Happy Birthday David Beckham: what 40 means for a man’s wardrobe

Jan 3, 2017 @ 3:15 pm

How to evolve your look when you reach your forties. One man’s guide.

David Beckham slipped through LAX yesterday en route to his exciting 40th birthday celebrations in Morocco looking, according to a gushing observer in the Daily Mail, “ready to party”. He was pictured wearing a trademark beanie, leather jacket and rather uncomfortable looking hobnail boots. He looked nice – but not what most of us fathers who have recently turned 40 would define as “ready to party”. Victoria and the kids are flying out a couple of days after him. He was with his dad and his best mate Dave Gardner. Here was a dad, on the verge of middle-age, granted an all-to-rare break from a packed schedule of professional and familial obligations. If he was truly ready to party he would have been like all the other middle-aged blokes at the airport – half-cut in Wetherspoons (or whatever the equivalent is at LAX) in a pair of in-flight friendly tracksuit bottoms and stylish yet practical Nike Air Max purchased hastily at the airport Foot Locker.

I worry about Becks. I worry because his whole life has been about control, focus and determination. Just as he compensated for his lack of natural flair on the football pitch by practising free kicks like a loon, he made up for a lack of innate stylistic panache (demonstrated by youthful dalliances with lemon highlights, turbo-curtains and all-in-one leather get-ups) by studiously practising fashion. Like his wife (whom he credits as his style guru), he carefully choreographed his every personal appearance. Even supposedly spontaneous trips down the shops for a pint of milk saw him wearing suspiciously well-tailored sports-casuals and stubble that looked just a little too groomed to be true. Which was great. He raised the bar for ordinary young men who might previously have thought that being a brutish, heterosexual sporting god could not be combined with a fashion-forward sensibility and meticulous grooming habits.

But, dude, you’re 40 now. You’ve put the hard work in. You conquered your profession, you married a Spice Girl, you had four kids and Tom Cruise is coming to your birthday party. You’ve got a tonne to be proud of. So you owe it to yourself to take the foot off the gas a little.

I turned 40 two weeks ago and have realised that gracefully letting go is part of a dignified transition to middle age. Staying on trend, even if it were possible (it isn’t for me, probably is for you) is no longer an option. At 39 it seems noble and admirable, but at 40 it seems like a cry for help; a futile bid to defy the onward march of time. That doesn’t mean style is out, but make it timeless rather than fashionable.

Remember: leather jackets aren’t just uncomfortable and sticky in warm climates; they are a universal sign of sorry, middle-aged delusion. The same goes for branding. Sports casuals should and will play a more prominent part in your life, but the trick is to shrink the prominence of your logos. Where Nike swooshes or Lacoste Crocodiles used to be splashed garishly across my own torso, now they have shrunk down to discreet details upon my man boob. Slim trousers are the mark of a gentleman at ease with himself, refusing to accept the pleasing comfort of a looser fitting jean and the dignity it lends your appearance: Jeremy Clarkson has spent 20 years squeezing a 40-inch waste into a 32-inch pair of jeans – that’s not you. Just because you can fit into skinny jeans, it doesn’t mean you should.

There is something strangely undignified about remaining that in-shape in your forties. Haven’t you heard of the cult of the dad-bod? An article in The Odyssey magazine defined it last month as “a nice balance between the beer gut and working out. The dad bod says ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily at weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’”

The days when the post-40 man has to cull all casual wear from his wardrobe are long gone. In fact, the reverse is now true. Your 40s are about well earned comfort. Own six or seven pairs of understated trainers so your favourites never get scuffed. Make sure your sweatshirts are nicely fitted, expensive looking and unfaded. Never, ever wear a baseball cap again. You are not a vicar at a disco. You are a living legend owning middle age like a boss.

You can gently cultivate your dad-bod waistline and boost the ratio of JD Sports clothing in your wardrobe accordingly. You know what I bought myself as a 40th birthday present two weeks ago? Two pairs of cargo pants. Just like Victoria’s erstwhile pop rivals All Saints used to wear in the 90s. But, like, 15 sizes bigger. They are comfy, they are practical and they suggest to observers that I may own a skateboard and know how to use it. Which, of course, I don’t. But that’s the basic rule of over-40 style that you would do well to remember: the less sports you actually do, the more sportswear you need to own.

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