Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Don't rain on your man's attempts to keep cool in heat

Northern Ireland men struggle to stay fashionable in hot weather
Northern Ireland men struggle to stay fashionable in hot weather

It will be socks with sandals. Or football tops. Shorts of any sort. Shoes with no socks. Moonboot trainers. Tracksuit bottoms with loose elastic waistbands. Vests that are, in fact, vests. Old Speedoes reappearing on Portstewart strand. A washed-out T-shirt bearing the legend Lynyrd Skynyrd.

After all the miles of newsprint devoted to fashion faux pas on the beach, in the nightclub, dog walking and buggy pushing among celebrities worldwide, eventually it always comes down to a sorry, snigger-fest catalogue of crisis couture adopted by the Ulster male in a heatwave.

Because whatever strategies have been adopted over the centuries in other parts of the world and even those less accustomed to blistering temperatures than our wee corner, there is something drastic and panic-stricken about how our menfolk tackle Mercury Rising.

Still, it does take nothing short of a genius to look good in casual clothing in intense heat. And there aren't many of those about.

Let's be honest – very few are going to work a stylish vibe when the demand is not only to be cool in every sense of the word but also to be colourful.

Apart from the gaudy primary colours usually associated with our culture – your green, white, blue and red – men here aren't comfortable with the kind of brightly hued summerwear waving at them from the windows of high street shops.

Blotchy, pale, freckly, and soon to be very red, skin is not going to look good bobbing above pink, yellow, flowery shirts or tops any more than the cavernous dark belly button in the middle of a vast white expanse of middle-aged spread is going to look good peering out from a shirt ready to pop.

In fact "middle aged spread" is cunningly accurate – nothing looks more like a vast tub of margarine past its sell-by date than the male Ulster midriff.

Squeeze all that into striped Bermuda shorts or ghastly cut-off khaki fatigues and you have a recipe for a crime no fabric could avoid.

Remember cheesecloth? That was to be the "space 1999" summer fabric of the future. It only served in the end to dress raw meat like a sausage skin.

The bottom line is, though, we have to get over the tyranny of the dogwalk when it comes to explosive summer events such as we've been enduring for over a week now. Fashion at its best is totally barking so let him get on with it.

The old saying is 'Be careful what you wish for'. Well, bleating about rain seems strangely perverse now. What we have here is The Day After Tomorrow in reverse, and our blokes have walk on parts in the weirdest disaster movie ever.

The Ulster male is a species that thrives in winter, so much so there is an overcoat of legend named after the place he comes from. He's a man who grew up listening to his father driving home the need for 'a showerproof' and the click of his mother's knitting needles as she cast off another Aran sweater.

His normal countenance is that of a man who knows – just knows – that today it will rain, as it has done every day of his life so far. It may snow, too.

So when it doesn't? We need to cut him some slack. For him, it is a case of reaching in to the wardrobe and pulling out whatever is light and clean. Or nearly clean.

It's the rare individual who can pull off the cool look, though I spotted one astonishing chap in Balmoral Avenue in Belfast the other day. What you might call "a gentleman of the road", he was pedalling his bicycle uphill.

He had hefty plastic bags hanging from the handlebar and beard so long it risked getting trapped in the spokes of his front wheel. And yet this man barely broke sweat. Of course, he was probably still thawing out after long years sleeping out. But he also had attitude. Not everyone does, and most likely a man sitting very close to you now doesn't, either.

You could help him. You could tell him that all he needs is a cream linen suit and a few white T-shirts. But he probably won't listen because he's not spending money on something he'll only get to wear every 10 years and he's not going shopping in this heat.

Do you know what? He's right. Long days of sunshine are rare for us. We should savour them, feel the restorative powers of the heat wrap itself around us, pause to look at the astonishing colours of the flowers we thought would be lost to the storms, savour the first bite of the first tomato to ripen in the greenhouse and let that other big tomato slowly ripen in the deckchair in the back garden with his tin of beer, a damp towel over his head, telling himself he looks just like that man in Lawrence of Arabia.

And fair play to him.

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