A friend recalls the utter embarrassment she felt when, during Cambridge undergraduate days, her parents arrived to see her one weekend, dressed in matching shell suits.
Although I have never met the parents, and am sure they are perfect in every other sense, it is difficult to imagine the scene without wincing.
And the scene always comes flooding into mind when I go to the supermarket in France.
Lurking around the corner of each alley, ahead of you whichever caisse
you choose and all over the car park, there are men - especially men - in the French equivalent.
They are not always glossy, as I rightly or wrongly assume shell suits must be, so are probably closer to being track suits. Invariably, in recent years, the trouser bottoms will be cut short to add a hint of fashion consciousness.
But if they look like track suits, you know that their wearers - six times out of 10 - have almost certainly indulged in no sporting activity for years. There is something especially bizarre about this mode of dress when it is adopted by the elderly or obese.
Appearances may be deceptive, of course. There is, after all, a bit of pot calling kettle black going on here.
No one has ever mistaken me for a style guru. My wife once wrote to Hilary Alexander's fashion agony aunt column asking how she could transform me, from whatever kind of northern oik slob I am, into an ultra-smart and trendy Parisian.
Hilary promised a reply, or to deal with it in her column. But she clearly knew me well enough to be able to decide that I was beyond redemption and quietly forgot all about it.
Nor can I claim to be superfit.
I make an effort, playing badminton, using one of those Décathlon abdominals frames and walking a lot.
Each morning I am sent out to buy the baguette and Var Matin
, an easy walk down the hill to Intermarché but a tough old slog back up.
To bypass the endless winding bends leading eventually to our house, I clamber up a steep grassy slope and then tackle the 139-step short cut. Lame dogs pass by with scornful looks and, if I have missed a couple of days, I am certain to be briefly out of breath by the time I reach the top.
It feels good later, though. As does the muscular pain the morning after I've played, say, seven or eight hard games of badminton singles.
But I promise my fellow early-morning shoppers, all the lame dogs of the Var and my badminton opponents that they will never be required to cast eyes on me in a cutaway track suit.
Labels: badminton, exercise, fashion, fitness, France, Hilary Alexander, shell suits, sport, supermarket, track suits, Var Matin