It’s not true that a long marriage holds no surprises. The other day when Mr Mutton announced on a Friday evening that he would like to go clothes shopping, I almost dislocated my jaw, it hit the floor so hard.
It’s probably a good ten years since this urge last came upon him. Apart from the odd bulk order of black, cotton rich, M&S socks and that odd time, recently, when all his underwear disappeared, he has contributed minimally to the revival of British high street fashion. Admittedly, he did buy a pair of jeans, completely unprompted, in the Superdry at Gatwick, having forgotten to pack any trousers on a skiing holiday. But for this display of sartorial independence he was remorselessly teased: the denim had a pinkish cast to it and coloured seams.
Back in his salad days Mr M was quite the dandy. How things have changed. Then, if he had owned a dog and it had chewed up his shoes, I’m pretty sure he would have binned those shoes. I do not believe he would have lopped off the bitten bits with the kitchen scissors and carried on wearing them. That sorry incident is now part of family lore.
Now his shopping expeditions come around only a little more frequently than Halley’s Comet. With this lack of practice has come a deep dislike of the whole process. So I hadn’t any great expectations of this trip. If I could get him into jeans that aren’t washed out and covered with white streaks from the tumble drier; a few shirts that haven’t been put in with something red and a jumper or two with shape and no moth holes, we’d be up on the game.
Time and planning were of the essence. I had to get him out of the house, into an optimum number of shops and all in the minimum amount of time. That meant the “Marathon de Sables” of shopping: Oxford Circus at a weekend. The only downside was how easily he could bolt for the Victoria Line if things got sticky.
My first attempt failed due to the greenest of school girl errors. Shopping is a morning activity for the reluctant male mutton. By 2 pm on Saturday afternoon, in front of the qualifying rounds of the Japanese Grand Prix, there was as much chance of coaxing him off the sofa as there was of getting him in a Gaultier kilt. He cheered up enormously at this postponement.
By Sunday, it was now or never. Although his demeanour had all the cheeriness of a Victorian mourner, I wasn’t about to let this opportunity slip by. There was only one thing for it – reader, I harried him.
Our first stop was Liberty. The mens department there is like a well appointed labyrinth, dimly lit and staffed by artfully dressed young men with topiaried facial hair. This was immersion therapy, designed to shock him into submission. I feared the prices alone might induce some kind of neurological incident. But it was a risk I had to take (plus he’s reasonably well insured). I liked the idea of Mr M in the cool ‘Edwin’ jeans the best dressed blokes in the office wear and I knew they were in stock there. I had mentioned these might be a little pricier than his usual £39 Gap choices and to be fair, after clocking the £180 tag, he recovered his colour quicker than I’d anticipated and emitted only the subtlest of yelps.
There is no doubt that without wifely support, the sheer complexity of finding the right cut and size of jeans would have had Mr M leaning on the “Too Hard” button and heading for the nearest coffee shop. What with ‘slim tapered middle rises’ and ‘straight low narrow at the ankle’ cuts, the whole process is about as easy to navigate as the instruction manual for the Hadron Collider.
At least Edwin jeans limit their range to just a couple of variants. But they did no justice to the splendid Mr Mutton physique. Nudie jeans, right next to them, required an interpreter. A languid assistant rippled over and tried to explain the difference between the “Grim Tim”, the “Thin Finn” and the “Lean Dean”. They all sounded exactly the same. In the end we resorted to the old trick of trying whatever they had in the right size. Actually the Grim Tim’s looked great and thanks to Nudie’s commitment to recycling & repair, Mr M’s Yorkshire DNA was assuaged in spite of the cost (though at half the price of the Edwins they seemed positively bargain basement). Our assistant suggested we continue browsing. No chance. I needed to avoid any opportunity for second thoughts. So we headed out to my next stop on my tour: Cos, just next door.
Mr M liked Cos. After the preciousness of Liberty, it was balm to the mangled male spirit. Whilst baffled at the more outré styles – outsized shirts; cowl necked jumpers – he was soothed by the navy, black, grey, neutral colour ways and simple shapes. Surprised though he was at the expectation he might actually TRY ON shirts and jumpers, he was by now, biddable. The other men in the store were also reassuringly normal (in Liberty, one fellow shopper was sporting fuchsia plus 4’s and a puffa jacket). Mr M added to his carrier bag collection and came away with a shirt and two sweaters.
The tally quickly increased – new stylish trainers (from Size?); another pair of jeans from the Levi store (511’s), a couple of white cotton shirts from Uniqlo and a visit to the John Smedley shop where he bagged a grey blue polo shirt in a cotton cashmere blend. Surprisingly at no point did Mr M’s bank block his account due to unusual activity.
Once we got home, we had a bit of a sort out of Mr M’s wardrobe. The primordial swamp of his coat hangers was revealing. We discovered many pairs of trousers, several still with their labels from the last shopping trip – some only in need of a hem. We found a number of really quite nice jackets only in need of a clean. We found various combinations of clothes that would look absolutely presentable together and managed to quash others. (How a man with such firm opinions on colour when it comes to household fabrics and paint charts can have so little clue when it comes to shirts and suits really is a mystery.)
The clothes that needed alteration or cleaning, were put in a bag to go to the dry cleaners. They’re still there, a week later. Well, they’ll be a nice surprise the next time we delve in there in ten years time.