On my list of favourite therapies to experience, ‘retail’ features comfortably below ‘electro-shock’.
Men tend to regard shopping as something that reluctantly must be done once a year. Like a prostate exam, only less enjoyable.
This is changing. There is a generational shift. Men in their 20s have embraced fashion. This new breed has a training camp at the foothills of the Dublin mountains. It is known locally as Dundrum Town Centre and I visited there last weekend.
Everything about this camp is designed to confuse you into buying pants you don’t want.
It begins with the electronic music that screams from speakers hidden strategically under salmon shirts and woollen cardigans. The drum beat is designed to excite. It gets faster and faster until suddenly your wallet is empty and you are clutching bags of flannel shirts.
I have attended tribal ceremonies in Africa where drum rhythms gradually increase in tempo and the dancing becomes more frenzied. Each time I see this, it reminds me of H&M.
The young people in the shop are also designed to confuse you. There isn’t a uniform, but at the same time there is. The shop assistants wear short sleeve shirts with the top button buttoned and the short sleeves inexplicably rolled even further up their muscular arms. They wear skin tight jeans that finish above their ankles. For reasons no scientist can determine, none of them wear socks.
Walking into this environment makes me think of the time when Hans Solo went to the pub in Last of the Jedi and all the other customers were strange creatures from other planets. Hans tried to play it cool but you knew inside he was freaking out.
The lighting builds confusion further. Men’s departments are always in the basement. This is because that is where it is darkest and in the dark nobody can see our tears or identify where the screaming is coming from. There is no phone signal.
The changing rooms are the darkest place of all. Men’s changing rooms are places where no sunlight can penetrate. Like that side of the moon only Pink Floyd has been to, they are places consumed by such disorientating blackness that all senses are stolen and you forget that love exists.
You get confused. Like a salamander wearing uncomfortably tight-fitting jeans, you slither around in the blackness.
Because it’s too dark to see whether what you are trying on fits, you buy it in the hope that it is going to work out. For most people in Dundrum, this brings back happy memories of the time they bought that apartment in Bulgaria off the plans.
I always regarded clothes shopping as a nightmarish task, but even more so since I edged into my late-30s. This is fashion’s no-mans land – too old to wear skinny jeans, but too young to find yourself in slacks.
According to the census, there are approximately 340,000 males aged 35-44. That’s roughly seven per cent of the entire population of our country who walk the streets each day wearing ill-fitting clothes and being pointed at by millennials.
There has been a lot of debate about the appropriateness of certain questions on the census but surely we can all agree on the need to include: ‘can you buy pants that fit you?’ This would offer an insight into our nation that sociologists, planners and garment makers would find invaluable.
Follow-up questions could include: ‘do you want your ankles to be covered by cloth?’, ‘has blood made it beyond your knee in the last 72 hours’, and ‘are you currently crying?’
Visiting the emporiums of self-loathing favoured by the nation’s youth makes me realise that my safe space is in the department stores.
The music is soft, the lighting is appropriate, and the shirts are various shades of blue. There are no rips on the t-shirts, no deliberate stains on the jeans and the material is shaped to disguise bulges instead of highlighting them.
The customers do not want to be there. They have been forced into the situation by the passage of time and their wives. They walk lonely, their eyes filled with confusion as they stare blankly at the range of regular fit blue shirts.
The staff wear black uniforms and talk about the weather and their generous returns policy. Sometimes I want to hug them.
This is my tribe. We are not trendy. We are not stylish. But by God are we comfortable.