When it comes to budgeting I bet there’s one element missing from a man’s budget that many women would never omit: personal upkeep. You know, clothes, hairdressing, personal grooming, stuff like that.
I certainly have never maintained a personal budget for such frippery. Not only does buying clothes not excite me, saving money to buy clothes doesn’t excite me either. Buying clothes is a necessary hassle, a bit like shaving except I don’t have to face doing it on a daily basis (and the only reason I haven’t grown a beard is I suspect there’s an upkeep to that too once you’re over the itching stage.)
I do think I thought a bit about clothing when I was younger, but middle age soon put paid to that. Work meant a suit Monday to Friday and anything outside of that was bought for comfort and utility, nothing else. Appearance? Who gave a toss? I’d better things to think about.
As I’m growing older though, I’m beginning to think a bit more about the mental approach to ageing, and I’ve found recently that clothing might be an important part of that. In one of the magazine supplements at the weekend, I skimmed an article written by a fifty-something woman going about how good she and her friends looked for their age. She put this partly down to the sheer number of skin treatments, health care, diet advice, hair extensions, fashionable and affordable clothing and so on available to women these days. While making this point, she remarked that while her friends looked fantastic, their husbands (when they still had them) in comparison looked, frankly, like shit. Stooped, balding, fighting a losing battle against their middle aged spread and dressed like a sack of tatties, many of them looked as if they were out on the town with their daughters.
That barbed comment got me thinking. Men do take pride in some things relative to appearance. Their cars, for a start.Their gadgets. Their prowess at five-a-side footie, or how good their new bike looks. All of these relate to self-esteem and I can see that. But, for some reason, I don’t think many blokes spare much thought about their clothes outside of the utilitarian aspects of them. If they did, the majority would go nowhere near lycra for a start.
In our defence, we don’t get much training or direction in this aspect of our lives. At work, we either wear a suit to the office or the appropriate gear for the job we do. We really don’t have to think about what we wear much at all. Outside of work, the same applies. A pair of jeans or chinos, a casual shirt and jacket. Sorted. And we don’t have one massive pressure to contend with – what other men think. We all know that women dress primarily to impress other women but men dress for themselves.
Or do they? Whenever I occasionally browse men’s magazines like GQ and Esquire, it never ceases to amaze me at how many pages are devoted to men’s fashion. Who even looks at this guff, I wonder? In my life, I can number on one hand the conversations I’ve had with friends about clothes. I don’t think I’ve read many thoughts from Mr Money Moustache on the subject either, although I do remember Jacob Fisker once going on about paying decent money for quality footwear (referencing hiking boots that he fancied would last him about twenty years or something.) I do understand that side of the coin – we’re always thinking about “value for money”, and fashion often seems to be diametrically opposed to that concept. But splashing the cash for a decent, warm winter jacket or hiking boots, well, that makes sense, doesn’t it?
Is this important though? “No”, would normally be my unthinking response to this subject, but once I do start thinking about it I’m not so sure. Clothes and how you dress play a significant part in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. As I set these thoughts down, I realise that in my employed days when I worked from home, I’d generally get up, wash, shave and dress casually for the day ahead. I didn’t lounge around unshaven and unwashed in my pyjamas. I don’t think I could have focused on work sitting in a dressing gown at two in the afternoon. I once read that if you have an important phone call to place to someone, you should stand up to make it. It’s a psychological trick, but it works. Clothes are, in a way, a psychological trick too.
What’s this got to do with retirement then? Well, one of the things about retirement that is talked about – especially for men – is the potential drop in self-esteem and lack of purpose that might come along when employment falls away. The psychological approach to retiring and the latter decades of life is an important aspect of it. Perhaps men should think more about their outward appearance more as they grow older, as well as their internal mental and physical health. I’m not saying here that “dressing younger” is the answer, as there’s surely nothing more tragic than men and women who choose this route and get it wrong. To be honest though, other than starting to think about dress sense, I have to say that I’m not sure I have much, if anything, more to say about it. This is because if there’s a surfeit of information for women on the subject there is virtually nothing for blokes. As for blokes over fifty, there’s almost less than nothing. Once we’ve stopped going to work and going out on the town, how should we dress for our age? I’ve no idea. “Whatever’s comfortable” is how I still approach the subject, thinking as long as I bodyswerve slip-on shoes and elasticated trousers I’ll probably be okay. But perhaps I should start looking at clothes and appearance in a different way, through the prism of them helping to create a positive retirement persona that’s different to what went and (hopefully) worked before. And, while I think about it, I’ll just reach for my pipe and settle into my slippers.