Sunday, 26 March 2017

Stay Classy

Baguettes, not regrets!
Top Tip: Pretend to be incredibly posh by professing a lack of knowledge about the most commonplace items. (Andrew Male ‏@Andr6wMale)

Some incomers slag off us Brits for having a class system, some like to point it out in case we hadn’t noticed it was there, others come here precisely because we still have an aristocracy - because they want to join it. They used to settle near Brompton Oratory and shop at the best emporia (Peter Jones, Harrods, Fortnums, the Tao Clinic).

One thing everybody agrees on – the English class system is different now. It’s based on money, not blue blood, says Professor Mike Savage in Social Class in the 21st Century. He shows – with graphs – that those from a “posh” background earn several thousands more a year. He quotes interviewees verbatim: those who claim not to be snobs are the funniest. If comfortably off, they put it down to their thrifty lifestyles, not their inherited wealth or high-paying jobs. “The point here is that class today stems not only from economic capital but also from social and cultural factors, ” says the Times review. Just like the history of Britain for the past 500 years.

And perhaps when people say “there’s no class system any more”, they mean “It’s not like Downton Abbey, with Lords and servants”. No, it’s about very thin layers of the middle classes despising the people in the next layer for eating the wrong food, or having the wrong kind of curtains, or speaking slang, or picking up Americanisms, or misusing the checkout divider, or being ignorant about apostrophes. And it always was.

The media is mainly staffed by the middle classes because these days the entry point is university/unpaid internships. They know they’re not supposed to be prejudiced, but somehow snobbery isn’t “prejudice”.

Tatler is doing “the new snobbery” again, Dec 2016. It always has to be “new” because we have to pretend the “old snobbery” has gone away. Nancy Mitford’s U and Non-U (1954) is a bit out of date, they say. No more sneering about “piercings, carnations, paper napkins, the words “mirror” and “liquid soap”. But the following are still beyond the pale: visible bra straps, coloured toilet paper, vulgar celebrities, fake Christmas trees, people who don’t have books, red cars, baby showers, talking about money, “lounge” for sitting room, clinking glasses and saying “cheers!”. Telegraph agony aunt Mary Killen says that “anyone who puts a glass down without a coaster gives away that they did not grow up in a house with polished furniture.” Mary, it’s more complicated than that. You can’t put down a glass or mug on a polished table, but coasters are irredeemably naff. Caro Stow Crat leaves magazines around so that guests have something to put their glasses down on. In earlier times, polished tables were protected by cloths, mats and runners – perhaps we should revive these?

The Duchess of Devonshire "understood what artists were trying to say...and had these wonderful people from all backgrounds come to stay [at Chatsworth]." (Historian Maxwell Craven)

Rachel Johnson, sister of Boris and editor of the Lady magazine, wrote about the new snobbery in Times (2016-02-17)

According to her, the new status symbols are:
Five children, to whom you give very plain names like “Johnny” and send to state schools (avoiding “Eton disorder”).
Holidays at your second home in the UK, or the country homes of your family and friends (not crowded, expensive “abroad”).

A dark blue and grey colour scheme for your home (stone is so ovah).

A Land Rover Defender (discontinued so now hard to get and exclusive).
A lab-collie cross (a “working dog” – a Lollie?).
Impromptu suppers with friends (not competitive birthday parties in castles or on Greek islands).

You should always look as if you have just come from a Pilates class in a plain but top-quality T shirt and skinny jeans.

And eat carbs – we’ve reached “peak kale”.

An Aga – even in “hunting green” like the Duchess of Devonshire. “She had a penchant for kitsch – it is important to have ugly and funny things, otherwise it looks as if you’ve got what John Betjeman called ‘ghastly good taste’.” (You can feel Rachel cringing in the duchess’s kitchen, desperately trying to think up an excuse for the titled lady’s “bad taste” green Aga. According to Jilly Cooper, the aristocracy can do whatever they like – even hang a deodoriser block in the loo that turns the water bright blue. Agas are supposed to be cream, but the Duchess probably got her Aga in the 80s when navy and red were also available. Real aristocrats don’t update their décor, either.)

It’s OK, apparently, to make ill-informed and unfunny jibes at the middle classes. The recent March for Europe was allegedly full of people called Tarquinius and Fiona, and Waitrose was empty. Admittedly, someone was wielding a placard written in Latin. And a man in a white ponytail carried a poster that read METROPOLITAN CROISSANT-EATER. And you can always accuse Upwards of latte-sipping and quinoa-munching, especially if they're socialists. You'd think people would have got over middle-class socialists by now – we've been around since the 19th century at least. But OK, be like that then. We won’t turn up next time.

The Adam Smith Institute has commissioned a report proving that well-off activists are just “virtue signalling”, so there's nothing to worry about. Exec director Sam Bowman says: "New aristocrats prefer to show off their privilege with hard-to-get retro clothes and objects, studying obscure subjects at university or even taking loud, outrage-driven political positions, or making conspicuous donations to sometimes wasteful charities... undertaking costly actions to demonstrate they are not complicit in the globalised, liberalised, capitalist order of the 21st century, even though they are the very elite of that order.” Not that he’s biased at all, you understand. That’s just inconspicuous consumption, though in the 80s I did wonder why all the anti-capitalist lefties had mortgages and pension schemes... But when they said “capitalism”, they may have just meant “you know, nasty stuff”. (And that’s where all the broadsheets and Tweeters got the “virtue signalling” stuff from.)

Michael Gove recommends dropping Art History A Level, and some say that’s OK because “It’s just for posh white girls anyway”. Just insert any other group – it’s OK to drop geology because “It’s just for nerds”, or dance because “It's just for short people”, or...

It's tough being an Upward. There’s always something we’ve got to feel guilty about: eating too much, not recycling enough, not having the right attitude to whatever’s happening today, not having tasteful enough Christmas decorations, not being hip or cool enough, not excluding enough foods from our children’s diet. Why is it never “drinking too much", or "being sarcastic"?

Every year during the traditional Great Poppy Debate, Upwards tie themselves in knots trying to find their own unique reasons for either wearing or not wearing. What if the presence or absence of a poppy signals a reason somebody else has bagged already?

Garrison Keillor sums us up: "We liberal elitists are now completely in the clear. The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids, and we Democrats can go for a long, brisk walk and smell the roses."

Don't let the side downI got shouted at by a phlebotomist for putting my stuff on the floor (tidy Teales hang everything up). And I was gently and politely eased out of the Pringle sweater shop (jeans, anorak, school lanyard, Labour sticker – obviously couldn’t afford the clothes they were selling). I hear the same thing happens in car dealerships. And schoolchildren are banned from the Leisure Centre café. But, as a friend points out, Web sites have no choice but to be egalitarian.

We don't want to be "those whom to know is to be unknown", quipped Anne Shirley (of Green Gables). When I was younger, friends were always giving me recipe books. They wanted me to break my journey home and go to a “good” fishmonger. I had to eat adult food, the kind you would cook for a dinner party, or the kind you would cook for a partner, even though I’m just me and I can live on chips, takeaways and Tesco’s microwaveable meals if I like. But there I go, letting the class side down! I have to eat middle-class food even when I’m on my own and nobody can see me. (I could have lied – perhaps they expected me to!) They also used to bully me to give dinner parties – was this so that they could make sure I knew how to cook proper food, even if it was only spag bol?

See also “How can you live in London, Oxford Street is so ghastly?” When pushed, they explain that they mean “crowded”. But it’s a shopping street, of course it’s crowded. Of course what they really mean is “crowded with the wrong kind of people”. I ought to know that we have to keep the plebs (literally) at arm’s length, and we mustn’t go to places where they go, where we might even have to touch them in a crowd! How can they know someone who thinks there’s nothing wrong with Oxford Street and even does her shopping there?

Class is dead, long live class.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Choose Your Words Carefully 6

Do pop round for supper!

I was advised to get elocution lessons to erase Scouse accent, by woman examiner from Chorleh (Chorley). (Via Twitter)

English people respond well to Scottish and Irish regional accents because the speaker’s social class is not immediately clear, according to Kirsty Young. “To an Irish or Scottish person, that voice has class and they can place it, but to most English people they can’t place an Irish or Scottish accent in class terms.
(Daily Mail, 2016)

Remember, if you don't 'speak like you're from a council estate', where you're from is instantly negated. (@owenhatherley)

The success of the Mrs Merton show was partly attributed to the "round vowel sounds of the North West accent" which "naturally sound safe and unthreatening". (Wikipedia Accents you don’t like are “flat”, vowel sounds you like are “round”.)

I concede that the 'Cardie' pronunciation is looked down upon by 'proper' Welsh speakers but it's still genuinely the way a large number of Welsh speakers actually speak, and I have great battles with locals to get them to stop apologizing for not speaking 'proper' Welsh. (MT)

What happens if you live and work abroad, pick up the local accent, and then go home again? “People often don’t react well when someone comes back with an accent, like they’re putting on airs or trying to be somebody else,” says Jennifer Nycz, a specialist in sociolinguists and phonetic and phonological variation at Georgetown... US newscasters are trained to change some of the most telling regionalisms in their accents. (Atlas Obscura)

Her accent – the sort of upper-class boom made to carry across a crowded paddock – did Linda Kitson no good at all [at art school]. (“Very unfashionable to have an aristocratic accent.”) Times Mar 2017

Tatler March 2017 lists the 10 poshest words:
“Jolly” for “very”, as in “jolly good”
“Devoted to” for “fond of”.
“Blotto” for “drunk”.

Someone’s behaviour may be “poor form”. (Or “bad form”.)
Nasty things are “beastly”.
Nobody is “ill”, they are “seedy”.
“He was in a terrible bate.” (Translation: He was in a filthy temper.)

“She’s an absolute brick!” (Translation: You can always depend on her, she’s a foul-weather friend.)

“That leaves me in a bit of a bind.” (Translation: Your plan will land me in an awkward predicament, trying to work out complicated transport arrangements, or finding myself incapable of being fair to everybody.)

And finally “sups”, for an informal evening meal. (There was a lot of fuss when the Camerons talked about “kitchen suppers” a few years ago, implying that for them “dinner” is a formal meal eaten in a dining room. “Sups”, like “bate” and “jolly good”, sounds left over from school.)

The Times’s Robert Crampton tries a parody: “I say, Rupert old boy, would you pass the pearl-handled revolver, leave me to do the decent thing, what what, there’s a good chap.” (Pearl-handled firearms are for girls, and nobody has said “what what” since King George III.”)

“It’s posh rather than RP and yet people have to sympathise with her,” said Andrew Marr on the voice actor Claire Foy used for the Queen.

“It’s modulated, we’re halfway. We never wanted it to be a caricature or an impression.” Claire Foy comes out with the usual cliché for actors portraying a well-known public figure, and explains why actually, no, she didn’t do the Queen’s voice. Nobody mentions that everybody spoke differently in the 50s (see old newsreels).

But passing as posh may be more about avoiding certain words. Upwards never use “bulk” to mean “most” or “a lot” (the bulk of). Especially not pronounced “bolk”. And they don’t pronounce the O in Charlotte – it’s Charl’t, not Char-lot to rhyme with hot.

Cllr Lisa Duffy, who came 2nd in UKIP leadership race, says she's "not overly surprised" Diane James quit.  (‏@LOS_Fisher Duffy also says the UKIP elite think “similarly”. )

Lower-middle-class Teales say s’mw’n and s’mthing, while Upwards say sahmwahn and sahmthing.

Posh Caro Stow-Crat has a slight moan: “I love these presenters from Wales, Scotland, Belfast and Durham, but whenever the BBC does programmes about local volunteering, must they be fronted with someone from “Lancasheer” chatting folksily about the “commewniteh”?”

Samantha Upward shudders when commentators say “Breggzit”.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

What's in a Name? 5


Caro Stow-Crat speaking! I've just read some awfully good tips on dealing with people's names in the Times, by Sathnam Sanghera (or Satan Sinatra as some people call him). Here's the gist of what he said:

Never make a joke about someone’s name when you first meet them.
Never give someone a nickname without their permission.
Memorise the names of junior staff (and use them).
Make an effort with foreign names.

But not too much of an effort. If someone has Anglicised their name, don’t pronounce it as you think it should be said. And don’t be the only person still saying Marleen Dear-trick and Bob Geldorf.

It’s also rude (and unfunny after the first 50 times) to call George Osborne “Gideon”. It’s his first name, but he prefers his second name, George. It’s rude and unfunny to call Americans “Merkins”, too, though some people think it's hilarious.

Forcing your children to call an unrelated friend of the family "Aunty Mary" has gone out, thank goodness.

Strictly speaking, a "close" is an enclosed area around a cathedral, a "cross" is a market cross not a mall, and a house called “Something Lodge” is either a hunting lodge or the gate lodge to a big house. I cringe at "Whyteleafe" done in loopy wrought iron, but there are some genuine old houses with yyys: Tyntesfield, Compton Wynyates.

More about namesI have the feeling “vicar” is a bit naff, like “settee”. (HP)

You’re more likely to get a place at Oxbridge if your surname is of Norman origin (Pierrepoint, Somerville), latest research shows.
(Times July 2014)

Latest survey results show Amelia, Oscar and Oliver overtaking Tyler and Madison. (Aug 2014)
Superannuated girls’ names, per Blanche, Myrtle, Ethel, Barbara, Mildred, Agatha, Phyllis (they think it’s a combination of Phil and Willis), Beatrice, Marge, Ruth, Gretchen, Gertrude, Martha, Opal, Rose, Eleanor, Marlene.

They’re all called Margaret or Jean around here.
(Tim Wonnacott on Bargain Hunt)

Isabel has got to be the new Sharon, surely? (mumsnet)

A yougov poll shows which names are connected with which political party (May 2015)

Most likely to vote Tory: Charlotte, Fiona, Pauline
Labour: Michelle, June, Andy
LibDem: Tim, Kathryn, Samantha
UKIP: Jill, Nigel, Terry

Least likely to vote Tory: Sharon, Samantha, Clare
Lab: Nigel, Nick, Jonathan
LibDem: Lynne, Joan, June
UKIP: Tom, Rachel, Alex

Tom, Rachel and Alex shared a house in the 80s. They all had jobs in arts administration and ambitions to work in street theatre.

Eleanor, Peter, Simon, Anna, Katherine, Elizabeth, Richard, John and Stephen are likely to get into Oxford, while Stacey, Connor, Bradley, Reece, Danny, Kayleigh, Jade, Paige, Shannon and Shane have little chance. (, April 2014)

Pupils with names such as Kayleegh, Destiny, Haydon or Chantal tend to do less well at school as a result, while those with traditional names such as Laura or William do better. (Times 2014)

And Richard is more likely to get a job interview than Mohammed.

Comedian Arthur Marshall’s childhood friend imagined Jesus having children called Cynthia and Roland Christ. Upwards are never called Valmai, Maxine, Sheryl or Moira. Retro kids’ names have reached the Edwardian era, but maybe not to the point of Archibald or Gwladys.

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Classy Quotes 24

Raine Spencer
If I had more time, I'd write something on all the different ways that politicians try to rephrase what is essentially 'lower middle class'. (Charlotte L. Riley ‏@lottelydia 16 Nov 2016)

Their gifts were merely so many bribes, sent with a purpose which was easy enough to fathom. The donors wished to be invited to the wedding in the first place — after that, they sought to be included in our visiting-list, and foresaw invitations to our dinners and house-parties — and more than this, they calculated on our influence in society. (Marie Corelli, Sorrows of Satan)

Because of her background it was easy to underestimate Raine Spencer”, who foiled a plan to raze Covent Garden and replace it with motorways and tower blocks. (What was her prejudicial background? She was married to an Earl.)

[Working-class writer Colin Wilson] fell for Joy immediately, partly because he was impressed with her middle-class background: ‘When I heard Joy, I thought, “Oh marvellous, that’s what I want.”
(Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics: A Sideways Look at Twentieth-Century London, Rob Baker)

I know misery does exist, but we don’t want it in our drawing rooms. (Raine Spencer But thanks for saving Covent Garden, Raine.)

‘What did your mater mean when she asked who I was? She got my name right.’ ‘You’re not supposed to ask that sort of question,’ said Hendon, then relented. ‘She meant who was your mother before she married your father. Women are always totting up people’s relations.’

The fashion papers wrote of a world that anyone could enter who had conventional manners, a respectable record, and a sufficiency of money.

Possibly his father had never heard of the Radlington Club – the small social club of ‘the real people’ – the inner core – at Oxford... ‘How does one get into the Radlington?’ ‘Oh, I dunno! When you come “up”, somebody you know asks you if you’d like to be a member, and the other members know you, or your relations have told ’em to look out for you, and then the secretary sends you a chit.’ Without leaders, without tangible organization, without policy except the preservation of Britain, they held aloof from domestic politics, ignored elections, but subtly coiled themselves round Governments in being.
(The Department of Dead Ends, Roy Vickers)

Realising that henceforth I could no longer lay claim to the title of "young lady," but must consider myself only in the light of a "young person," I thought perhaps it would be better for me to remain in the hall, so I sat down on the hat-rack in orthodox servant-girl fashion. (Adventures of an American Girl in Victorian London, Elizabeth L. Banks She was a journalist who went undercover as a servant.)

Pamela Popham, square-jawed and resolute as a big game-huntress, stared round the room through her spectacles, drank three cocktails, said: ‘My God!’ twice, cut two or three of her friends, and stalked off to bed. (Decline and Fall, Evelyn Waugh Aristocrats can be as rude as they want to – they’ll never be socially excluded. And the girl who behaves like this is mysteriously more popular than the one who tries hard to be likeable.)

Not everyone can belong to a club catering to a certain social class. Not everyone can climb the social ladder. (George Simenon, Maigret at the Coroner’s Maigret visits America and wonders why there are so few bars, restaurants and cafés in an army town, and why the ones that exist are so empty and dreary. He learns, when he’s taken to one, that everyone belongs to a “club” that’s also a bar, a restaurant and perhaps a casino. You join the club that exists for people like yourself, and never have to mix with the others.)

Millions of Britons are not mixing with people from a different age or ethnicity to themselves. (Figures from Dec survey by social integration charity, The Challenge, quoted by Huffpost.)

In England it is bad manners to be clever. (George Mikes)

Once I heard that a local mother had smothered her kids’ faces in self-tan cream the night before the school photo to make them look “prettier”. My first thought was “Ugh! How common!” My second was: “I’d have killed for that.” (Carol Midgley)

Everybody is liberal... but when the mask slips, they're terrible snobs. (Hugo Rifkind on an American drama series)

Children ran free, in safety. They knew the seasons, from broad beans to mistletoe, the names of trees, wild flowers, what was edible and what wasn't. They knew every bird that flew, every fish in the sea, in the river. They lived off land and sea - a shop-bought cake was a blot on the character (although tinned pineapple was conceded as exotic birthday fare). (Playwright Pam Gems reminiscing about life between the wars. Typical middle-class romanticising about children foraging for their own food! And children hardly knew the name of “every bird and fish”.)

More here, and links to the rest.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Class and Décor in the works of Simon Brett

Mustard and olive

I’ve just read two of Simon Brett’s Charles Paris novels – Cast in Order of Disappearance and Amateur Corpse – back to back. They are early entries in a series that continued into the 90s, both published in the mid-70s. Charles is a usually out-of-work actor who has left his wife about 12 years before. His bid for adventure and freedom has led him no further than a dreary bedsit, with a rickety kitchen chair, yellow candlewick bedspread, and gas ring behind a plastic curtain. While picking up work here and there, Charles sometimes stumbles across mysteries or murders, and feels compelled to try and puzzle them out, usung the many characters he has played over the years as a disguise.

I find Charles likeable, despite his drink problem, and particularly appreciate Brett’s sharp eye for the contemporary scene.

“The Bricklayers’ Arms was one of those modem pubs that capture all the atmosphere of an airport lounge. Hanging red lights shone on leatherette couches and framed relief pictures of vintage cars.” What has happened to pubs like this? All re-Victorianised? Charles later drops into a “a coach lamp and horse brasses pub” patronised by the “the local Scampi and Mateus Rosé crowd”.

“The door was opened by a woman in a pale pink nylon housecoat and pink fur slippers. She had prominent teeth and dyed black hair swept back in the style of a souvenir Greek goddess. Her face was heavily made up and eye-lashed... She ushered him into a stuffy little room lit by bright spotlights. It was decorated in orange and yellow, with a leopardette three-piece suite covering most of the carpet. Every available surface was crowded with small brass souvenirs. Lincoln imps, windjammer bells, lighthouses, anchor thermometers, knights in armour, wishing wells... On the dresser two posed and tinted photographs rose from the undergrowth of brass.” Popular in the 30s, miniature brass ornaments have never made a comeback.

In one Nouveau Riche interior “all the walls were hung with hunting prints which were anonymously expensive, bought on advice by a man without natural taste. Two enormous china Dalmatians stood guarding the front door.” And “The front door had a brass lion knocker and was white, with small square Georgian panels. The up-and-over garage door was panelled in the same way. In fact the whole scheme of the house was Georgian, with thin-framed white windows set in neat red brick. It was exactly the sort of house that anyone in Georgian England who happened to own two cars, a central heating oil tank, a television and a burglar alarm would have had.

Inside Charles finds: “jungle wallpaper, a Raspberry Ripple carpet and a green leather three-piece suite”. Also a giveaway are “the miniature cluster of swords and axes tastefully set behind a red shield on the wall. And the three-foot-high china pony pulling a barrel. And the wrought iron drinks trolley with the frosted glass top and gold wheels.”

The couple who live here sport “saxe-blue silk shirts” (the man) and “rainbow lamé slippers” (the woman.

At the suburban house of his friend, a successful lawyer: “The conversion had consisted mainly of sticking cork tiles on every available surface... The pale green bath, basin, bidet and lavatory were modem and functional. Fluffy yellow towels hung from the heated rail... The walls were olive green and the floor was covered with the same mustardy carpet as the bedroom.”

Gerald “was wearing a double-breasted gangster-striped suit over a pale blue T-shirt. Around his neck hung a selection of leather thongs, one for a biro, one for a packet of Gauloise, one for a Cricket lighter and others whose function was not immediately apparent. His lapels bristled with badges, gollies, teddy bears, a spilling tomato ketchup bottle and similar trendy kitsch.”

Brett is exaggerating, but not much. There was a fashion for wearing a biro or cigarette lighter on a thong round your neck. Another female character wears “a P.V.C. apron with a design of an old London omnibus”. Plastics were trendy because modern, and you could print anything on them, including the retro kitsch popular at the time.

The apercus keep coming: “Charles remembered how cheap he had always found the emotionalism of Wagner’s outpourings... Again Charles was conscious of the other man’s need for him. He was being paraded for the benefit of Hugo’s local crowd.”

There is way too much about Charles’s drinking. He and others (and readers) assume that investigation is his hobby, and that he blunders around until the solution falls into his lap, but actually he behaves quite like a regular detective. He starts off noticing something that doesn’t add up, or wants to help out an old friend or girlfriend, and then does the usual pondering and legwork.

What makes these books particularly 70s, apart from the clothes and the décor? Censorship had disappeared less than a decade ago, and now we could say anything, and girls were on the pill, and you didn’t have to marry them... Brett veers between voyeuristic salaciousness, and a vision of how life would really be for a 50-ish actor in this brave new world. Charles has a rather unbelievable number of one-night stands, but wants to fall in love like a 17-year-old, while admitting to himself that this is unlikely to happen.

More décor here.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Have a Very Classy Holiday Period!

Upwards moan about Christmas because they have reached 35-40 and now have several small children and they need to do the whole thing – decorations, tree, crib, family get-together, presents. And it’s all rather hard work. They do it, but they whinge the entire time. Also, how can you be original and special? A tree is a tree is a tree.

But they do it – like they get married in church and have hymns. It’s like saying “I’m grown up now and I’ve got to join the establishment".

I’m not going to join in the moan about Christmas starting too early (shops need a lead time to sell to us, and we need the time to buy the stuff), but I do resent being sold “Christmas” scented candles and – "mulled spice scented" thick bleach? “Christmas spice” scented loo paper?

The Times asked a few celebs what they avoided at Chrismas.

Stephen Bayley (head of the Design Museum): "Christmas is a spectacle of alarming excess and waste, although there are ways to avoid the kitsch.” He and his family have neither turkey nor tree. “We eat peasant feast food... minestrone or a cotechino with spicy lentils and mostarda”. (Cotechino is a kind of boiled salami, and “mostarda di frutta is a Northern Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard-flavoured syrup”, says Wikipedia.) Lighting is “wobbly beeswax church candles bought in a Greek market”.

Kelly Hoppen (interior designer): “I can’t bear cinnamon sticks [as decoration] – they’re so naff – and those dried orange slices are the absolute worst.” Her favourite is “getting pine tree branches and putting them on the dining table” with some “big glass witches’ balls”.

Patrick Grant (designer) can’t stand not having turkey, and thinks the one-upmanship needs to stop.

Peter York (style guru) prefers food from Iceland, washed down with Kir Royale and Bayleys.

I’d love to serve Stephen Bayley peasant food – bubble and squeak (fried potato and cabbage), corned beef hash, lobscouse, Lancashire hot pot or stargazy pie (a Cornish dish made of baked pilchards, along with eggs and potatoes, covered with a pastry crust). Brexit cuisine! His menu will be banned once we leave the EU. I’m off round to Peter’s.

In the best possible taste

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday, 5 December 2016

What to Wear 5

A woman flaneuse in Paris in the 50s is wearing an authentic orange Mexican “rebozo” as a scarf. Her handbag is a horse’s feed bag. Is she “playing with codes” (Radio 4)? This is a certain kind of one-upmanship, also an “ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude. According to Cheap Chic, you wear the actual prep school boy’s grey jersey from the school catalogue, not a copy. You carry a Woolworth’s satchel. You go to Mexico to get the scarf. It may cost a few pesos, but it also costs the price of the trip. It has to be a real horse's feed bag and you have to have the secret knowledge of where to get one. Asking the person with the bag where she got it like it would be lame, and she wouldn’t tell you. (I once admired a friend's scarf: she’d got it in Guatemala. So I went to South America to get one like it. Almost.)

In the 70s and 80s it was also a case of grab the generic thing that preserves a 70-year-old design before they stop making it or disastrously update it (Anello and Davide tap shoes). Black patent Mary Janes with a white or cream trim were popular with Teales in the 70s. Mrs Definitely had a wardrobe of plastic shoes (orange square toes with buckles were her favourites).

Upwards were too snobbish to be glamorous. We worked at entry-level media jobs and could only afford home-made and charity shop. And besides, fashion was a capitalist plot, high heels were patriarchal de da de da. We wore grandad vests from army surplus shops as jerseys.

The Teale version of “looks don’t matter” is “don’t pass personal remarks” (old-fashioned), or “don’t be uncharitable”. The Weybridge version is “avoid making comments”. Hippy Upwards would draw in their chins and stare unblinkingly if you commented amusingly on anyone’s clothes, hairstyle or behaviour, especially if you seemed to be “putting them in a box”, or implying that humans could be typed at all (because we’re all utterly original individuals, you see). Nobody could be as conformist or judgemental as a hippy, but it was always about falling short of the ideal in some way – like eating tinned tuna because it’s a) polluted with mercury and b) cruel to dolphins.

30s fashion crimesIn Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca, 1938, Mrs Dean is the vulgar mother of the common Valerie. She appears wearing “a Persian lamb coat and skittish hat, perched over elaborately curled golden hair”. She holds out a “tightly gloved hand” with an “arch smile”. Under her coat she is wearing “a tightly fitting lace blouse” and a “large paste brooch”. Her skirt is too short and tight. She smoothes out her gloves after taking them off. She has an enamelled cigarette case and smokes “fat” gold-tipped Egyptian cigarettes.

40s and 50s fashion crimes
In the late 40s and early 50s, teenage girls were dressed like bigger children, with little sailor hats on the back of the head, short hair, a jersey and skirt. In the late 50s and early 60s, girls dressed like their mothers, with tailored suits, hats and gloves.

In children’s books, the middle-class teenaged characters have nothing much to wear but school uniform or sports gear. Boys have a jacket, trousers and a few jerseys and shirts; girls a few skirts, shirts and jerseys. They mix and match these dull, drab clothes. (The girls have one party dress, the boys one best suit. The girls have one or two brooches they pin onto their tweed jackets.) Only working class teenagers wear red pedal-pusher jeans, ponytails, makeup and stripy T shirts.

60s fashion crimesNylon knickers were naff, and we just didn't see those nylon negligée sets (nightie and negligee, both with two layers and frills, in ice blue or peach).

Jo Grant in Dr Who (70s) is dressed as a Top Shop hippy. Homemade chokers and leather waistcoats quickly became assembly-line versions of themselves. Purple and brown, originally signifying magic and the earth, were just this season’s colours. How annoyed the hippies must have been.

80s fashion crimesGreen furry monster slippers.
Mullet haircuts.
Ties with piano keyboards running down them.
Stonewashed denim.
Giant headphones with a union jack design.
The sort of thing that’s been uncool and untrendy and slightly embarrassing for 30 years. (Victoria Coren Mitchell)

Fashion crimes
high-street jewellery
(cheap, ugly, badly made, jumping on latest trend, e.g. big necklace of flat wooden rings)
filigree jewellery (not seen since about 1965)
glitter ball beads in different colours
It is not done to wear rings on the first and second fingers.
bottomless glasses (common in 50s, 60s and 70s, they made wearers look like librarians) They’re back 2014.

Winter, 2016 The current uniform is a padded jacket with a fur-trimmed hood or collar; navy, khaki, black, grey; skinny jeans and boots; plaid scarf. Sharon D wears her jacket fitted, and it stops at the waist. She wears knee-high black boots and walks with a wiggle. Thalia Upward wears a baggy jacket to the knee, and ankle boots. Christine Teale wears olive suede ankle boots with long fringes.

Scraped-back hair and a very tiny pompadour secured with hair grips is very Definitely, especially when the hair is dyed black or dark brown. Eternal hipster Rowena has adopted a look from early 70s knitting patterns, and is even dyeing her hair grey. But whatever the trend, female Stow-Crats are inclined to wear flowery fabric and quilting, sometimes combined.

I spotted some young European dudes in Hackney wearing correct and very stylish hipster gear – but it was all expensive, good quality, clean, and quite new. Designer work clothes. Accessorised with very expensive, unmarked, new leather mini-rucksacks. No beards, but model looks.

Jilly Cooper described Mrs Thatcher as looking “trim”, and unable to achieve Shirley Williams’ bag lady look that identified her to some as an upper-middle-class intellectual. But when you reach a certain age, you need to look “trim”, and also your clothes need to look “good”, ie expensive, or people will think you really are a homeless person. They also call you dear and assume you are losing your marbles. You can’t carry off the vintage shabby chic look any more. I plan to wear a lot of jewellery, a fur hat, dark glasses, and lipstick at all times. Scent probably helps. And a knock-off designer bag.

You know as well as I do that spike heels are out as far as daytime dress is concerned. The look should be casual. No one goes in for heavy make-up or exaggerated hair styles... It is most easily explained as the absence of bad taste, the elimination of the tawdry, the tinselly, the tacky.... When skirts are short, her knees freeze in the breeze. (Betty Cornell Teen-Age Popularity Guide, Betty Cornell)

The unchanging sub-Sloane look that satisfied Nice Girls for about five decades faded away in the Nineties... (Middle Class Handbook)

The upper and middle classes, who had previously despised the ‘servile’ costume [the kilt], now picked up with enthusiasm the garb which its traditional wearers had finally discarded. (The Invention of Tradition)

Her flowing dress and shawl combined with a tangle of hanging beads to make her look like a bentwood hat stand. (Star Trap, Simon Brett)

The knee-high boot was a hot look until two or three years ago, when it fell out of fashion favour because the norms got hold of it. They wore it with skinny jeans, which was OK, but then they added fluffy gilets and – heaven help us – waterfall cardigans. The high-heeled knee boot went from Carine Roitfeld to Carole Middleton. (Jess Cartner-Morley in the Times Oct 2014-10-11)

All my life I’ve wanted to wear fishnet stockings and hang around dog-tracks eating peppermint creams and using frightful language. (West End People, Peter Wildeblood)

More here, and links to the rest.