I can date the beginnings of my current sartorial crisis exactly: 13 December 13 2010.
This was the day my wife invited me into a clothes shop in our increasingly gentrified county town.
She was, she explained, considering the purchase of some trousers for me as a Christmas present but didn’t have the nerve to order them for me without me seeing them first because they were “a bit radical”. Radical trousers? I was intrigued.
Ten minutes later, we were both back outside the shop, with me having thoroughly embarrassed both of us with an absurdly loud and negative reaction to the trousers in question. This would be rude in any shop but, considering that this pair of slacks had been handmade by the shop’s owner, my cry of “I look ridiculous in these” was quite unforgivable.
Ever since this unfortunate incident, I’ve been wondering why I had such a strong reaction to a mere pair of breeches? They were a beautifully made moleskin “copy” of an Edwardian design, with a high front and even higher back and had to be held up by braces because they had no waist like a modern trouser.
The clothes in the shop have been designed as a “working man’s” wardrobe, albeit circa 1905. It sells hats that my grandfather would have considered old-fashioned, and shirts that need suspenders to hold the sleeves up.
My ever-considerate wife, who knows that I like to think of myself as a Sussex yeoman, thought all this might appeal to me. (My obsession with having a yeoman rather than a farming identity relates to my family’s traditional prejudice that, historically, an English yeoman owned and worked on his own small area of land while a farmer was “merely” a tenant).
But ever since the infamous “trouser incident” – as it’s now euphemistically referred to in our household – my self-consciousness about the clothes I wear has been greatly heightened.
Now I am in quandary about every shirt, jacket, trouser, tie and sweater that I take from my wardrobe.
I fret about what each item “says” about me and that none of them says “yeoman”. This aggressive striped tie is pure “NFU Council” – one step from a food company boardroom. These cords, in mustard yellow, are so “CLA” – and that is so not me. And this sweater just screams “Soil Association” – suggesting a rejection of worldly material values even though, made of pure hand-knitted, organic Orkney wool using only natural dyes, it cost me a small fortune.
So how, short of donning a Sussex smock and carrying a pitchfork, can I find an outfit that will reflect my sought-after yeoman identity?
Over recent weeks I’ve visited livestock markets, the LAMMA show and flicked through the pages of Farmers Weekly observing the apparel of my farming peers in minute detail, looking for inspiration.
But what I have seen only depresses me – they’re all wearing exactly what I wear: an open-necked shirt, pullover, jeans, wellies and waxed jacket – or tweed jacket if I’m polished up for a photo shoot. But I don’t want to be dressed in this farmers’ uniform any more. I want to be different – I want to be a yeoman.
So I’ve decided to return to the trouser shop. Not only will I apologise for my earlier crassness but I will also try on the infamous trousers a second time. I’ll buy them. Maybe I’ll buy two pairs.
Or maybe I’ll just buy a shirt.
Stephen Carr runs an 800ha (1950-acre) sheep, arable and beef farm on the South Downs near Eastbourne in partnership with his wife, Fizz. A third of the acreage is in conversion to organic status.