Does the sporting gentleman travel by underground?
Probably not, but then I'm not a sporting gentlemen. I have heard, however, that the sporting look – the tweeds, the Barbour jacket, the flat cap – is popular again, so I've jumped on the subway in Glasgow to see if it's true. I'll be going round in a big circle, visiting some of the vintage shops this city is increasingly famous for, and trying out the look for myself. It could go just fine. It could go badly wrong. As Eddie Izzard says, cool is a circle and on the circle is normal, cool, hip – and looking like an idiot.
The first stop on the underground is Kelvinbridge. Just two minutes up the street, on Great Western Road, is The Glasgow Vintage Company, a jam-packed, two-storey shop ideal for the serendipitous discovery.
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On the first floor is womenswear and children's but downstairs is menswear, and it's the biggest collection of vintage clothes for men in the city.
Along one wall is a big rack of military jackets (the lead singers of unsigned bands favour these). Along another wall are shirts ranging from Jon Pertwee frilly numbers to 1970s flock, and near the stairs are several racks of shoes and boots. But it's the tweed jackets I'm interested in and there is a big selection.
Gavin O'Brien, who owns and runs the shop and its sister store, Watermelon, just up the road, says the fact Harris Tweed is back on the catwalks has lifted men's awareness of it. "People come in here looking for the original thing," says O'Brien, "rather than going to the high street where it's going to be slightly more cheaply made."
Most of the jackets are 50 years old or more, and the price is very reasonable (they are all £25). I opt for one with a subtler weave and it's a fine fit. Gavin suggests pairing it with one of his woolen waistcoats from the 1950s and 1960s. The key with the sporting-gentleman look, he says, is to keep towards the less end of the less-is-more spectrum. Maybe pair the jacket with a pair of jeans, for example.
I ask O'Brien who typically buys these tweed jackets and he says it's everyone. "We'll get guys of 19 who want a nice tweed jacket or we'll get a guy in his 60s who used to have one and they'll say, 'oh, we've not seen one for years' or they've seen one in John Lewis or something but it costs £180."
O'Brien says the Barbour jackets are also big sellers, so I try one on. It's the first time I've ever worn one of these. I've always associated them with yahs and people who own Labradors. In fact, what's this? There's something in the pocket of this one. Some old dog biscuits and a box of matches, once used for lighting an Aga no doubt.
I ask Barbour if these associations put people off, but he says no. "They're not thinking about hunting so much as the horsey thing – the weekend in the country rather than going and killing stuff," he says. "And you've got the festival season – if you see Kate Moss trudging about in them and a pair of wellies, then everyone wants one.
"The Barbours have tailed off a little bit but a few months ago they were the must-have item. Like Harris Tweed, Barbour is one of those old labels that's trying to be cool."
The Barbour is not for me, though, so I have a look at the shirts and scarves instead. O'Brien has just launched an online store and says the scarves, from the famous brand Tootal, are huge sellers. There is a great selection of shirts, too, again at very reasonable prices. There's a fantastic grandad collarless shirt for a tenner. I'm having that. It's my first vintage purchase. Not bad.
I pop back on the underground for the second leg of my big circle round Glasgow and go one stop up to Hillhead. Just down from the station on Byres Road is Vintage Guru. The collection here is much smaller but it's obvious who it's selling to – in fact, I passed them all on the way here. There's one there, sitting outside that cafe: tweed jacket, striped shirt, tight jeans. This look may have started on toffs who kill animals, but it's now worn largely by students who wouldn't kill a fly. O'Brien says vintage used to be a secret among the art-student set – now it's gone mainstream, it's acceptable, it's cool. Everybody's wearing it.
I get back on the tube and head over to Govan where I've heard about a charity job that's getting a bit of a reputation for quirky vintage. It's just along from the station and it's called Magpie's Nest. It's certainly not as fancy as the two shops in the west end and it doesn't have the range they do – but the bonus is that its prices are even lower. Most of the shop is full of bric-a-brac but I pick up a couple of nice checked vintage shirts for £2 each.
It's becoming obvious the only downside of this game – or the fun side, if you prefer to look at it that way – is that it's all about accident. The chances are there won't be anything your size – everyone seemed so much smaller long ago – which means you'll have to keep on coming regularly to find what you want.
It's back on the tube for the final leg. I get off at St Enoch and walk though the shopping centre and out into King Street and to one of the most famous of Glasgow's vintage shops, Mr Ben's. Today, it's really busy – there's a group of girls looking for 1980s blouses, a man looking for a military jacket and me, looking for a pair of trousers. They're not so easy to get as jackets and shirts but Mr Ben's has a great range. There are several fantastic pairs of herring-bone and tweed trews, and plus-fours are also really popular. Mr Ben's has several pairs but I don't think I've got the legs for them.
And that's it. The circle of vintage is over and I've ended up with three rather fine shirts for less than two tenners which feels pretty good. O'Brien says the price is definitely a factor in the growth of vintage, but he also told me it was more than that. He said quality was an issue – maybe people are sick of buying cheap things and then throwing them away – but he said comfort was part of it as well. There is something comforting about reverting back to what your parents owned. If the present doesn't feel so good, a nice place to go is the past.
The Glasgow Vintage Company, 453 Great Western Road, G12 8HH, 0141 338 6633. Visit www.glasgowvintage.co.uk
Vintage Guru, 195 Byres Road, G12 8TN, 0141 339 4750
Magpie's Nest, 25 Burleigh Street, G51 3LA, 0141 440 1008
Mr Ben's, 101 King Street, G1 5RB, 0141 553 1936