Writer Will Self takes part in Fantastic Man’s Questionnaire series and tells us why he’s become a Harris tweed convert.
What type of garment is key to your personal style?
It would have to be a tweed jacket.
How many tweed jackets do you have in your wardrobe?
How long have you had them?
I’ve had tweed jackets before, but the concerted push into tweediness I’d say began in 2010, only about eight years ago. I was doing a story up in the Western Isles, on the Long Island in Harris and saw some of the new Harris tweed designs which were very controversial at that point.
What were their defining characteristics?
Shamefully, it’s to do with an American entrepreneur acquiring the rights to market Harris tweed and rationalising its production. Traditionally it’s produced by weavers who are on the farm, so if not personally involved with the sheep, they are close to them. They design their own tweeds, they do their own weaving, they produce their own cloth. There was a myriad of tweed terroirs and this guy started to look at what Americans were actually buying, as they’re the main market for Harris tweed, and decided to rationalise the number of patterns offered into a few each season. I confess I kind of liked his patterns and I bought one when I was up there, a jacket, and that’s where it began.
Are all four of your tweed jackets from Harris?
Three of them are Harris and one — I suppose it’s not strictly a tweed, it’s more of a thick worsted wool — I had made in India, in Jaipur, when I was there for the lit-fest three or four years ago. That’s like a Nehru jacket with a round collar, but it’s still a tweedy substance.
What is it about tweed jackets that you love?
Well, I don’t like the cold. I wear my tweed jacket in mid-winter with a cashmere cardigan or pullover and then right up until May this year I was wearing a light tweed jacket and a shirt. It’s totally versatile. It’s a three-season coat. It takes me all the way through from September to May so basically, it’s my standard outer garment.
What does a tweed jacket convey to others?
It’s an age thing. Even in my 40s I would wear more sporty garments but there comes a time where a man needs to face the realities of ageing. You have to dress much better when you’re older and you have to groom much better because if you let anything slide you look dreadful. The good thing about the jackets is they are well designed, well cut and I buy them off the peg, but I’ll have them altered because I’m quite thin and it’s hard to find things that are shaped for people as thin and tall as me. The point about a properly cut tweed jacket is that it presents a single, defined image. Yes, I’m a middle-class brain worker who is relatively casual and doesn’t have to wear a suit, that’s all.
Does it bother you if you see another man wandering around in a tweed jacket at the same function or talk as you?
It doesn’t happen as much as you think. The classic look of blazer jacket or sports coat and now increasingly jeans and open neck shirt is ubiquitous, but the jacket material isn’t always tweed by any means. People have been wearing worsted. They’ve been wearing wool or linen or cotton blazers. Silk jackets. Even though there are only a few main tweed styles coming out of Harris, I can only remember once or twice even seeing another man wearing the same tweeds that I do.
“And I have a cross-dressing side. I’d like to wear women’s clothes.”
Are you in the market for a new tweed jacket?
I think I’ll need a new one this winter.
Will you be travelling to Scotland to get one?
I’ll have a look at the new Harris tweed, but I'm tempted by a Donegal or an Irish tweed just to break out a bit.
Can you describe the state of your closet?
It’s spartan beyond belief. It’s just the four tweed jackets. I have ten pairs of socks, ten pairs of underwear, a couple of T-shirts. I love that movie ‘The Fly’, the CRONENBERG version where you see that he has all the identical clothes…There was a very good feature recently, I can’t remember what paper it was in, saying that it’s not without accident that great minds – like me, haha – always have a remarkably simple wardrobe. It’s because we realise very early on you don’t want to make decisions about shit like that, because it doesn’t matter if your decision is ‘should I have a noisette or a noir?’ or ‘should I wear a red shirt or a green shirt?’ because it uses as much cognitive load as ‘is there a steady state universe or is the universe contracting and expanding?’ It’s the fucking same. I always wear the same shirts, always wear the same trousers, always wear the same jackets. The most disgusting thing I was still doing, maybe not 10 years ago but certainly 12 or 13 years ago, and it shames me to say this, it’s really heavy…I was wearing shorts, in summer, and actually going out without a jacket. You can’t do that when you are an older man. You mustn’t.
When do you think the cut-off point is?
No shorts after 45? Even on the beach?
Yes, you have to wear a jacket on the beach, unless you’re swimming.
Is there a garment that you once disliked but then starting liking?
CLARKS shoes. I switched from R. M. WILLIAMS, the classic boot, which I think I’d worn since the mid ’80s. I loved them, but they weren’t great walkers, and the great advantage with the CLARKS are they are Gore-Tex, they are fully waterproof, and they look totally unremarkable. I wouldn’t think that anybody in the last 10 or 12 years that I’ve been wearing these shoes has ever noticed them…my leg must end at the ankle. They are the kind of shoe you would expect someone to be wearing if they worked in a branch bank, if such a thing still existed, and I can walk up a mountain in them. They are totally functional, they register no surprise and they go everywhere.
Have you ever been tempted to throw all your clothes away and start again?
Yes, every day! Within me is an inner dandy. And I have a cross-dressing side. I’d like to wear women’s clothes. Well, not women’s clothes – I’d like to wear dresses specifically. I’ve always fantasised about having gaudy and richly embroidered robe-like clothing. I think I’d love hats. I’d love a variety of hats. When I had hair I wished I’d grown it much longer and had it dressed much more flamboyantly. I have a completely repressed flamboyant dandy in me, although it’s not repressed because I know it’s there. I just sort of think, fine, I could be doing that but then I wouldn’t be writing books. It’s as simple as that.
Interview by Eliot Haworth, Assistant Editor, Fantastic Man