Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

When the waist says Goliath, the male mind sees David

Last weekend I was in the Uffizi in Florence, gazing at Michelangelo's David. This, I thought, is the naked form that launched so many male anxieties.

David, a marble masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, is wildly anatomically incorrect. The head, upper body and hands are larger than the proportions of the lower body (in real life he would fall over). The sculpture was designed so that it would appear correct when viewed from below.

It's reassuring that, back in the 16th century, airbrushed images of the body beautiful were dreamt up to haunt average-sized men.

Even today the male body is still very much a taboo subject. Women live daily with their imperfections (too fat, too thin, too womanly); the male body is venerated and protected. Acres of female breast and thigh are splashed across our media; the male member is considered too dangerous for our TV screens.

Women endure the indignity of mixed changing rooms in many High Street clothes stores, while men have separate cubicles to protect their modesty. Which is why the scandal enveloping Ede & Ravenscroft, the Savile Row tailor whose clients include Prince Charles, David Cameron and Boris Johnson, is so delicious.

Someone has stolen confidential information about its clients (including 'intimate measurements') and it's rumoured to be an inside job.

No wonder it's a scandal: men are notoriously private about the content of their trousers, their neck size, the notch they use to fasten their belt.

In contrast, the female body is open season - everything from our bra size to our love of control pants is eagerly discussed. Red carpet savagery prevails.

Female columnists queue up to confess they are wearing (whisper it) a size 14 dress, not a 12. But we are remarkably, frustratingly, short of information about the male torso.

Men perpetuate the fantasy that no effort goes into their look. They are natural, unadorned, while we girls are the silly narcissists.

The Ede & Ravenscroft espionage case is gripping. In the discreet world of bespoke tailoring, nothing is more valued than the relationship between the customer and his tailor. Anyone revealing data about knock knees or fat thighs would be excommunicated.

The tailoring firm holds three Royal Warrants and has made robes since the 1690s for monarchs, peers, judges and even the 'uniform' for members of Oxford's Bullingdon, the notorious Oxford dining club where Cameron and Johnson (and George Osborne) were members. No wonder they're worried: a man's sartorial peccadillos can be very revealing.

Watching Laura Wade's brilliant play, Posh, at the Royal Court, about Oxford's Riot Club (a thinly veiled version of the Bullingdon Club), you're appalled by the violence and the machismo as they smash up the gastro pub, the casual hatred of the proles. But also by the silly bloody outfits they insist on wearing.

The wigs and breeches and ornamental sabres - it's worse than the Masons. Consisting of a traditional tailcoat, a mustard waistcoat and a blue bow tie, the Bullingdon garb, lovingly fashioned by Ede & Ravenscroft, doesn't come cheap at £3,000. It is also designed to exclude the non-elect, the grubby commoners like you and me.

Do David and George and Boris still have such outlandish tackle in their wardrobes? I think we deserve to know.

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