There are four levels of loud shirts in my wardrobe. Four volume pre-sets if you like. But something underpins them all. That is, with the possible exception of the first, least loud pre-set, they are loud shirts, not shite shirts – though I’m more than happy to give the latter a plug.
Pre-set one is the sober shirt. Plain in design and colour. Perhaps an Oxford collar, or maybe not. Sober is not insipid. Sober is not washed out. But nor does Sober scream at you. It is the blue of a Mediterranean Sea, the pink of Peonies. It can be, on those rare occasions where formality overwhelms all other considerations, as white and crisp as fresh snow. Just sometimes, less is more.
Pre-set two is the slightly adventurous. Something to catch the eye. A motif, say, or a combination of shapes and colours. We are moving at a fairly brisk walk, but not so much as to immediately attract attention – more cause someone to look twice. The juxta positioning of suit and shirt, for instance. There may be a raised eyebrow or nod of appreciation. Quite unnecessary, of course.
Pre-set three and we are cruising. Singing in public, but for the pleasure of it, not busking. This is the standard volume, the expected, comfortable default setting. Close friends and colleagues expect to see new design ideas, swirls and colours, are quizzical or concerned if they are not on show. “My gran’s got curtains like your shirt, “ said a young colleague once in amazement. “Your gran clearly has excellent taste, “ was the only possible – and true – response.
But, alas, it is not always possible to go from 0 to 60, sartorially, as fast as one would wish. If you are the new kid on the block, still assessing and being assessed, you need to set a learning curve, a progression path for your audience, lest minor flamboyance is confused for a lack of gravitas.
Pre-set four is a shout. This really is “look at me” territory. High days, holidays and celebrations. Can also be used to shock, if that’s what you want. They may not remember your name, but no-one forgets a level 4 shirt. (One I once wore so agitated people that there was a move to buy it off my back in the interests of decency. I agreed if £200 could be raised for charity. It turned out it wasn’t that much of a problem, so the shirt remains available for selection!).
Of course, this is a linear not a step scale. Many of my shirts fall between categories. I don’t have shirts for all occasions or combinations. One colleague at somewhere I have just started working noted with surprise a less-florid-than-expected shirt. Poor planning on my part, but I just didn’t have something right between levels 2 and 3.
I explained this, and the four-pre-set scale. “That could apply much more widely, “ he mused. That got me thinking, and of course he is right. Four default pre-sets at work, in life even. Why ever not?
Meanwhile, there are gaps in my wardrobe that need filling.