THE photo across front pages and sports sections at the weekend stopped me in my tracks.

Football manager Pep Guardiola stared out: saturnine, grizzled, but above all terribly dressed. What was he thinking when he walked out the door? Did nobody call him back and suggest he change into something better? News of Manchester City being slapped with a two-year UEFA ban would have been at the forefront of his mind, I know, but that’s no justification for his down-at-heel appearance. Did Emmanuel Macron arrive at work in a onesie when the gillets jaunes were torching Paris? Did Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow fling on any old tie or boring socks because it was Election Night?

But there was Guardiola in a baggy oatmeal fine-knit jumper that did his midriff no favours. That porridgy colour can be cruel, especially when, as in this case, it didn’t fit. The sleeves were long enough to double as skipping ropes. It was worn over a white teeshirt which, to be fair, was as white as if straight out of the wrapper, but his trousers were so faded and dreary no self-respecting charity shop would have put them in the window.

Doubtless everything bore a designer label, but that means nothing. As I once discovered, it is entirely possible to enter an eye-wateringly pricey emporium and emerge from the changing rooms looking like a walking bin bag. Despite his position as one of the most prominent figures in sport, and with no financial constraints on his wardrobe, Guardiola chose that day – and many others – to look more like a sloppy teenager who has retrieved his stuff from the laundry basket for the third day running than a premier league manager and representative of the sporting elite.

In this, I should quickly add, he is not alone. There are even stronger contenders for criticism, high among them the prime minister’s consigliore, Dominic Cummings. Barely a day passes without an image of him scurrying past snappers in a symphony of greys and blacks, from beanie hat and tee-shirt, or creased, untucked shirt and low-slung jeans. Occasionally there is a flash of bright cashmere, accessorised with a plastic carrier bag.

Long before Cummings advertised for weirdos and misfits to join him in Downing Street he had set a low dress-code bar, the sort intended – because it cannot be an accident – to convey disdain for conventional attire and standards. Such abject lack of stylishness might be acceptable in Silicon Valley or Deliveroo, but the message it sends is dismal. It also hints at menace, the attire of a dangerous lone wolf. Such slovenliness gives two fingers to the quaint idea that, when you’re at the heart of government, what you wear matters. If this is thinking outside the box, then Cummings has certainly nailed it.

If you’re like me, you yearn for the days of Cary Grant. Gentlemen’s magazines in the 1950s ran features on how to emulate his debonair outfits. But as everyone knows, while clothes maketh the man, some men maketh clothes look better than others. Grant’s Italian suits, fedora and glossy shoes gave him an almost regal presence. There was an artistry in the way he put things together, his raincoat draping around him in graceful folds as if he were a human waterfall, rather than bunched at the waist like a scarecrow. Dean Martin was another snappy dresser, as was Frank Sinatra, in his street-wise way, though for my taste he was a little too slick. When Columbo shrugged on his working uniform of ill-kempt Mac, he wanted suspects to think he was dim and harmless. They saw scruffy, and presumed stupid. To an extent, we all do.

Sadly we don’t have too many sartorial icons here, although Sean Connery was never more striking than when the James Bond costume department got their hands on him. Thereafter, his preferred mode was that of a golfer who has accidentally strayed from the ninth hole. Ten or so years ago, one brave MSP friend publicly decried the national love of shell suits, only for the tabloid guns to be turned full-bore upon him. As a politician he stood out, among other things, for his fondness for plus fours and deerstalkers. I once gave him a lift, when I too was wearing tweed, and felt as if we had driven onto the set of Monarch of the Glen.

It seems deeply unfair, though, that a man visibly and expensively supporting one of our noblest industries was taken to task for his loyalty. It was also unusual. Normally it’s women who are lambasted for committing minor or imaginary faux pas, people judging them, like books, entirely by their covers. In this, as in so many realms, men have got away lightly down the years. Perhaps that exemption should end.

It’s not that I care much what anyone wears. As a journalist, I learned to note down immediately what interviewees were wearing, otherwise later I’d completely forget. Nor have I ever been chic. Even I, however, can tell the difference between a well-dressed individual and one who has gone out of his way to appear grungy and hip. That’s fine for the weekend, but not when you’re on the office clock. Mark Zuckerberg’s rail of uniformly grey tee-shirts, to save him time choosing in the morning, set a terrible trend. Now Alpha males who aspire to rise beyond reach of the common ruck seem to equate a miserably relaxed style with a placard screaming ‘billionaire’ or ‘powerful beyond your wildest dreams’.

The ever-suave George Clooney shows they are missing the point. A wedding guest who was told recently to remove his tie before he could attend the ceremony because ties are uncool, should have turned on his polished Oxford heel and left. Making a sartorial effort is a tangible way of expressing respect, not merely for yourself but for others. Emulating the kids, or pretending that casual clothes make no difference to your performance or the impression you make, is an older man’s delusion. A good suit and tie inspire confidence and trust, whatever your age. What baffles women is why, with such a simple formula for success – unlike the minefield of female fashion – there are still so many men dressing badly.