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This month I shall be writing about clothes, so I should mention, at the outset, that I have absolutely no idea what I’m on about. I tend to wear whatever happens to be nearest to the bed and don’t really care if my socks don’t match. The other day, by mistake, I went to a party in odd shoes.

People write to Top Gear occasionally saying that my teeth appear to have got a sun tan and that my hair’s a mess. Clearly, they’re mistaking me for someone who gives a damn. Some bloke last week wrote to say my brogues were dirty.

How empty does your life have to be for you to care? And how doubly empty for you to be so enraged, that you turn on your PC, write a letter of complaint and then go to all the bother of finding a stamp and an envelope? I have never, ever, cleaned a pair of shoes. I wear them. They disintegrate. I buy some more. The End.

If you find me offensive to behold, put something in front of the right side of the screen and look at the adorable little Hammond with his flowery shirts and his puppy-dog eyes instead.

Just the other night I was out for dinner with the Blonde (Sunday Times readers will know who I mean) when she leaned over, grabbed my wrist and said curtly, “Oh. Novelty cufflinks”.

I am aware that novelty underpants and novelty socks bearing the legend ‘I’m not wearing any knickers’ are a bit of a no-no. But did you know that cufflinks shaped like typewriter keys are also social death? No. Neither did I.

Why, some people ask, do I wear jeans all the time? Well, let’s have a look at the alternatives. Combats? I’m 43. Slacks? Er… I’m 43. Cords? I think not. Cords are for people who have given up on sex, parties, girls, flirting, everything. They are truly for people who are looking forward to dying. I confess I sometimes wear a suit. But it’s six years old now and a bit knackered.

Yes, I could buy a new one, but this would involve going to a shop. And being heterosexual and male, that’s really not the done thing, is it?

So, the upshot is, I don’t care about clothes, I have no interest in clothes. I don’t know what goes with what and reckon that if you can’t see my genitals, I’m well dressed.

However, my wardrobe is far from a pot pourri of any old rubbish. There are rules in there. Well, there’s one, but that’s all you need. My rule is: no car-branded stuff of any kind.

My father used to have an M Power belt which was hideous enough. “Dad”, I used to say, as we trundled around in his Cortina, “it would be better if you wore your trousers round your ankles”. Even back then, I knew that advertising a car that you didn’t actually own was poor form.

It’s true that wherever you go on holiday, everyone on the beach is wearing a T-shirt saying they’ve been somewhere else. But ‘I’ve been to Florida’ is better than ‘I don’t own an M3’.

There is, however, something that’s even worse. Advertising a brand of car that you do actually own.

I saw on the Web the other day, an MG tiepin and cufflink set for £30. But if you’re the sort of person who wears a tiepin, we already know you have an MG, and are likely enthusiastic enough to have avoided the rubber bumper model.

But worse. Much much worse, is the Subaru anorak. What exactly are you trying to say here? Women, even if they are Penny Mallory herself, will not be interested. This is a cast-iron guarantee. So you must be doing it to impress other men. And that leads us to some interesting speculation about those of a Subaru disposition.

Does it mean that because your power goes either way, front or back, you do too?

If this isn’t it, then what’s your message? Obviously, I think the anorak is a fine garment, windproof, waterproof and warm, but I am aware that it has a reputation for geekiness. One imagines people who live with their mothers, and spend their spare time downloading make-believe wives from the Internet, wear such things. Is that the image you want for the Subaru owner?

Maybe you’re hoping men will come up to you in pubs and say: “Hey, I’ve got one too”. Well, maybe in America, but here? In a country where not knowing your neighbour is the national sport? I think not.

I don’t want you to think I’m singling out Subaru for particular criticism. Regularly, people come to the TG studio in their RS T-shirts, and I’m bound to ask why. I don’t care that they have elasticated sleeves and that they’re made from petrochemical by-products, but I know there are many millions out there who will.

And that’s a massive problem. Because, you see, it’s not just yourself you’re letting down here. It’s not just the RS Club either, or even Ford. You’re letting the whole car world down.

And you’re not alone. One of the chief reasons why F1 can’t be as glamorous or socially acceptable as it should be, is the clobber worn by the back-room boys. There they are, on our TV screens every week, in their Ferrari anoraks and their Merc bomber jackets. They look like nerds.

Why in God’s name are they not allowed to work in whatever takes their fancy? And why does Ron Dennis tuck his T-shirt in? It looks ridiculous. If I were a Martian, visiting Earth in search of cool sports to steal, I’d take one look at Ron and abduct some snooker players instead.

Cars are under attack from all quarters. The government is trying to force them off the roads. The environmentalists are on the news every night with their lopsided views. The car makers themselves all seem to be on the brink of going bust. And those who are sitting on the fence, undecided, are not going to side with a bunch of people in branded anoraks and tie-pins, with their T-shirts tucked into their trousers.

They’re going to side with Swampy. Is that what you want? Because unless you have a huge clear out of your branded clothing, that’s what you’re going to get. I know I started by saying I didn’t know what I was talking about, but, really, it won’t be the lack of oil that kills the car. It’ll be Michael Schumacher’s trousers.

This article was first published in February 2004.

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