Wednesday, 6 August 2008
This picture comes courtesy of The Sartorialist (not that I actually asked him if I could use it, I'll ask now: 'can I please Mr S.?').
I said I would explain why tank-tops, Fair Isle ones in particular, are cool. Now, of course, I find myself struggling to do so. Not because I've changed my mind, but because what someone finds themselves attracted to isn't subject to reason, logic, or any kind of rational explanation. I am just attracted to Fair Isle tank-tops, in the same way I am attracted to brown leather, sea-side towns that have seen better days, and coloured string.
When I see someone wearing one I immediately invest them with all number of traits they may very well not have: artistic, intellectual, maverick. I think they probably enjoy solitude, wide open spaces, beach-huts, and beer. That they are the sort who only speak when they have something to say, rather than because they want to say something. That they are strong individuals and not part of the herd. How often do you see an adult male in a Fair Isle tank-top? Exactly! I instinctively take them to be the sort I could have an easy conversation with, and that they will be interested in, at least some of, the same things I am.
Fair Isle makes me think of hills, of coming in from a long walk to a warm fire and tea and scones. Of staying at the beach after the sun has cooled to scramble about in rock pools. Of ice-cream sundaes; best china; cake stands with glass domes; camping; unusual punctuation; Dylan Thomas (who knows why); poetry; mixing-bowls; duck-egg blue.
Tank-tops are a little less cosy than jumpers. The arms are kept free for ease of movement. They speak of cool summers rather than cold winters, of getting out and about rather than hunkering down. And they can be worn under a jacket without giving you bulky (never attractive) arms.
This may very well be because I was brain-washed in 1974. Or it may have something to do with when I was nineteen my (then to be) mother-in-law went to the trouble of measuring my tee-shirts in order to knit me a Fair Isle tank-top for the first Christmas I ever spent with my husband's family. And my sister-in-law who, having helped with the subterfuge, was at first envious and then delighted to get one too. We wore them proudly for our Boxing day walk. And I, having been somewhat nervous of the whole event, was made to feel part of the family that I have loved ever since.
All I know is this: I would always give a person in a Fair Isle tank-top the time of day, no matter what the rest of them looked like, and I don't think I'm the only one. When Boden did them a few years ago I promptly ordered one for myself. The first time I washed it - in the machine, defying hand-wash only instructions - it shrunk to the size of a bee, so I went back to the site to order another and they had sold out never to get them back again.
In this day of mass-manufacture, designer labels and tee-shirts that say such ghastly things as 'Real Man' across the chest - 'Really!' I want to yell, 'who fucking says?' - a Fair Isle tank suggests hand crafting and time taken. I know it's a bit like a label that says size four in the jeans of a woman who knows she is really a ten. Or opening a tin of 'home made' soup. Or even, as I saw the other day, a faux-leather handbag that costs as much as a real leather one. But, as I said, it's all based on feelings that however much I try I can't really justify. A bit like preferring the poetry of Ted Hughes to Keats (check), the paintings of Ben Nicholson to Constable (check) or chocolate cake to curry (check).
If I were to find myself sitting in a cafe eating chocolate torte with Nicholson's paintings on the wall, a book of Ted Hughes' collected on my lap, and looked up to see my husband coming towards me wearing a Fair Isle tank top and cords, that would be a good day.