Sartorial elegance: the ability to appear stylish and well-groomed without appearing so. Although it applies as much to one’s hair, shaving and smell, its key is the cladding that one wears to cover the body. After all, the word ‘sartorial’ comes from Latin word sartor, tailor.
I had always prided myself on not requiring the usual signals of sartorial elegance. I would wear what I wanted when I wanted, without concern for style or fashion. As long as my single pair of shoes fit the shape of my feet, were comfortable, and could be worn on all occasions – from hiking up mountains to weddings – I was happy. As long as the pants could be worn for a week, be washed overnight and be dry the next morning, I was content. And as long as the shirt was clean and dry, I could not ask for more.
In China, others were not so happy.
For an eternity they tolerated my sartorial preferences. They did so with a glance, a stare, a polite smile. Until at last of them dared to ask.
‘Doesn’t your girlfriend or wife care for you?’
‘What do you mean?’ I asked, standing still on the footpath.
‘Well, your shirt is crumpled’, she said. The others in our group murmured agreement.
‘It’s a t-shirt’, I said. ‘Who irons a t-shirt?’
‘And when you signed the new contract last week, you wore a crumpled shirt’, she said. ‘And it was not tucked in. It was hanging outside your pants!’
‘Are you serious?’ I said. ‘I haven’t owned an iron for more than 15 years and I prefer to wear my shirts out’.
‘What about your girlfriend or wife?’ she said.
‘She is even more scruffy than I am,’ I said. ‘Crumpled shirts, old and torn clothes hanging out, hair messy … a grungy look, we call it’.
This was the moment for genuine consternation. How in the world could a woman not be concerned with creases, crumples, and tucked in clothes?
But that was not the real issue.
‘Anyone who looks at you does not think about whether you can take out the creases in your crumpled clothes’, she said. ‘They immediately think your girlfriend must not really care for you. They will think badly of her’.
‘It has got nothing to do with anyone else’, I said. ‘I prefer not to worry about these things’.
‘And your shoes’, she said.
‘What about my shoes?’ I asked.
‘They are muddy’, she said.
‘Well, yes,’ I said. ‘I have been hiking a couple of days ago, so they have some mud left on them’.
‘Your girlfriend really doesn’t care about you!’