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Can a man ever get away with wearing a shawl?

It's a half-cape-half-cardigan and we have conflicted feelings...

Can a man ever get away with wearing a shawl?
19 April 2017

I’ve always been Team Wear Whatever The Hell You Want. I don’t like to be prescriptive when it comes to style because for every question – say “Can I get away with wearing socks or sandles?” or “Should I try and make all of my old jeans into jorts?” – the answer is usually “I mean, yeah, sure, if you’re cool.” But this…

This shawl. It makes me feel some type of way. It conjures in me feelings of confusion. I don’t know that anyone could ever get away with wearing this, and that’s a space I’ve never come across before. I am in uncharted territory here. Is this the natural creep of time’s conservative conversion? The type that turns middle-aged people into letter-writing prudes and old people into big racists?

Or is this shawl just dumb?

Engineered Garments have consistently created extremely high quality menswear, from the expensive men’s fashion Tumblr inception to its current high street heyday, but this shawl. This Engineered Garments charcoal wool-jersey knit (currently priced approx. £15 plus postage - because Gentry have it on a 90% sale) button shawl, man.

It makes no sense, for a kick-off: sort-of a quarter-cardigan with buttons up the front and a high-rise at the back, I’m not quite sure of its practical purposes. Is it to be used under a light winter jacket, like an extra layer of insulation? Is it for snacking and relaxing: the rear rise giving ample room for a cool back while your arms are free to play Uncharted 3 and eat biscuits?

Gentry – New York’s coolest store, btw – describe it as a “combination scarf, shawl and cape in wool blend knit” in a cool tone that is enviable for its simplicity. A scarf I can get my head around; a shawl is described by Google Dictionary as “a piece of fabric worn by women over the shoulders or head or wrapped round a baby” and a cape is something only magicians and Larry David wears. 

But could the regular man ever wear such an item?

“This is a button-up bib,” said Sanden Totten. Which is quite fair. 

“That’s not bad,” said ShortList’s own Dave Fawbert. “I’d take the risk.”

“Just a really extravagant bib,” said writer Joe Baimonte, keeping the bib motif going.

“I own a cape that looks a little bit like this,” said musician Charlie Gleason, “but I find it difficult to find appropriate occasions to wear it.”

“Fuck off,” said VICE’s Joel Golby. “As if this isn’t the best TV-watching clothing item ever made.”

“This is useless,” said designer Gary Ogden. “I guess you could wear it down the park on a sunny day and then take it off and use it as a picnic blanket, and then just leave it there.”

With opinions split, I’m left facing some serious questions, namely: What is cool? What is style?

Thomas Jefferson once said: “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like the rock.” But then again, he was the owner of a fucking huge plantation and kept hundreds of slaves, so fuck his rock-principles. 

Better was poet Richard Eberhart, who said: "Style is the perfection of a point of view."

But what is the point of view of an item like this? What does it say? What is its stance besides “I get a hot back sometimes but my arms are fine”?

But then, does every item need to stand as a signpost of what we’re about as people? If I wear this shawl, does that change who I am? Does this shawl make me a different person? People would react to me differently, sure. But what if without the shawl, I am still the same person as with the shawl, only now I have cold shoulders? Have I been a shawl-less shawl guy all along? Is this… Is this Schrodinger’s Shawl?

I stare at my screen, the pixels of black on white: can a shawl ever really be just a shawl?