry myself, what I wear and how I live; I don't need sensible, stain averse chinos because there are no kids to stain them and no parents' evening dress codes to uphold. My life is a bit different, and I can dress accordingly.
And even if it wasn't, who's to say that, as dads, we should look like our own dad, or the unnervingly wholesome 'you betcha' dads that Hallmark has chiselled into our heads? The greatest thing about the ongoing unravelling of menswear diktats is that, by and large, we can dress however we like. Dads included. We are not of the same world as our parents.
OK, so in many ways it's annoying that this world is different. It's annoying that we can't afford homes, or anything else. I too am plagued by feverishly dull British dreams of a flat the size of an Amazon locker that I can call my own. But while this dissonance between us and the 30-year-olds that came before is a frustration, it's also an unshackling. We don't have those things, and we're not those things. We're not our parents. We didn't inherit the same arable patch of opportunity. We certainly don't have to look or act like them, then.
Let's stop cosplaying as real proper adults. You are a real proper adult, regardless of your wardrobe choices. What's more, we've been afforded a new freedom. 35-year-olds have no problem handing over their hard-earned money to go play in an adult ball pit in Soho, but they continually worry about dressing too young. We don't act our age because this is a new age. A fairly miserable one in many ways, yes. But there are a few silver linings to be enjoyed, and fun, slightly mad clothes in your 30s is one of them. They won't make a proverbial sore thumb of you down the local pub, or the slightly fun/terrifying rave down in Hackney Wick, or the play date with your kid's friend's parents in their back garden. You're only 30 once. Enjoy it.
Oh, and I bought the hat.
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