The Art of Travel

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art-of-travel

As a nation of travellers, the English have a rather controversial reputation. While there are some who like to pretend that the age of the elegant Englishman abroad is still upon us, those whose heads are not buried in sand know that it died long ago; we are known as a country of tykes and chavs, a sunburnt hoard of tattooed, football-shirted hooligans who swig beer from cans, shout obscenities in public places and uglify the natural beauty of the places we infest. Of course, not all Englishmen are like this. Not all of us demand a Full English breakfast at all hours of the day; not all of us leave cigarette butt-filled Carlsberg cans lying on Spanish beaches and not all of us dress in such a manner of sweaty horror that is so conspicuous and so dreadful to behold that locals hardly need hear us speak before they have whispered knowingly; “Huh. English!”

Consequently, the more reserved, less conspicuous and, shall we say, more appropriately attired Englishmen are met with a degree of surprise by hostelry management and locals alike. Indeed, travellers from any country that has become a byword for inelegance, should they wish to combat such perceptions, would do well to consider following the example of these persons. As my grandparents demonstrated when they stood at the gate of their house, waiting for the car to Southampton, dressed smartly in cruising gear; when you travel you are unofficial ambassadors of your country.

‘When in Rome…’

Part of the fun of travelling is immersing yourself into a culture and a style unlike your own. This does not mean you must disguise yourself as a local, simply adopt an item or a practice that seems to be practical or appropriate for the surroundings. For example, rolled trousers and driving shoes are appropriate in southern Italy but might look out of place in Finland. Additionally, pale linen suits and a panama look splendid in Marrakech but in Berlin, even in summer, slightly odd. Some of the best examples of this adherence to climate and location can be found on the silver screen; try A Good Woman, The Talented Mr Ripley and Death in Venice.

Notre Dame is not a gymnasium

The most significant change in travel attire has been the adoption of gym gear; it seems a default choice for many, even those who dress smartly in their own environment, to stuff a suitcase with enough sportswear for a tennis tournament. The point, apparently, is that it is more comfortable to wear sweats and trainers than anything else. I do not agree. If the shoes you buy are uncomfortable, you are buying the wrong shoes; if you think track bottoms are the best thing for sightseeing, you can’t have tried linen trousers. Smart clothing is comfortable if you buy well. Trainers are soft and squidgy but most of the trainers worn are designed for specific purposes – running or racquet sports – hence the go-faster stripes, flashes and abominable aesthetics.

Comfort above all

The point I most appreciate from those who call me too much of a traditionalist is that people wish to be comfortable when travelling, not bound by the conventions of their offices. I couldn’t agree more; comfort is paramount. However, this does not mean that style must suffer. It is no discomfort to add a little linen pocket square to an ensemble; no discomfort to don a light blazer on a chilly evening; no discomfort to wear a pair of smart linen shorts. A female companion once said that my travel attire sometimes made her a little uncomfortable – wearing a seersucker jacket to lunch apparently made her perspire a little more profusely – however it had virtually no effect on me. Practicality is not a substitute for smartness; comfort, though paramount, can be elegant.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Stefan says:

    Spot on – and the fact remains that, as I find out most Sundays around town when still wearing my suit from church, people will very often be that bit more polite to the gentleman who is wearing a jacket or something reasonably smart.

  2. Derrik Ollar says:

    Correct Stefan, and the women will be more drawn to the guy showing class too.

  3. Michael says:

    This article should be handed out at every travel agency and airport in the UK.

  4. Michael Poplawski says:

    I agree, I always dress for travel and my stay, where ever I go. I’ve had people ask me, “don’t you want to be comfortable?” I tell them, “I am comfortable. If you are so concerned about my comfort then you must be the uncomfortable one.” I believe my clothes make them self-conscious of their poor choice of clothes. Too bad.

  5. Hilton says:

    Dear Sir,
    Are you still attending to luncheon with this female companion?
    Perhaps you should introduce her to an American Neanderthal.

    Kind regards,
    Hilton U.S.A.

  6. John Groves says:

    Learnt to spell if you are going to write upon matters of style.The hoard you refere to is HORDE not HOARD.

  7. Barima says:

    I perennially wonder if the errors committed in these “Learn to Spell” nitpick submissions are ironic or simply overconfident

  8. JT says:

    While I am American, and have nothing but apologies to make for our own “vacationers” (tourists) in all the the times I have been travelling across continental europe I have dreaded the part of every evening out when I am comfronted with what my wife calls “the singing English.” This is a pack of 5 -10 drunk Englishmen roaming the streets at night screaming songs at the tops of their lungs in the various major cities of Eurpoe. The days of the respected english traveller are far gone.