From the fate of Europe’s disappearing villages to the modern dress codes of America’s southern states, this issue celebrates the transformative effects of smartening up and making an extra effort. Be a force for good, writes editor in chief Andrew Tuck.
If you struggled to find a quiet Mediterranean beach on which to unfurl your towel this summer, then it might surprise you to learn how many sunny southern European nations are actually short of people – at least, in their remoter corners. In Spain this is particularly acute when you head inland from the glistening coast; between 2010 and 2019, 6,232 of the country’s 8,131 municipalities decreased in population. It’s a trend that has seen villages depleted or even abandoned as the young and talented move to the big cities. Can anything be done to change the narrative and make country living appealing again? Well, people are trying.
For this issue, which focuses on the need to make an effort in all aspects of our lives, our Europe editor at large, Ed Stocker, travelled some 2,000km across the country – through the regions of Aragón, Castilla y León and Galicia – to meet the plucky mayors, creatives, campaigners and artisans who are determined to revive the fortunes of these quarters (see here). There is no simple fix but what’s vital is that people are trying. Indeed, Ed shows how just one person taking a stand can begin a chain of positive shifts.
A quick aside: Ed’s report is a good example of the kind of narrative journalism that we want to keep investing in. And, to be frank, that’s why people who join us as subscribers are so important. It’s your support that allows us, a totally independent media brand, to commit to telling stories that take days and weeks to report and shoot, and hopefully inspire some change too. So, thank you to everyone who has made that commitment.
Meanwhile a very different story runs in this month’s Expo (see here). It’s a look at the importance of lifelong learning and how we can all continue to challenge ourselves to gain new skills and stop limiting our ambitions because of a belief that the moment has passed or that we are too old. Youth is, of course, a glorious thing but so too are age and wisdom, and we need to stop seeing the passing of the years as an inevitable eradication of our dreams. One of the people featured in the story is the Italian-born Mallorca resident and potter Roberto Paparcone. I first met him some years ago while reporting on the island and there’s something rather encouraging about his story. He trained as an architect and prospered but one day went on a pottery course and discovered a craft that made him feel stretched – and happy. Now in his fifties, he’s made the transition to being a potter and also a teacher. He and the other people in our Expo show that it’s never too late to do what matters.
Our “making an effort” theme also comes to life throughout the pages of this month’s style special. One of the stories that I particularly like is our look at the dress codes of men in the southern states of the US (see here). The look of the “Southern gent” has changed with the times but there’s still something about the appearance of well-dressed men from the region that makes them stand out – and you also sense that, for them, making an effort is linked to having good manners. The sharply dressed Sid Mashburn has a celebrated shop in Atlanta, Georgia, and in our story he says, “I don’t think anybody wears a tie in Italy any more and yet our tie business is on fire. This is because we don’t wear them in such a formal way. We want to be easy. We like colour. We’re serious about bespoke tailoring but we also like our sportswear.” But Mashburn also believes that many men have lost the “muscle memory” for dressing well, for making an effort. But again he’s happy to be the one who takes a stand and guides his customers back to sunnier sartorial uplands.
While the dominance of casualness in everything from what we wear to how we behave might seem unstoppable, there are outliers. In our Agenda pages we also get onboard with Iberia as the airline unveils new crew uniforms (page 50). While heels for women are gone, the looks for men and women are crisp, poised and modern yet also give the wearers an air of authority, as well as help underline who is in charge. This is what happens when you make an effort.
Finally, thank you for reading monocle. If you have suggestions or questions, you can always contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And remember, stay sharp.