One of the good things about the summer being so short-lived is that there is less likelihood of me being forced to look at men stripped down to their bare chest walking the street. Now, if it were Adam Levine, the lead singer of Maroon 5, that we were talking about, I would be perfectly happy for it to be a very long, hot summer. Sadly, most men who think it's OK to strip off don't look like that.
The other day I was walking in Abbey Park, Bury St Edmunds, when this boy/man slipped past me so close that he left a trace of his sweat on my arm. This wasn't an exchange I had planned or wanted, and I felt strangely, but unwelcomely, connected with the man. I had seen his belly button and his nipples, I knew his muscle tone (not bad, actually) and I now also had his DNA on my sleeve. I find bare-chested men quite aggressive, in that, unless you have a pair of blinkers handy, you have no choice but to look at half their bodies. It almost forces you to be intimate. Why do they do it? It's not like being half naked cools you down. It doesn't. In public, it is never acceptable to be this undressed, unless: you're breaking rocks, you have had your shirt ripped off you by screaming fans, or you're baling hay. Even then, all the country boys I know (and I know plenty) never work baring flesh.
Italian men may not cook very often, or be grateful for the cooking their wives do, but stripping off is something they do very rarely. My extremely overweight cousin is an exception: he sits at the breakfast table bare-chested, but then this is also the man who is a GP who sits on the toilet, smoking and reading the latest medical literature on hypertension. Generally, though, it is regarded as way too uncouth a thing to do.
When they do strip off their shirt, they always retain their vest, which most of them still wear (that mamma influence, you see). The older men wear what is now regrettably known as the "wife-beater": a normal white vest. The younger men wear short-sleeved T-shirt vests. It's fairly common for them to strip down to their vest at mealtimes - especially among older men. This is in part to cool down and partly because there is so much salsa and red wine involved at mealtimes that it's prudent to save the "work shirt" from splashes.
Of course, being casually dressed encourages men to strip off their top. You'd never see a man wearing suit trousers top-naked, would you? It's nearly always men in jeans or those vile, knee-length nylon shorts. I think it should be a civil offence, and offenders should be introduced forcibly to Sunspel underwear for next to the skin and John Smedley fine-knit apparel for over the top. This is the classy way to keep cool.