Last week I wrote with anticipation about overcoats. The promise of an Indian summer is now long gone and the air grows colder and harder by the day. As the clocks go back this weekend, we will soon be plunged into dark evenings, but this shouldn’t be cause for despair: as with many things, it isn’t so bad – especially not in the sartorial sense.
Every season has its feel, and these are personal. Spring has a warmth to the air, while summer has the baking heat and the relief afforded by cool linen and cotton. Autumn, with its encroaching darkness and crunch underfoot, turns us inwards. We want to cover up, not expose; we guard heat rather than desperately trying to give it away. We crave the security of layers.
The heavy drape of woollen overcoats is merely the beginning. Autumn is the time for tweed in all its wonderful forms: the smooth nap of herringbone and the scratchy reassurance of rough Harris wool. Anyone who has worn a good tweed jacket will know the secure, even slightly smug smile as you are asked “Won’t you be cold without a coat?” No, for this is tweed, and it has been guarding us against the icy blasts for hundreds of years. Harris Tweed has its own authority, as carefully protected as champagne or stilton.
And tweed works for both genders: Muswell Hill fashionista Bombshell have released a range of winter clothes which features tweed and checks in abundance. The Scottish stalwarts House of Bruar have almost everything one could want, let alone need; while the more daring will find striking designs at Holland Cooper.
One of the joys of autumn is contrast and layering. Tweed and lambswool, the oriental luxury of cashmere and the smooth-as-silk Andean vicuña; but also leather gloves and silk scarves and cotton socks. Leviticus may frown on the wearing of mixed fabrics, but the priests who compiled the book of the laws had clearly never experienced a northern European winter.
Layering is vital, of course, for any of us who go out in the colder seasons. You need to be protected against the elements, but you will then climb into a warm car or taxi, or throw yourself on to a crowded bus or Tube. The ability to shed layers is critical, unless you are to arrive at your destination in a soggy puddle of anxious perspiration.
And all of this very much captures our mood. I am a doughty defender of the suit, as I have written, but for those determined to make the post-pandemic world less formal, the key is separates. A blazer and chinos with a sweater knocks the edges of jacket-and-trousers formality, and allows you more range of colours and fabrics. A silk scarf or something in a blend can add a flick of casual elegance to an otherwise dour outfit. Colourful and tactile are the watchwords here.
One cannot pass by autumn without a nod to one of the other senses: smell. The season has a rich bouquet. Some have been eagerly waiting to wrap their woollen-clad hands round a pumpkin latte, with its spice and richness; for others it is the smoky sharp tang of whisky or the ruby richness of a pint of Porter. Chestnuts, fallen leaves, smoke from wood fires, the acrid war-cry of fireworks, the fragrant smell of mulled wine or cider: these scents will guide us through the next couple of months.
The more cynical reader will have detected an element of making the best of it here. That’s true, to a point: I love summer and the heaviness of August heat. But the colder months open their arms with friendship and recognition. For many Britons, we feel that this, really, is where we belong. Sunshine is alien; to be enjoyed, but not quite ours. Now, with the nights drawing in, and the air seeming thinner as it grows colder, we feel we are back home, where we belong. Wrap up well!