Trendy old dude or mutton dressed as lamb?

Victor Pemberton

BACK IN 1993, author Stephen Fried, in his biography of supermodel Gia Carangi, coined the word “fashionista”. His wife loathed it, but the word quickly gained international currency and actually made it into the Oxford English Dictionary.

Well, this month I decided to invent a variation: fashion pensionista. It describes people of a certain age who, for better or worse – mainly worse – think they can dress as they did when The Kinks sang their “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” on their 1965 album, Kinkdom.

The word came to mind when a fella – knocking on 80 I would guess – sat next to me at bus stop in Benidorm. He was a cerise horror show, dressed from head to toe in varying shades of pink. Even the straps of his watches – two on each wrist – had luminous pink straps.

I blame the fashion retailers. They believe that if you’re not in the 18-30 age range you have two choices: either wriggle your way into their skimpy gear, or go trawling though charity shop or vintage store racks in search of clothing people died in five decades ago.

Back in the day, there was none of this nonsense when I was living in London. You hit 50, and immediately became a customer at any number of outfitters catering exclusively to mature gentlemen. You swaggered into Burton or Dunn & Co looking like a middle-aged Mick Jagger and emerged in a brown tweed outfit, looking (and acting) just like your dad.

At a stroke, your broad mind and narrow hips changed places, and the outfits you now wore acted as a kind of warning to upstarts that that you were Not a Man to be Messed With. You could get on a train, bus or the tube, and fearlessly order yobs to take their feet off the seats – and they’d meekly do so.

But nowadays if a man of a certain age wearing skinny jeans and looking like a potato with cocktail stirrers for legs tried to exert authority over an anti-social teenager, he’d more than likely end up intensive care, taking his meals through a straw.

Although society back then demanded that you look and act your age – meaning you had to wear your hair a certain length and buy shoes resembling Cornish pasties from Freeman, Hardy and Willis – many defied convention by keeping up with the latest trends without ever looking ridiculous.

I was one of those rebels. It took some effort, mind, to retain the sort of boyish figure one needs for trendy gear, and I spent countless hours in a gym, from my 50 to mid-60s, to do just that. It clearly worked. A few years back I was standing outside Gatwick airport’s departure lounge puffing on a an e-fag when a young Frenchman approached me.

“Are you in the movies, or maybe an artist?” he asked.

Nope, I replied. Why do you ask?”  His answer: “You’re one cool dude. I sure hope I look like you when I reach your age.”

“As cool as Samuel L Jackson?”

“Oh yeah, man, JUST as cool as Jackson”.

About 18 months ago I had the pleasure of doing a photoshoot for a fellow fashion pensionista, a gay humanist and writer whose scriptwriting work included BBC radio plays and television scripts for the BBC and ITV – including Doctor Who, Fraggle RockThe Slide and The Adventures of Black Beauty.

Victor Pemberton, who had settled in Spain a few years back with his lifelong partner, David Spenser, came to public attention when he announced last year that he was about to drive solo from the Costa Blanca to the Arctic to raise money for Help for Heroes, a charity for injured ex-service personnel.

Although in his 80s, Victor looked far, FAR younger, and dressed and partied like a teenager … right until the beginning of August this year when he fell ill. He died in his sleep aged 85 on August 13.

Farewell, Victor, you were certainly Benidorm’s coolest old dude, and we miss you terribly.

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Barry Duke is a South African born photo-journalist and gay rights activist who settled in Spain in 2010 after working in the UK since 1973. In May 2017, Duke, a lifelong atheist, was handed a lifetime achievement award by the London-based National Secular Society for his services to human rights and secularism.


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