The delusion of “comfort”


By now, almost everyone with an internet connection has seen the video of Professor Robert Kelly being interrupted during a live BBC interview by his curious children. And their mother’s frantic and valiant attempt to save the day. As soon as the clip went viral, a lot of people wondered why the dad didn’t get up and take his children out of the room. As someone who’s done this sort of interview before, I can attest to the fact that you are so in the moment, so aware that you are live on the air, you are focused on keeping the interview on track. Mr. Kelly later explained that his children’s toys were on the floor behind him and he was half hoping they’d be distracted and allow him to finish without further interruption.

I had another theory as to why he didn’t get up. I suspected Mr. Kelly, like many who work from home, didn’t fully commit to his wardrobe. As professional (if conservative) his shirt, tie and jacket were, I guessed that Mr. Kelly’s trousers did not match and that he was wearing either something casual or perhaps even pyjamas. As part of revealing what was going on behind the scenes of the fiasco, Mr. Kelly admitted as much in an interview. However, it is the commentary by the Wall Street Journal that rubs me the wrong way: “He dressed smartly, in a jacket and tie, but more comfortable jeans out of camera shot.”

Ah, that old chestnut, “comfort.” And the lie our society continues to tell itself that jeans (and casual clothes in general) are more comfortable than formal or tailored clothes. First, let me tackle the issue of physical comfort. If your clothes are well made, of good materials and construction, and they actually fit you, they will be physically comfortable, regardless of whether they are casual or formal. But more than that, denim, by its very nature, is not comfortable. It is a stiff, heavy fabric that takes a long time to break in and even then, has very little give. This is why denim makers have been twisting themselves into knots for the last few decades blending in all sorts of synthetic materials to soften jeans. And while it is true that lived-in, broken-in denim can shape to your body, a custom shirt and jacket, of good cloth and well tailored, can be one of the most comfortable things you’ll ever wear. Not to mention bespoke, full-rise flannel trousers.

But there is another level of “comfort” people hardly discuss anymore: social comfort. If I am being interviewed about a serious subject, I am going to dress seriously. If I am at a beloved family member’s funeral, I am going to dress in a sombre way. Yes, I would be more physically comfortable if I were wearing a big, loose muumuu on each occasion, but would I be socially comfortable?

What we wear sends messages about ourselves to the people around us and I want to send the right message. That’s what makes me comfortable.