I’m an aspiring football journalist and I read an article recently about US soccer writer Grant Wahl’s fashion preparations for the World Cup. Is this the template I should be following?
How times have changed, J, how times have changed. A mere five weeks ago my face would have remained wholly blank at your mention of Mr Wahl. But now, having been embedded with the world’s elite football journalists on the bloody battle pitch of the World Cup, his name is as familiar to me as those of Suzy Menkes and Cathy Horyn. For the sake of my doubtless millions of new readers from the football establishment, Menkes and Horyn are esteemed fashion journalists, which is like being a football correspondent but involves more washing. And for the sake of my more long-term fashion-inclined readers, Wahl is one of America’s better-known soccer journalists, which, until this World Cup – when America suddenly realised that here was another sport they were OK at and, more importantly, could chant “USA! USA!” at – was a bit like saying England’s premiere baseball writer.
Before Wahl went to Brazil, he gave an interview about his personal style in general but for the World Cup in particular. Wahl, the article says, “doesn’t become the country’s pre-eminent soccer writer by ignoring the details”, and, boy, is this true. Wahl has his shirts and jackets custom-made in India and his shoes custom-made in Argentina (“I’m a big purple guy”); he buys jeans from a boutique in Kansas City and only sports vintage football shorts for exercising.
“I just think it’s important to look good,” Wahl shrugs, and Lord knows this column has no objection, even if it does result in handmade purple shoes. And yet, despite taking impressive care of his appearance, Wahl doesn’t wash his jeans: “They tell you not to wash these things. I’m just following instructions! I’ll throw them in the freezer every once in a while but that’s about it.”
Wait, you what now? But before we get to the freezer craziness, let’s deal with the popular jeans-shouldn’t-be-washed delusion. This idea is popular and it is, in my denim experience, especially popular among menfolk – who seem to believe that cleanliness will bring their jeans close to shrinkage. Even the CEO of Levi Strauss, Chip Bergh, thinks this: “[My jeans have] yet to see a washing machine,” he told a conference last month. “I know that sounds totally disgusting, I know it does, but I have yet to get a skin disease or anything.” Yes, Chip. The key word is “yet”. And have you noticed how no one will sit next to you on the bus? That is because you stink. Give those jeans a scrub!
Aside from the sheer filth factor, not washing your jeans means they will lose their shape (two words: baggy arse), smell and look dirty, because they are dirty. Jeans are trousers, people. And like trousers, they get dirty. For heaven’s sake, wash your jeans. Either hand wash them (yeah, right) or bung ’em in the machine on a cold wash and leave them to dry on the rail – this will prevent the dreaded “too tight” feeling afterwards. None of this is complicated.
Now for the freezer issue. Well, months of field research (hi, Google) has revealed to me that jeans freezing is something of a thing today, the theory being that it’s more eco-friendly as it saves water (OK) and that freezing kills the germs (um, no). As Sarah Zielinski from Smithsonian magazine, Kristen Philipkoski on Gizmodo and Mel Robbins on cnn.com state ringingly, while freezing may kill some germs, it most certainly won’t kill all, and the germs will return with a vengeance once you wear those jeans again and heat them up to body temperature.
I’m really not a germaphobe, but come on; not washing your trousers is disgusting, and not washing your trousers for five weeks when you’re in a hot country, watching sport all day surrounded by smelly men, is really, really disgusting. Why on earth spend a fortune on made-to-order jackets, shirts and purple shoes only then to ruin the whole effect by sporting manky jeans? And what on earth does Grant do when he’s on the road – stick the jeans in his minibar? Ask the restaurant staff to squeeze his trousers into their fridge, thereby putting all of the other guests at risk of food poisoning? Neither of these options seems hygienic, let alone effective (or even plausible). So, my verdict, young J, is that while Wahl’s devotion to style is commendable, it is not to be copied.
Seeing as you are from London, I advocate you take tips from English football writers. They may not get their shirts made to order but what they lack in couture they make up for in easy uniformity: checked button-down shirts are popular among broadsheet writers, while the tabloids generally favour T-shirts, ideally from previous big sporting events. Never wear a tie and instead aim for a look that screams Mr Blue Harbour or “Around the corner from my house is a branch of The White Stuff”. You can, of course, dare to make more of a style splash, as the Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter did in Belo Horizonte when he wore green trousers, a blue shirt and blue flip-flops for two days; but bear in mind you will probably be mocked by German reporters during press conferences. And most of all, wear jeans and only jeans, but please don’t follow Wahl’s lead (or that of, I suspect, most of the English press) and leave them unwashed. We might not be any cop at football in this country but we can all wash our flipping jeans.
• Post your questions to Hadley Freeman, Ask Hadley, The Guardian, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU. Email email@example.com.