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Country Gentleman: Do clothes make the man?

A large beech tree is seen in Shinano, Nagano Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of the C. W. Nicol Afan Woodland Trust)

I am preparing to make a trip to Greenland, where I shall board a medium-sized "Adventure Canada" cruise ship which will take us to communities in spectacular fjords along the west coast of Greenland, then across the Davis Strait to northern Baffin Island, and then finally to Devon Island, where I over-wintered in 1961-1962 as a member of the Arctic Institute of North America's Devon Island Expedition.

From there I will fly by charter plane back to Toronto in Canada, then on to Vancouver, where I will spend some time with family (including five grandchildren.) This will mean going from a hot and humid major city to the high arctic of Greenland and Canada. I'll be on a ship having dinner and wine with other guests, sitting in a Zodiac, bouncing around among ice floes, meeting with Greenlandic and Canadian Inuit, then flying on planes and meeting friends and family. I'll also be doing a lot of interviews.

So what do I wear? What changes of clothes? Moreover I mustn't forget that I'll be traveling also on charter planes so there is a limit to the baggage I can carry. Actually, ever since I began going off on arctic expeditions since I was 17, I've abided by the rule in international travel that if I can't carry it myself, I won't take it. At the same time I'll be seen and will meet with all kinds of people, and if I can't make a good impression, at least I don't want to offend.

I don't have any tattoos, but even so, whether I am in Tokyo, Toronto, Vancouver, the arctic or aboard ship, you won't see me in shorts, flip-flop rubber sandals or tank tops. In the cold I'll be wearing my well-used arctic gear, and a woolen hat. You'll never see me sitting down to eat with a hat on, and I find that sitting down even in the same restaurant with a man who keeps his hat or cap on while eating quite offensive.

Dress codes are so variable, but they have evolved for very good reasons. The old-style British country gentleman preferred not to wear clothes or shoes that looked brand new, and many would get a manservant to wear that tweed jacket, or brown leather boots for a few weeks before he would wear them himself. A more modern version of that is the fashion of faded, worn and even tattered blue jeans that is so prevalent in big Japanese cities nowadays. (I always feel like going up to somebody wearing such poorly cared for jeans and asking them if I could buy them a new pair. I probably will never do it, unless it is a close friend.)

Active people, whether it be for expeditions, extreme sports, hunting or combat, dress for function rather than fashion. Their dress will also express their identity, and in this style can be very important indeed. Myself, I tend to prefer traditional British or Inuit styles. I admire traditional national dress and as a Japanese citizen I have my own kimono, surcoat and baggy "hakama" trousers, but I only wear them on very special occasions. They won't go into my baggage this time.

In our Nagano woods I avoid wearing black, especially later on in the summer. This is because the wasps, and even more so our giant "suzume bachi" hornets will attack black, probably because that is the color of our honey and grub loving bears.

Whatever, it is very important, especially on long trips or expeditions, to be as clean as possible. Nobody wants to be around stinky people! As far as I am concerned, skinning and butchering deer, gutting fish or shoveling horse manure are all honorable and gentlemanly country pursuits, but before I sit down for dinner I will certainly shower or bathe, and definitely change into clean clothes, whatever dress code is called for at the time. (This is the sixth installment of a regular column by author and conservationist C.W. Nicol.)

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