As a nation of travellers, the English have a rather controversial reputation. While there are some who like to pretend that the age of the elegant Englishman abroad is still upon us, those whose heads are not buried in sand know that it died long ago; we are known as a country of tykes and chavs, a sunburnt hoard of tattooed, football-shirted hooligans who swig beer from cans, shout obscenities in public places and uglify the natural beauty of the places we infest. Of course, not all Englishmen are like this. Not all of us demand a Full English breakfast at all hours of the day; not all of us leave cigarette butt-filled Carlsberg cans lying on Spanish beaches and not all of us dress in such a manner of sweaty horror that is so conspicuous and so dreadful to behold that locals hardly need hear us speak before they have whispered knowingly; “Huh. English!”
Consequently, the more reserved, less conspicuous and, shall we say, more appropriately attired Englishmen are met with a degree of surprise by hostelry management and locals alike. Indeed, travellers from any country that has become a byword for inelegance, should they wish to combat such perceptions, would do well to consider following the example of these persons. As my grandparents demonstrated when they stood at the gate of their house, waiting for the car to Southampton, dressed smartly in cruising gear; when you travel you are unofficial ambassadors of your country.
‘When in Rome…’
Part of the fun of travelling is immersing yourself into a culture and a style unlike your own. This does not mean you must disguise yourself as a local, simply adopt an item or a practice that seems to be practical or appropriate for the surroundings. For example, rolled trousers and driving shoes are appropriate in southern Italy but might look out of place in Finland. Additionally, pale linen suits and a panama look splendid in Marrakech but in Berlin, even in summer, slightly odd. Some of the best examples of this adherence to climate and location can be found on the silver screen; try A Good Woman, The Talented Mr Ripley and Death in Venice.
Notre Dame is not a gymnasium
The most significant change in travel attire has been the adoption of gym gear; it seems a default choice for many, even those who dress smartly in their own environment, to stuff a suitcase with enough sportswear for a tennis tournament. The point, apparently, is that it is more comfortable to wear sweats and trainers than anything else. I do not agree. If the shoes you buy are uncomfortable, you are buying the wrong shoes; if you think track bottoms are the best thing for sightseeing, you can’t have tried linen trousers. Smart clothing is comfortable if you buy well. Trainers are soft and squidgy but most of the trainers worn are designed for specific purposes – running or racquet sports – hence the go-faster stripes, flashes and abominable aesthetics.
Comfort above all
The point I most appreciate from those who call me too much of a traditionalist is that people wish to be comfortable when travelling, not bound by the conventions of their offices. I couldn’t agree more; comfort is paramount. However, this does not mean that style must suffer. It is no discomfort to add a little linen pocket square to an ensemble; no discomfort to don a light blazer on a chilly evening; no discomfort to wear a pair of smart linen shorts. A female companion once said that my travel attire sometimes made her a little uncomfortable – wearing a seersucker jacket to lunch apparently made her perspire a little more profusely – however it had virtually no effect on me. Practicality is not a substitute for smartness; comfort, though paramount, can be elegant.