Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Irish Times, September 19 2009


christmas jumper
We Irish men are renowned for our sartorial nous and exquisite appreciation of couture. When we’re not pouring over style bibles, we’re scouring clothes shops and boutiques for bargains, mixing and matching styles, and talking, always talking, about the latest designs and trends. Fashion for us is a drug. A drug to which we’re utterly addicted.

Well, okay . . . not all of the above is strictly true. In fact, if any of it applies to you, you’re one of a prominent, but demographically paltry, minority of swanky Irish men. There are, I would estimate, no more than 50 to 75 of you dapper gentlemen in total. But you all know each other and you socialise in the same places. So you may be under the impression that you represent a swathe of the population. In fact, you barely constitute a wafer.

The cities, towns and villages of Ireland teem rather with the baggy and the bedraggled, the outmoded and the passé. Fashion, for most Irishmen, is a song we heard once, whose tune we half-remember and whose words we never knew.

Which isn’t to say that Irish men do not have some opinions on how we wish to look and dress. We do. But our interest in the ebb and flow of fashion tends to taper off at about the same time as our enthusiasm for floppy hairstyles and fake IDs. So the idols of our formative years, therefore, exert a disproportionate influence over our sartorial habits for the rest of our lives.

The problem for this writer then was that, at 17, I was under the impression that Liam Gallagher was the coolest person on earth. Indeed many of my generation stubbornly persist in this delusion. You can see us out on the town at weekends in our Adidas tracksuit tops, hair brushed over our ears, edging towards our 30s now, but still fancying ourselves as “mad fer it” as ever.

Overwhelming evidence to the contrary, though, forced me to revise my opinion of the Oasis frontman long ago. And since then, I’ve been something of a fashion refugee. I’ve considered the “retro” 1980s look as a substitute. But given my girth and general slack-jawed demeanor, I doubt too many people would get that the luminous baseball cap and silly handlebar moustache were ironic. They’d more likely assume I was just really out of with fashion. So that idea was out.

After watching a season of Woody Allen films once, I briefly considered adopting his professorial tweed-jacket-and-shirt image. The problem on this occasion was that – as in the Pacific country where they recently switched from driving on the right to the left – such a transition could only be accomplished in a single dramatic leap. I couldn’t turn up looking like a New York intellectual one day, and return dressed as a Ballyhaunis street sweeper again the next.

I’d need an entirely new wardrobe. And given that 90 per cent of my clothes are purchased by my mother, auntie Mary and 90-year-old granny, in small town draperies and department stores across counties Mayo and Sligo, a co-ordinated sartorial feint of that magnitude would been required a high level of organisation.

So, like thousands of my fellow Irishmen, I have to be content instead with looking like what I am: an unstylish, unsophisticated adult man in a jumper his mammy bought him. It’s not an ideal state of affairs, I will grant you that. But feck it, it beats shopping.