Clothes force

    30 November 2013

    Like many men, I’ve never got used to the idea that Mother doesn’t dress me any more. I tried in my teens to establish a measure of sartorial independence by wearing black T-shirts that had the word ‘FUCK’ printed on them in brilliant white. In my twenties, I made an effort to look sharp, at least intermittently. I once read a men’s style magazine with the intention of learning. It didn’t work.

    Now I’m 33, bordering on fat, and I think about clothes less than ever. My wife stepped womanfully into the breach in the early days of our marriage, buying me things she thought I ought to wear. But these days she has other children to dress, so my slovenliness has increased. I rely on Christmases and birthdays to replenish my wardrobe. If one year everybody decides I like books, I just muddle through. By November, I tend to look like I’ve given up on life. When I arrive at work, in torn trousers, frayed shirt and crumpled jacket, the women in the office give me a sad look. ‘Look at the state of you,’ they say.

    Which is probably why Spectator Life’s editor, a charitable soul, thought I should write about Chapar, a bold new business that makes it easier for hopeless men to buy good clothes. Or, as the bumf puts it, ‘a great way to look stylish (without the effort)’.

    Here’s the idea: man goes to Chapar’s website and fills in a form, then has an appointment with a Chapar stylist to discuss what he wears, then they send him a trunk full of specially chosen clothes. He keeps the items he wants and puts back the ones he doesn’t, then Chapar take the box away and send him a bill. -Clever.

    The word Chapar means ‘courier’ in ancient Persian, apparently. Chapars were the chappies whom Cyrus the Great employed to move messages around his empire. How this translates into clothes shopping in 2013 I’m not sure — except that the idea of having a Chapar at your beck and call taps into what modern men really want, which is not sex so much as manservants. Look at those rappers who take such pride in their butlers.

    Happily, my personal stylist is not an eager-to-please Iranian on horseback, but a pretty Scottish girl called Alison in a fetching orange scarf. She sits me down and asks about my ‘look’. She doesn’t take the business too seriously, thank heavens, but she does take careful notes, and nods seriously when I tell that I like long-sleeved T-shirts because they are ‘practical and cool’. We easily negotiate the issue of my expanding waist and my barrel chest. The tête-a-tête is only slightly spoilt by the office women sticking in their points of view. ‘He’s hopeless, Alison,’ they say ‘He needs help, Alison.’ (Tip for any potential Chapar customer: have your consultation in private.)

    Two days later the trunk — actually a big cardboard box — arrives, and it’s a marvel. There are some very tasteful blue corduroy shirts, an inoffensive purple T-shirt, a sleek macintosh, two trendy jackets, a plaid shirt, a rugby shirt, a belt and plenty more, all parcelled together into different looks. Alison has written a rather sweet letter about what might work with what. She’s tried to choose some clothes that conform to my tastes, as well as others to push me in a new style direction. On the former, she is bang on; the latter, less so, but then I can see I’m a difficult subject.

    A pair of orange trousers frighten me, but I try them on and find that I don’t hate the experience. I’ll never be an orange-legged man, though, so back in the box they go. There’s also a floral silk scarf that is too metrosexual for my conservative mind to handle. But I appreciate the thought.

    In the end, I keep the cord shirts, a pair of blue chinos, and a thick dark red sweater — boringly safe, perhaps, but Alison is wonderfully chipper when I email about my choices. They all fit perfectly, and I feel cheered every time I put them on. My wife, who knows about these matters, approves. So do the office women. I even went to a party and had someone tell me I looked trendy, which was novel.

    The whole Chapar experience is fun and, more importantly, easy. It’s a bit like getting a Christmas stocking in the post — only you don’t have to keep anything. What I don’t understand is why, in Chapar’s marketing material, they call it a ‘disruptive concept’. It couldn’t be less disruptive. Presumably ‘convenience’ isn’t sexy enough for the fashion world. But it’s what man needs.