I have long been of the opinion that the difference between Glasgow and Edinburgh can be summed up in the shops that are unique to each city.
In Glasgow, for example, in Ingram Street, is Agent Provocateur, a purveyor of women's exotic undies, into which I once ventured with my partner. I cannot now recall what the object of this visit was (or perhaps I choose not to) but I have no trouble in remembering the cost of items which, in terms of material, would not adequately cover a Barbie doll. That people were prepared to pay such prices, I felt, spoke volumes for Glaswegians' sense of priority.
Needless to say, there is no branch of Agent Provocateur in Edinburgh. Nor, indeed, is there a branch of Brooks Brothers in Glasgow. BB's sell clothes which, in the US, scream White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. It is the uniform of Old Money. Suits are dark and sober and conservative. Shirts, of which I have several (bought during the sales), have buttoned-down collars and are built to last. Ties, which Brooks Brothers' customers regard as de rigueur, are restrained and never draw attention to themselves, which is a sure sign they cost a bomb. Hence the shop's location in George Street.
It is surely admirable that Glaswegians are prepared to buy expensive clothes which, one imagines, will be seen by relatively few people.
No-one in Edinburgh would ever do such a thing. I have heard – though I am unable to confirm – that there are people in the New Town who wear long johns they inherited, like heirlooms. While this may be ecologically commendable it is in other respects deplorable.
In Glasgow, meanwhile, there is a tendency to go to the other extreme. If Edinburghers do all they can to avoid fashion, Glaswegians' inclination is to embrace it ferociously, which doubtless explains some of the sights one would rather not see in the city centre at weekends.
In both cities, however, it is the men who put on the worst show, especially when they've supposedly "scrubbed up". I am therefore in tune with Rod Stewart, the croaky crooner, when he deplores the way our fellows dress. "At the theatre," he told Radio Times, "it's all anoraks and shorts. You go to dinner and see beautifully dressed women with men like tramps wearing trainers, jeans and T-shirts. If I was a woman I'd say: 'Are you taking me out looking like that, toerag?'"
The wonder is why so few women do say that. Needless to add that whenever one does criticise other men's dress sense they first attempt to defend themselves, usually by protesting that their tattered jeans cost more than your suit, or by going on the offensive.
As a self-confessed style icon, I can cope with that. Not everyone can look like me or Mr Stewart for that matter who, whatever you think of Maggie May, clearly spends a considerable amount of time in a front of a mirror. But while he and I attempt to lead by example, others simply follow the herd, hence the ubiquity of shirts draped over beer guts like flags over coffins and shell suits which are suggestive of criminal intent.
Few men hereabouts, it seems, care for what the Italians call la bella figura. It was not always so. In Glasgow, when men weren't trying to look like Al Capone (who was certainly better dressed than his modern counterpart, Tony Soprano), they aped Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin. Jack McLean, late of this parish, was the epitome of Glasgow style, a man who knew his Borsalinos from his bunnets and who, if ever he went AWOL, could invariably be found browsing in Ralphie Slater's.
He had no true Edinburgh equivalent, though my friend (and Jack's), Martin Currie, cuts a fine dash in the capital's boulevards with his silk suits made to measure in the Far East.
A few years ago Christopher Harvie, ex-SNP MSP, bravely stuck his deerstalker above the parapet, describing the majority of our teenagers as the worst dressed in the whole of Europe. His reward? A demand by his own party to apologise and a drubbing by the egregious tabloids who mocked his wearing of tweedy knickerbockers to Holyrood. Such, it seems, is the price we on the style frontier must be prepared to pay.
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