Thursday 7 November 2013

What to Wear II

Clothes for a girl in a government job

At the time there was, in fact, a perfectly acceptable bourgeois female trouser in circulation – only none of us possessed a pair, of course. This was the knitted nylon taper trouser with a strap beneath the foot to keep the hem from rolling up. This garment, originally some form of skiing apparel, combined with a chunky Italian sweater and beehive hairdo, was standard lower-middle lounge bar gear. (Angela Carter, on the earnest discussions people used to have about what women should wear for sit-ins – protests where they might be carried off by the police and reveal their knickers, suspenders and stocking-tops).

She said it was common to wear silk stockings in the country. (Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, set in the 30s)

I would rather not wear all of these rings at once for fear that I may be inclined to start calling people “daahhling” and ordering them about. ( Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour)

And she much prefers wearing rings to gloves. Maybe she thinks they do not go together? (Etiquette guru Emily Post on the vulgar woman with an elaborate hat and fur coat who is always to be seen eating in restaurants.)

“From a long way away – a long way – she might have looked 30. Close at hand the result of make-up artlessly applied made her seem rather older than 50, but on the whole he put it at 50. Dark hair heavily hanging. No hat... a dark coat and skirt and a white blouse. Carrying a large tartan bag. A jingly bracelet or two, several rings…” (Agatha Christie, The Clocks This is a character who calls herself "Merlina Rival".)

What has become of the woman who had a small dog, a charm bracelet, pin heels and a fur coat? Plus hot pink lipstick that stained cigarette ends and teacups, and a cloud of choking perfume. She either wore a brocade dress over an obvious corselette, or a frilly white blouse and a very tight black pencil skirt. In early decades her high-heeled shoes had ankle straps. She shakes hands with her tight, coloured suede glove on, possibly saying “Excuse my glove!”, as it would take too long for her to peel the glove off. As well as the lipstick (that went over her lipline in a cupid’s bow and “bled” into the fine lines round her mouth), she wore thick, pale, chalky powder that smelled of Edinburgh Rock. (She’s the one who says “tata” for goodbye, or "Well, I must love you and leave you!" or "Be good!".)

In the 50s women were admonished not to wear “clanking” charm bracelets (a polite way of saying they were common). Sealskin jackets, frilly blouses and ankle-strap shoes were also nonos. A schoolfriend was forbidden by the headmistress to take a tartan bag on a day out. (The same nun forbade clip-on pearl earrings – which we had all got free by collecting special crisp packets.)

Upwards never wear 15-denier tights – they’re too sexy. They’re very puritanical about turning yourself into a sex object – or at least they were round about 1975. Even drab icon Emma Thompson (she used to dress entirely in unbleached linen shrouds) has become glamorous now.

In 2012 toffs took to wearing wearing red trousers - with tweed jackets. Hipsters are also wearing very, very tight red trousers.

Stow Crats match the clothes to the occasion. Caro wouldn’t wear a sunhat on a dull day, or in a town or to the theatre. She wouldn’t wear a cocktail dress at 9am, like a weather girl. When Sharon Definitely and her children go on breakfast telly, they all wear party frocks and hair ornaments and look fabulous.

Lower-middle class Jen Teale loves pleated necklines and cutwork (a lot of work for a hideous result). Bryan Teale hangs his jackets or spare shirt on a hanger in the car.

What do you do when it rains? Howard Weybridge and Harry Stow Crat carry black rolled-up brollies in town. Harry shudders discreetly when Howard turns up in an anorak over a city suit. In a sudden shower, Christine Teale buys a “tote” from a stall which breaks before she gets home. (A “tote” is a telescopic umbrella that comes in a little “pochette”.) Jen buys a clear plastic dome-shaped umbrella from a souvenir shop – well, the Queen's got one, though hers isn't printed “I heart London”. Otherwise Jen’s umbrellas are turquoise or fake tweed (but not Burberry). Caro grabs a city brolly, or maybe a huge golfing umbrella. Sharon Definitely has a brolly with cats’ ears, which she uses as a parasol.

In Jilly Cooper’s Class (written in the 70s), Jen memorably wore a plastic mac with a rainbonnet and rain boots. These days she wears a smart trench coat (she calls it a “trench”) and a hat from Accessorize. Caro is still wearing a Barbour jacket and a headscarf. Samantha Upward wears a strange assortment of garments and gets soaking wet because she can’t wear anything plastic or even rainproofed. And she's never "prepared", like a Boy Scout.

Definitelies wear sovereign rings and glitter ball beads (“berry” beads) and pavé diamond chips. The beads have moved up the classes and are now everywhere in 2013. Oddly, Teales have taken to nose studs – but very tiny diamond ones.

More here.
More jewellery here.


  1. I love, love your blog! Please do give Caro and Harry more attention- they are my absolute favourites…