Book Review: “The Way We Wore” by Robert Elms

21st February 2011:

Clothes. Some people like them, some people love them. And Robert Elms – well, he loves them. Really, really loves them.


I remember the first time ever heard of Robert Elms. Way back in the mid-80s he had a weekly column in Midweek (or was it “Girl About Town”?), one of those freebie magazines given out each Monday/Thursday in central London. Although I’ve always thought of him as a ‘sharp dressed man’ I didn’t realise the depth of his passion for wearing exactly the right thing at the exactly the right time. In ‘The Way We Wore’ he gets to tell his story of growing up in North London, clothes, music, clothes, family, clothes, friends and clothes. Fascinating, every single page.


Until I read the fabulous “Things Can Only Get Better” by John O’Farrell, I had no idea that anyone could be so interested (can I say, ‘obsessed’?) in politics at a young age. And until I read Mr Elm’s book, I had no idea that anyone could be so interested – yes, obsessed – with clothes whilst still at primary school!


In the book, he talks about how this obsession was not only about his wardrobe but extended to his taste in music. The right music at the right time (or beforehand, if possible). Clothes and music form the backbone of the book but his life story is carefully woven (no pun intended) around this framework. He recalls seeing his brother showing off his brand new suit in the front room of the family home – and knowing, just knowing, that this was a life changing moment. Everything can be traced back to that evening: travelling through London to find just the right pair of shoes , visiting Vivien Westwood’s shop ‘SEX’ in the Kings Road and his later friendship with leading lights in the New Romantic movement. Did his brother know when he modelled his new suit for his mother and young Robert that he’d kicked that pebble that would become the avalanche?


Mr Elm’s is around the same age as me so reading about his life took me right back down memory lane to the music and the fashions at school. Now, I went to school in North Shields, Tyne & Wear. As far as I can recall, it was hardly a hotbed of fashion – although things must have been different for that other sharp dressed man and fellow Shields school kid, Neil Tennant.


Shortly after finishing the book I saw two other people who could be described as ‘obsessed’ with their threads. One man in an obviously expensive bespoke suit had immaculately polished shoes, slicked down hair , a very crisp shirt and perfect tie. My first thought was “how long did he take to put that outfit together?”


Two hours later I saw a young lad in combat trousers, a white t-shirt and a Russian fur hat. How did he get that fantastic gear? Where did he have to go to buy it?


I will never look at clothes in the same way again.  But, please, just don’t talk to me about my own wardrobe ……


Christine …. from the Shed


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