Finding himself without a thing to wear for a fancy do, Olly Mann braves the menswear section to find a new suit
Time for a new suit.
I’d foolishly believed I was well-equipped on this front already, because, somewhere in my closet, I’d retained a shiny Brooks Brothers jobbie (weddings), a morning suit and top hat (Ascot), a Prince of Wales checked affair (job interviews), and a sober M&S two-piece (funerals).
There’s even a dinner jacket, for accompanying Dad to Black Tie events at his car club. Yet my father died in 2016. Which tells you all you need to know about the frequency of my suit-wearing.
Look, I like to be comfortable. Left to my own devices, I’d strut about year-round in slouchy shorts, XXL graphic tees and Birkenstocks, looking for all the world like a Texan tourist at a beach buffet.
Even in the "smart-casual" world of media work, this style is unwise—nobody turns up in athleisure to review the papers on breakfast television (mind you, the majority of the audience are presumably wearing pyjamas, so who knows, perhaps they’d prefer it).
"There’s even a dinner jacket, for accompanying Dad to Black Tie events at his car club. Yet my father died in 2016"
I mostly work in audio, which allows for some informality, but even so, involves meeting people and building respect and rapport; easier to do when you’re, at least, wearing a shirt and big-boy trousers.
So, my daily attire could mostly be described as breathable yet presentable—middle management at the golf club stuff—and my suits hardly ever see the light of day.
This situation was only more amplified following the birth of our son in 2019—which put a pause on all nightlife that didn’t involve bottle-feeding and burping—and then, of course, COVID, which provided an even more extended period of housebound fashions.
Dear Reader, I haven’t worn a suit for THREE YEARS.
But now I have a gig coming up. I’m hosting an awards ceremony for business leaders and do-gooders: canapés, conference room, jazz band… you know the sort of thing.
I can’t get away with linen trousers and a short sleeve shirt (my usual summer fallback).
"My wedding trousers are now so tight that wearing them would be incompatible with consummating a marriage"
So, I just tried on my suit collection to see what might work. And it was the most dispiriting hour I’ve endured this year: even sadder than that Ross Kemp documentary about Michael Jackson’s zoo.
None of my suits fit me. None.
My wedding trousers are now so tight that wearing them would be incompatible with consummating a marriage. My chest bursts through the jacket.
My job interview suit is so beleaguered by moths that anyone in my orbit might expect a plague of locusts to fly out of it and nest in their hair.
My funeral suit I can almost get away with, but a) only if I wear the trousers completely open at the waist with my shirt hanging over the waistband to conceal the fly—not exactly the preened and proper look that people expect from an awards host—and, b) it’s MADE OF WOOL. Hardly the best fabric for high summer.
My weight has historically oscillated depending on seasons, fad diets and exercise regimes—I’m the Oprah Winfrey of podcasting—but weirdly, since I last lost a load of weight in 2015, my face has remained relatively thin, and I’ve been able to pretend that my ever-increasing waistline wasn’t happening (look! My headshots look identical!).
So this was all a bit of a bombshell; incontrovertible proof that subscribing to that cheese box during lockdown was a bad idea.
But losing weight before the gig isn’t an option—it’s in two days' time.
Credit: Matthew Hollings
So, today I went to my local department store and attempted to buy something off the peg, in an hour, without ordering anything in, or getting anything adjusted. Which is much harder than it sounds.
When you’re used to L and XL, the sizing is bewildering. I’m 46 Reg in some jackets, and 44 Long in others; my waist can be anything from 38 inches to 42, depending on the tailoring; and my collar size is 17.5, but Slim Fit is too tight and Relaxed Fit is too loose.
"My funeral suit I can almost get away with, but only if I wear the trousers completely open at the waist"
Just trying to nail down my vital statistics was like negotiating an international peace treaty.
Next, I had to select a style: harder than it sounds when you’re going to be the host, the "personality" up there on stage. Sure, a local awards evening is not the BAFTAs, but there’s always an element of "showbiz" when all eyes are on you.
Even if you’ve been hired for a bit of straight-laced ceremony, nobody wants to look like Alan Partridge at the Dante Fires presentation.
Some razzle-dazzle is required, but not too much: Eamonn Holmes doing a quiz show, not Graham Norton doing Eurovision.
After much wrangling in the changing rooms, and a chorus of almost-genuine "Oh! You look FABULOUS" from the sales assistants (it’s remarkable how formal menswear advisors have kept their Seventies sitcom schtick going strong while lecturing us on contemporary trends), I left the store, £200 lighter, with something that seems to fit the bill (bright blue, single-breasted, pocket square).
I look forward to re-discovering this purchase at the back of my wardrobe in 2025, when, of course, I will be far too thin to wear it.
Read more: It's A Mann's World: Mid-Life-What?
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