Taking the scruff with the smooth

When
it comes to clothing, journalists are a mixed bunch. Esther Walker
casts a critical eye over newsroom chic and separates the fashionista
from the fashion victims

IT IS NOT a new observation
that people define themselves by the way that they dress. The clothes
you choose to put on in the morning tell other people all sorts of
things about you. But there are very few places where how you dress is
as significant as at a newspaper.

The offices are a higgledy-piggledy mess of different disciplines –
feature writers are forced to live cheek by jowl with sales executives,
and managing editors next to leader writers. The only way you can tell
which team everyone’s on, without asking, is by looking at what they
are wearing.

It’s lazy and unkind to generalise, so here goes.

When
it comes to news journalists (especially on a broadsheet), you’re lucky
if the trousers and jacket are from the same suit, the socks are of a
pair and the tie is on the right way round. In fact, if there even is a
tie it’s pretty unusual. The Daily Telegraph’s Neil Tweedie is said to
refuse to wear one on principle.

The image of the scruffy
reporter in a grubby beige mac with coffee stains on his trousers may
be a tired cliché, but you will find more reporters conforming to the
rule than exceptions to it.

So why is it that reporters take
pride in looking dowdy? The answer is that, perversely, slightly shabby
clothes, put together in a chaotic way, are a badge of honour on the
front lines of newsgathering.

A crumpled shirt, scuffed shoes and
a straggly tie scream: “I’ve just come back from the Courts of Justice,
I’ve had no lunch and I’ve got 1,000 words to file by five. I don’t
have time to think about what I look like.”

Another thing to bear
in mind is that reporters are, by their very nature, pathological
trouble-makers and happiest when thumbing their noses at authority.

To turn up to work looking groomed and gorgeous would, to most of them, feel too much like doing as they are told.

Granted,
some of the younger reporters occasionally go out on a limb with a
daring combo of dark blue shirt and red tie, and others do actually
iron their shirts all the way around, rather than just the fronts. But
the general attitude in your average, macho newsroom is that anyone who
looks dapper is a bit of a ponce.

Tabloid newspapers have a
reputation for being a little bit more “wide” than the broadsheets.
Shiny ties à la Piers Morgan’s slivers of shimmering pastel abound – as
do suspiciously pointy and/or shiny men’s shoes.

For the girls, it’s all about poker-straight blonde hair and make-up that could withstand a close-range nuclear blast.

Chris
Pharoah, news editor of The Sun, has a fondness for wearing white
shirts with a shiny white tie (fat knot, naturally) or black shirts
with a shiny black tie. Sometimes he wears the black shirt with the
shiny white tie. He finishes off this look with pointy shoes.

These
pointy shoes (also known as ‘winklepickers’)n are popular elsewhere –
Lawrie Holmes, business editor of the Sunday Express, is said to have
paid £200 for his Jeffrey West brown numbers. The Observer’s Kamal
Ahmed has also been spotted wearing some, so it’s possibly unfair to
categorise them as an exclusively mid-market and tabloid quirk.

Most
newspapers are pretty laid-back about what people wear, relying on good
old-fashioned peer pressure to keep everyone in line – but others are
active sticklers for correct dress.

Turn up to work looking
scruffy or unshaven at the News of the World and deputy editor Neil
Wallis will be on you in an instant. “You can’t interview a grieving
widow looking like that,” he’ll say. It all makes sense, says one NoW
insider: “Reporters at ‘the Screws’ have a pretty hard time getting
people to talk to them – if they look a bit seedy as well, they confirm
all the prejudices the public have about tabloid journalists and won’t
get anywhere.”

There was also an ugly rumour going round that
female reporters at the Daily Mail weren’t allowed to wear trousers.
Although this has the stink of truth about it, in fact, it isn’t true –
but there is certainly no scruffiness or denim allowed in the newsroom.

There is, however, a bizarre fashion in Associated Newspapers at the moment for wearing dark glasses indoors.

The leader writer look

Leader writers are another breed who pride themselves on looking a
bit… organic. Look out for the guy who hasn’t had a haircut for six
months and is wearing an ancient jumper with holes in it (in July) and
deck shoes. This is less about anarchy and more to do with the fact
that they would like to give the impression that they are donnishly
eccentric and their minds are simply on higher things than clothes.

Boris Johnson works a classic leader-writer look: the messy hair, the wonky tie, the baggy suit.

The arty types

Leader writers are not to be confused with books editors, who can also look a bit down at heel.

Sam Leith, literary editor of The Daily Telegraph, has a reputation
as being a touch scruffy around the edges. This is possibly not a
conscious thing but a biological aberration. Leith’s nickname is
‘Sneed’ – short for ‘sharp-kneed’, due to his knack of wearing through
the knees of his suits at an alarming rate. It could well be the
permanently threadbare knees of his suit trousers that have unfairly
earned him this scruff-pot reputation. However, he is also apparently
fond of wearing heavy metal band t-shirts when he has to come in on
Sundays and his Doc Marten boots, circa 1994, are legendary.

Elsewhere
on arts desks, ensembles might appear on the surface to have been
thrown together, but they are usually the product of some considered
thought rather than simply negligence. Quite a few regard themselves as
rather cool and alternative – here the boys are in the flowery shirts
and the girls are in the ties. There also seems to be an unshaven look
doing the rounds of the arts hacks at the moment (this is mostly just
the boys – except for one girl, who I won’t name, but I’m told it’s got
nothing to do with fashion).

A textbook example of the arts desk
fuzz is sported by Evening Standard arts reporter Luke Leitch, who is
king of the dressed-down smoothies.

Diary reporters

Diary reporters can’t turn up to work looking like they slept under
a hedge, as work requires them to be able to go up to Teri Hatcher and
say: “You look fabulous”, without Teri laughing in their faces. The
girls, in particular, have the unenviable task of having to dress
simultaneously for the office and for a night out, without looking like
a hooker or feeling like a streetlight left on during the day.

Katie Nicholl at The Mail on Sunday always looks lovely, bless her
buttons; Charlie Methven, the former editor of Spy, once caused a huge
stir in Canary Wharf with his very snazzy white Gucci loafers and his
fine selection of jazzily-coloured socks.

The editor of The
Independent’s Pandora column, Guy Adams, with his own jaunty sock
collection, moleskin trousers and a line in sharp suits, is a strong
contender for most dapper chap on the nationals.

Fashion writers

Reporters on the fashion desk always make everyone else feel like an
absolute frump, as they look like they just came off a Parisian
catwalk. The names go on forever here: The Times’s Lisa Armstrong, The
Guardian’s Jess Cartner-Morley and the Evening Standard’s Laura Craik
are just three of the many who make me want to burn down my wardrobe
and turn myself over to the style police.

Having said that, it’s a safe bet that the oddest and most alarming
outfits in a newspaper office (at least, to the untrained eye of mere
mortals) will be found on or near a fashion desk.

Breaking the mould

Of course, there are always revolutionaries, those pesky people who won’t conform to stereotype.

Trevor Kavanagh, political editor of The Sun, should by rights be
wider than a barrow boy who’s just won the lottery – and yet he always
looks expensive, immaculate and Jermyn Street stylish.

The
Times’s Hannah Betts, deputy comment editor and ex-leader writer, ought
to dress like she’s just been weeding the garden, but she is the
perfect lady in dainty high-heeled silver shoes, full skirts and pretty
blouses.

Tony Livesy, the editor of the Daily Sport, sticks two
fingers up at the idea that the more downmarket the paper the smarter
you should dress, with his haystack hair, crumpled suit, inch of
stubble and no tie for miles around. Rock on.

Then there are
those who dress neither outstandingly well nor badly, but whose liking
for a particular item of clothing becomes their trademark.

Obvious
example are The Times’s George Brock and his tank-tops, The Daily
Telegraph’s Hilary Alexander and her spectacle chain, the Express’s
Amanda Andrews and her red glasses and The Independent’s John Walsh and
his shoes.

The editors

And what about the editors? Surely the top brass are immune from any silly snobberies and just look pretty pulled together?

Rebekah Wade of The Sun and Sarah Sands of The Sunday Telegraph
certainly do. The Times’s Robert Thomson, The Daily Telegraph’s Martin
Newland and The Independent’s Simon Kelner always look smart – Kelner
presumably has the inside skinny on the best suits from good pal, GQ
editor Dylan Jones.

The FT’s Andrew Gowers is a peculiar case. At
work he toes the line with a standard suit and tie, but out of hours he
has been seen wearing a rather horrible blouson-style leather jacket
while pogo-ing at Glastonbury. It is interesting to note that this
secret sartorial life trickles down through the rest of the paper. At
work, Financial Times journalists tend to dress like the people they
write about, so unremarkable suits or action slacks and checked shirts
are the order of the day; however, in civvies, they look like members
of Blink 182.

It is left to The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger to let
the editors’ side down with his permanent impersonation of a crumpled
tissue. But that’s what it’s all about at The Guardian – equality and
democracy: the idea that you should dress in this way or that would be
totally at odds with their otherwise peace-and-love attitude.

And the winners are…

So,
the moment you’ve been waiting for: who are the winners of Press
Gazette’s incredibly unscientific and subjective straw-poll of best and
worst dressed journalists?

For the sheer number of times his name
has come up in discussions, Guy Adams of The Independent wins most
dapper chap; The Daily Telegraph’s Celia Walden also has a huge
fanbase, so she is officially the snappiest dressing lady.

Worst dressed man goes to Alan Rusbridger, because he’s just asking for it.

After
all this digging at others for their odd dress sense and funny quirks,
it’s only fair that I turn the spotlight round and cower in its glare.
I have a weak spot for tatty cardigans, grubby vests and flip-flops all
year round, I’m inexplicably attached to a hideous orange and purple
dress, I insist on buying everything from Hennes and some days I don’t
brush my hair.

So I think, on balance, the award for most tragically dressed girl should probably go to me.

Comment

DYLAN JONES, EDITOR, GQ

Having spent a fair amount of time working in the open-plan offices
of several national newspapers, offices full of some of the
worstdressed men I’ve ever seen, I can’t describe the joy of coming to
work at Vogue House every day. As a rule, in newspaper offices men tend
to walk around as though they’re just nipping off to do a bit of
weeding, whereas women tend to look as though they’re taking their job
a lot more seriously. Yes, of course it’s easier for women to look
glamorous, but in the world of print, men still feel slightly
emasculated by well-cut suits.

Years ago when I worked at The Observer, back in the days when they
occupied the Marco Polo building opposite Battersea Park, there were a
pair of earnest news hacks who could never get their heads around the
fact that I had my suits tailor-made. One of them was overheard in the
gents saying it was impossible for a journalist to write and dress to a
certain standard. Well, he failed on both counts.

I’ve always
been a fan of the dandified journalist – think Tom Wolfe, Peter York,
AA Gill – although the journos who dress well without alarming their
fellow hacks are really the ones with casual insouciance, the likes of
Boris Johnson, John Simpson, Mark Urban, even Rod Liddle (all of whom
work for GQ, apart from Urban).

Professionally, I always expect
people to dress for the job they want, rather than the job they have
(although if I applied this to most of the art directors I’ve ever
worked with, they obviously all aspire to be motorcycle couriers).

Which
is why it’s important for all “workies” to turn up in a three-piece
suit and bright pink tie – you can get away with being smart almost
anywhere, while it’s slightly more problematic getting into the royal
enclosure at Ascot wearing a bum-bag and a hoodie.

And the
worst-dressed male journalist in Britain? Well, it is habitually
understood that this award always goes to Jeremy Clarkson, but then
Clarkson has made such an issue of this himself, with his bum-crack
jeans, dodgy trainers and checked shirts, that his dress sense has
become as much of a signifier as his drop-a-gear voice or his curly
hair. I think he looks quite cool, and in the spirit of contrariness
hereby announce that far from being the worst dressed hack in the land,
Clarkson might actually be the opposite. No, I don’t believe it either.

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