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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Licentiate Column 03/02/11

Paddy Englishman, Paddy Irishman and Paddy Scotsman walk into a bar. Englishman is wearing a riding habit, resplendent in jodphurs and red jacket. Scotsman is no less magnificent in tweed plus fours, wielding a golf club and swinging his familial tartan scarf over his brawny neck. Paddy Irishman is decked out in a three piece suit in varying shades of emerald green and pristine patent slippers, offset with unnecessarily large silver buckles.

Who's the odd one out? Surprise, surprise, it's the Irishman. While all three men are exemplary cliches, only the Irishman's clothing has no basis in fact whatsoever. Englishmen have been known to wear riding habits and some Scottish people don tweed from time to time (where do you think Chanel got the idea for all those suits?) but the Jolly Green Getup? That territory has been untouched by Irish Man, with the possible exception of Paul Galvin.

What is Irish style? The French have their innate chicness and tendency to favour quality over quantity, the Americans their cult of grooming and the English their mix of heritage and eccentricity. What do the Irish have that marks them out from everyone else? Could you pick out an Irish person in a foreign country if they weren't wearing a hurling jersey and a bad case of sunburn?

It's not that we don't have a long tradition of manufacturing distinctly Irish clothing. We did that hundreds of years ago and still do now- it's just that the Irish message has got lost in translation in an effort to engage in global communication. Consider the Aran jumper; originating from the Aran Islands in the west of Ireland. Even the stitches are imbued with a Celtic mysticism. The cable in the cable knit signifies an integral part of the Aran fishermen's trade as well as a talisman to ensure safety while on the sea. How much does this matter to the Topshop stylist who believes that they are an integral part of Scottish life, as well as being totally on trend? Zilch. Zippo. Zip.

Irish clothing also has the tendency to assimilate with the style of other countries. Take the brogue, the most famous manufacturer of which is Church's, a quintessentially British brand. Church's brogues come with different tips, perforations and colours, English stamps on an Irish template. It's not a bad thing (if it's good enough for Alexa Chung, it's definitely good enough for me) but a smidge of Gaelic recognition wouldn't go awry. The same goes for Irish lace and linens, Donegal tweeds, sturdy woolens and intricate Celtic patterns.

But what gives an Irish person her style? I don't think that it's as easy as popping on a geansaĆ­; it's something else - indistinct, but still indelible. I don't think that Irish style is truly represented by the beaming, perma-tanned, body-conned lovelies that we often see hanging off rugby players or doing promotions for Bavaria on Stephen's Green.

For me, great Irish style is loose and slightly rumpled, like a poet taking in a liquid lunch in a boreen. The look is always slightly undone; hair is loose and natural, a top button on a shirt must never be done up. It's well put together, nicely thought but never overwrought. Low maintenance,high impact. It's always been there, so we don't think to much about it or wonder why other people don't notice.

We're so laid back that we don't question the implications of our appearance. And, with the typical luck of the Irish, it's that laid back casualness that makes Irish style great.