Ring a ding-ding — here comes the he-bling. Tony Blair started it. The war, that is. On good taste. This summer he was photographed on holiday relaxing in shark-print trunks and gangsta sunglasses under a blue Mediterranean sky. The former prime minister was on a yacht off the coast of Sicily but — uh oh! — what in the name of sunken treasure was that monstrosity moored between his moobs?
Closer inspection revealed it to be a giant gold cross, gleaming like a gilded anchor submerged in greying seaweed. Look at the size of that thing! Perhaps it comes in useful for skewering sardines off the grill at a beach barbecue? Whatever its function, it succeeded in making him look a bit shifty, like a half-baked mafioso, a Tony Mezzo-Soprano. Perhaps, after the bruising he received from the Chilcot report last month, TB was trying to semaphore to the outside world his dearly held vision of himself as a paragon of morality; I may have been damned over the Iraq war, but check out my Jesus-loves-me neckwear.
Men have to be so very, very careful when it comes to jewellery. Be it decorative, fanciful, functional or religious, male jewellery sends out a powerful message about who you are, what commitments you have made and your standing in society. That is why men must chose with stealth from the wealth of necklaces and ornamental bling available to tempt the unwary from the path of discernment. One misstep and you are but a second away from looking like a second-hand car dealer. One chain too many and you are tortoise-necked Sir Philip Green; you are Del Boy rootling through the cut-price kettles in the back of a van.
No wonder, then, that the mark of a true gentleman is his lack of ostentation. Particularly, I might add, in his jewellery drawer. Mr Right restricts his jewellery needs to three things: a pair of good cuff links, a decent watch and, these days, a wedding ring, should he be married. Mr Wrong opts for curb chains, a St Christopher the size of a dustbin lid, assorted beads, religious symbols and/or dog tags. All, of course, displayed under a shirt with too many undone buttons. Extenuating circumstances allow for the wearing of a family signet ring (if you absolutely must), something of deep sentimental value (from your mother, never from a former lover) or a clutch of gold medals should you happen to be an Olympian. Not much else is acceptable.
What men fail to realise is that wearing jewellery does not magically confer youth and virility upon their sad selves. Rather the opposite. We might have forgiven Henry VIII for his fondness for rapper-style adornments, but ever since then women have distrusted glinting peacockery. The only thing a medallion arouses is our suspicions.
The real rot probably started back in the 1970s, when Jason King, the fictional TV detective, first draped three pounds of bling around his neck and prowled the fleshpots of Europe. As played by Peter-Wyngarde, he became the maharajah of the medallion men; he was the randy dandy, the ladykiller with a Zapata moustache who could never quite be trusted with the sherry bottle or your daughter. Since then, men who heavily invest in gold necklaces always have a whiff of the lothario about them, a hint of gangland, a whisper of try-too-hard, no matter how undeserved that might be.
Who does look good in that stuff? Nobody who is white, anyway. David Beckham overdoes it, of course he does. No one is fooled by troubled actor Mel Gibson’s love beads, nor Brad Pitt’s girlish pendants teamed with a pork-pie hat. One Direction’s Harry Styles strikes few of us as the religious type, but he is invariably weighted down with more crosses and chains than a novice monk keen to impress the abbot. As is the case with the manbag and the mun (the manbun, hideous), men should realise that there are some forms of ornamentation that are supposed to be unisex in theory, but never work in practice. And jewellery is one of them.
It is extremely hard for men to look good in bling. Almost without exception, it doesn’t look like a jaunty bit of self-decoration, but like a cry for help; the external manifestation of a bleak chunk of self-doubt. Tony Blair is just another tragedy in trinketdom, a wannabe medallion man who looks as if he might be auditioning for Godspell. Men, you have been warned. You are no spring chickens. Step away from the nuggets.
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