Queuing up politely to buy a coffee and a jelly doughnut recently in a bustling cafe in Montauk, New York, I got to the front and ordered a cappuccino from the elderly lady behind the counter. While she went off to make the coffee, another elderly lady asked me if I wanted anything. “Yes please,” I said, “three of those delicious-looking doughnuts.” When the lady with the coffee returned, and saw someone else was getting the doughnuts, all hell broke loose.
“Sir!” she shouted loudly so everybody could hear. “That is not fair!” Pardon? “That is not fair. One helper per person. We are busy, sir!” She then yelled to everyone in the cafe: “OK, we have a problem here!” All eyes glared at me.
The problem was I should have been helped by only one person: two people helping me with my order – even though that help was proffered, not requested – was deemed a crime of monstrous selfishness. Of course, I was mortified. As I sheepishly carried away my coffee and doughnuts (they weren’t all for me, by the way) past the long queue at the door someone muttered, “Asshole!”
It may be because of this traumatic episode that I’m currently reading an entire book about assholes by an American philosopher called Aaron James. In Assholes: A Theory (Doubleday), he looks at what makes an asshole, and how to handle them, so to speak. There are many types of asshole to be found – more often male than female, apparently – but there is one particular form of asshole he describes that seems especially prevalent in the fashion world: the Delusional Asshole. The philosopher describes one of the main traits of the Delusional Asshole as an inability “to pick up his reflection in the eyes of others, from what is evident to all”.
Naturally, the subjects of various street style blogs, plus a number of people spotted in and around numerous fashion hubs, quickly spring to mind. As does a recent survey reported in the Daily Mail on what women don’t like to see men wear. Some of the choices were obvious: they don’t like men in socks and sandals, Ugg boots, Lycra or baggy grey tracksuit bottoms. Others were a little more controversial: low-slung V-neck T-shirts (they’ve got a point), trousers with elasticated hems (oh, just bought a pair), pink jeans and girly scarves.Effectively, the ladies polled thought the garments listed above made men look a bit of an asshole.
The question of scarves is an interesting one, especially at this time of year when the chances are that we’re all carrying one around. So, what makes a girly scarf? Assuming they’re not talking about men with Hermès silk numbers draped over their shoulders, they must be referring to one of two things: either the fashion for summer scarves (flighty bits of fabric worn loosely and pointlessly, if you ask me, around the neck), or the current penchant for tying perfectly reasonable woollen or cashmere scarves in ever more elaborate ways and places.
Men’s scarves do seem to be getting a little too fancy – or assholey – for their own good. They also seem to be appearing on parts of the body far removed from the neck. In Milan and Florence, there’s a growing clique of dandyish men who like to wear their scarves all over the place: around their trousers as belts; around their chests like some over-embellished Napoleonic general; wrapped around their necks so many times all you can see is a small tuft of hair peering out from the top. It looks like an army of gay mummies has escaped from the Egyptian rooms at the British Museum.
Sometimes it can be all-too fine a line between something looking perfectly stylish and making you look like a complete asshole. So watch out: it can be the way you wear it, or when you wear it. For example, in winter do not, as some have found necessary, wear shoes without socks: in summer, good; in winter, asshole. Likewise, beanies in the winter, cosy; beanies in the summer (especially prevalent this year), asshole. Trousers rolled up twice to reveal a bit of sock, nice; rolled up so your trousers appear three-quarter length, asshole. The current trend for high-tech, brightly coloured fashion trainers (eg, Raf Simons) is cool when worn with a plain pair of jeans and neutral top. But, pick out one of the colours in your footwear to wear in a matching top, asshole.
You get my drift. Small and subtle shifts can turn an outfit from nice to nasty. According to Aaron James, an asshole is made not born, so keep an eye on the details this winter, and never ever allow more than one old lady to fetch you a coffee and a jelly doughnut. Or three.
Originally published in January 2014.