Tuesday 19 December 2023

Keep Christmas Classy

It’s OK to celebrate Christmas as long as you refer to it ironically as “rampant capitalist excess”. But how do you use the festival to demonstrate your unique wonderfulness?

It’s Aug 1 2023, and Selfridges have opened a Christmas department and the middle classes are furious. They call Christmas “ecksmess” – because it’s tacky, commercialised and starts too early – and think themselves veritable Noel Cowards.

Presents should only be opened after lunch, doing so first thing in the morning is common as it shows a lack of self control. (@archer_rs. As does starting drinking at 11am.)

Christmas can often involve greed and consumerism, not to mention huge waste in plastic packaging, unwanted gifts and food waste.
 (Brighton Journal, 2018. "Consumerism" means other people buying the wrong things.)

A Facebook member explains why she doesn't celebrate Mother’s Day: It’s not just a question of feminism, but of refusing homogenisation. In other words, I don’t want to be festive on command. I prefer to be me and choose if this is something to be celebrated. Well, that’s my opinion. 

Who are these people who must ‘ring the changes’ at Christmas, ditch the boring old traditions for something new and radical? I wish them a merry one, but it baffles me every year. I flinch a bit at design-conscious householders who buy a new set of tree decorations every year (‘our theme is silver and burnt-orange for 2019’ etc). Whaaaaat? No old, scratched family baubles? No wonky toilet-roll angel? Do you not value the past, with all its flawed, naff decisions? (Libby Purves, Mail 2020) 

Other people’s Christmas traditions are duller than their dreams, says Caro Stow-Crat. And they’re always accusing each other of “ruining” Christmas.

Middle-class Upwards would never go on a cheap “break” to a European Christmas market. They started out as an independent, tasteful, handmade alternative to those awful shops with their mass-produced goods, but despite their picturesque atmosphere they’re just as tacky and exploitative. (If you want handmade cribs and baubles, try Etsy – but avoid T shirts with Nazi symbols and death threats aimed at rival political groupings.)

Every year, Upwards moan about what Hell it all is, while magazines and TV programmes tell us how to do the whole thing ourselves in the most ridiculously time-consuming way – embroider your own gift tags! Gather green branches and twigs. Make all your decorations, and a wreath for the front door. Bake your own mince pies, cake and pudding.

This year (2023) the Holier than Thou prize goes to the woman who claims “the best Christmas present is no present”, is not giving anything to any of her family, and claims “my five-year-old is on board”. The original Puritans banned Christmas as pagan. This female is afraid her children will want items that are common, vulgar, flashy and plastic. Plus she’s really, really mean.

So Deck the Halls with Boughs of Holly, Rock Around the Christmas Tree, Let It Snow – Santa Claus is Coming to Town!

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 1 June 2023

Choose Your Words Carefully 13: Accents

It's those little things that place you – and drive the other classes mad.

Model Katie Price (pictured) once explained “I had my Botox done” before travelling to the States. Some refer to “my atheism” and “my power walking”, and others cringe. 

Adding a Y to words that don’t need them (acidy) is very lower-middle-class – they love baby talk

It’s very middle-middle to pronounce “non” as “nun” as in non-revealing, non-permeable, non-poisonous. Have these speakers been warned not to rhyme “none, one” with “con, don, gone, John, yon” because that’s northern?

Cornices, niches, pilasters: The middle-middles refer to the architectural features as cor-nieces and neeshes, while those higher up the ladder say “CORniss” and “nitch”. Elderly Upwards say PILaster, while most others say pil-ASS-ter or pil-ARS-ter. 

What do you call retirement? Lower-middle-class Jen Teale is looking forward to her “sunset years” and plans to go on a cruise to see the world. Like Jen, middle-middle Howard and Eileen Weybridges call it "retyement", and get involved in a lot of committees and work almost as hard as they did when employed. Their upper-middle friend Samantha calls it "re-tyer-ment" and plans to take up painting in watercolour. Aristocratic Caroline and Harry call it "retahment" but will keep an eye on their estate until they drop. Working-class Mr Definitely is going to project-manage his property portfolio, and Mrs D carries on as a dinner lady for the social side. 

Caro's mother still says plarstic, mar-sterbate and car-stration.

Howard says ocktion for auction, "We are going to haf to do", and "should have bin". He also says aquottic and quawk for aquatic and Quark. Samantha rhymes them with attic and park. She says "St John's wort" like "bird thou never wert". It's a plant not a skin blemish.

Teales never grasped that "a double consonant shortens the preceding vowel", and pronounce ogle as oggle. No wonder nobody could spell "millennium".

To everyone but Samantha, Memorex tape was always Mem’rex, and Corsodyl and Voltarol are Cors’dyl and Volt’rol. She pronounces every I in invisibility.

People on Twitter complain about others saying pitcher for picture, and heighth for height. Jen pronounces length as lenth.

At general election time, Sam and Caro flinch as announcers talk about “candy-dates” and “Conservative Hell” areas. If you want to sound posh, clip the vowels (“candid’t”), but pronounce the consonants (Conservative-held).

Old-fashioned English speakers used to insist combat was pronounced “cumb’t”, and shouldn’t be made to rhyme with wombat. Lamb’s Conduit Street in central London was “Lamb’s Cundit Street”. They would explain that if you wrote “cumbat” in medieval Gothic script, it would be unreadable, so an “o” was substituted for the "u". They used to argue about how to pronounce “controversy”, too. Accent on the first or second syllable? I can’t remember which was “correct”. Some pronounce comrade, Coventry, Sompting with a U sound.

They would also sneer if you said “paytent” instead of “pattent” with a short A for patent.

My parents’ shibboleths were sumpthing, everyb’dy and poor pronounced paw. It’s “something, every-body and poo-er”. The distinction between “poor” and “paw” disappeared some time during the 50s and I don’t think I ever heard anyone say “poo-er”, not even my parents. They also used to insist that lunch was “really” luncheon. That didn’t last either.

Whatever you do, don’t call Paris “Paree” in front of an upper-middle-class Upward who speaks French. They will say “Actually it’s ‘Parrrggghhhheee’”, and make you repeat it and repeat it, criticising you every time. “No, you haven’t quite got it.”

“Nobody can ever place my accent.” People like to claim that their accent is a hybrid, the result of moving around the country or continent.

I grew up with Dad from Portsmouth, a very middle-class RP but with a Hampshire burr that you don't really hear so much these days, and Mum had a cockney accent upbringing but has spent my whole life correcting me haphazardly, badly and punitively, in some sort of misguided effort to eradicate all trace of anything, so Christ alone knows what I’m left with. I think I swing from polite RP to South London, which means some people think I'm a Mockney, but I genuinely have no idea I’m doing it unless someone points it out. (MLR. RP with a Hampshire burr would not be RP. You could never make a film set in Portsmouth because if the actors got the accent right nobody would believe it.)

A lot of [public-school boys], I noticed, have a special ‘cleaning lady voice’ which is this slightly flirty, old school charming way of talking to people they regard as underlings or inferiors. (@KatyFBrand) 

Gideon Upward puts on a slight mockney accent in the same circumstances, and is rather hearty. Someone described my grandmother as being friendly to cleaning ladies but always “de haut en bas” (from high to low). 

Accents are called “broad, thick, heavy, flat”. The long A in path and grass is thought to be “posh”. (It’s just southern.)

My grandparents, who, like me, speak in a Wearside accent/dialect, do this with my wife, who speaks in a not remotely posh Norf London/S. Herts accent. My nana is like "Eeee, don't she talk lovely?" (@bartramsgob)

A character in EF Benson's Autumn Sowing rises in society until she’s invited to dinner by the local titled couple. She puts on an affected, high-pitched voice and is rude to the servants.

In South London, boys avoid a kicking by adopting a Cockney accent, while girls get ahead by sounding genteel. (Via David Bennun)

The upper middles used to hold entire conversations in “Cockney” or “Liverpudlian”. I hope this “joke” has been quietly dropped. But apparently when Americans want to be funny or ironic they adopt a “British” accent – even a “Cockney” accent! They must sound as terrible as middle-class Brits doing the same thing.

I love comedian Paula Poundstone’s remark about her recent visit to England. She said the most astounding part of her trip was how everyone there managed to keep up their accents 24 hours a day. (slate.com)

People sometimes call Received Pronunciation “affected”, as if nobody could speak like that naturally. But perhaps this is because they have been taught elocution, and are mortified to meet someone who really talks posh. In the 80s a friend was puzzled that a university receptionist had not lost her Southampton accent. Other acquaintances thought I was putting on my voice, or had learned it at my “good” school.

Class is dead, long live class.

More here, and links to the rest.

Tuesday 30 May 2023

Choose Your Words Carefully 12: Usage

Nobody ever said “Okay yah”. This parody of posh kids arose in the 80s – originating with impressionist Tracey Ullman. Why would you say “Okay yah”? Both "OK" and "yah" mean "yes" – nothing to do with "yah boo" (see picture of Harry Enfield as Time Nice-but-Dim). When I left school in the 60s I noticed that nobody on the outside said “yah” for “yes”, so I adopted “yes” instead.

Before smartphones and the internet, office workers used to hold long private conversations. I know many monologuers, and I used to sit there saying “Yes... yes... yes...”. When I put the phone down, my colleagues would laugh at me.

I had a flatmate who was furious that I said “absolutely” or “precisely” as an alternative. I explained that I wouldn’t say “exactly” unless what someone said was an exact fit with the truth. He became even more infuriated. Sometimes I would say “Mmmm” for “yes” and he complained that I sounded as if I was sneering, like Jeremy Paxman. What should I have been saying instead? How about “riiiiight” or “yeah” or even “yeah, right”? Or "definitely", like the Cs and Ds? I should have tried it.

Fast” is grander than “quick”. Upwards talk about fast cars, not quick cars, though they say “That was quick!” or “Be as quick as you can”.

Upwards and Stow Crats used to address the lower orders as “my good man”. A man could call an equal “my good man” or “my dear man” during a debate, but it was very patronising. “My good woman” was likewise someone lower down the scale being thick or obstructive. Children could be addressed as “old dear” if they were too precocious or uppity. (Ooh, that stung!) 

Caro Stow Crat opines: We never called them “chicks”, they were nestlings or baby birds. From nestlings they became fledglings. “Chick” is baby talk. And we didn’t call them “chickens” – they were hens. They only became chickens post mortem. And I wish that people wouldn’t refer to their cats and dogs as their “babies”. But I can’t stand ‘doggies’ either. Or doggos or puppers. Or still worse, pooches.

What do you call comfortable, rubber-soled canvas lace-ups? From the top down: 

Plimsolls or daps
deck shoes
plimsoles or plimpsoles

And the room you move to after dinner?

drawing room
living room
sitting room, lounge
front room

As Samantha Upward says, “Only airports have lounges”.

Caro asks: We used to make clothes out of “material”, now I have to remember to say “fabric”. Why don’t we call it “clorth”?

What do you call that thing you can't think of the name for?

doobry or doobery
doofer, thingummybob

When swimming, you wear a:

cozzy, bathers

The upper layers despise "dip" for "swim" – baby talk again – but a swimsuit is a cozzy and on your birthday you get some nice prezzies. (They even talk about getting "wetty" in the rain, and a restaurant being "a touch spendy".)

Crayon” is Teale – Upwards talk about “coloured pencils”. “Crayon” used to be printed on the packet – no wonder Upwards couldn’t say it. Still less could they talk about "crayoning". "Colouring in", please. See also “washing-up machine” for “dishwasher” and “kitchen-dining room” for “kitchen-diner” because "diner" is American

According to Sathnam Sangera in the Times Dec 2020, the official name for the bin where you store your food waste for recycling is “compost caddy”. His friends suggested “peely bin”, “stinky bin” and “the Farage” – typical Upward whimsicality and failed attempts at humour. He knows one Stow-Crat who calls it a “slop bucket”, its genuine wartime name. Back then it contained potato peelings to be fed to your pig, though a slop bucket originally removed the contents of your chamber pot, along with your dirty washing water. During WWII and after, the same lidded enamel buckets were used.  

Upwards don’t use “poor” for “deficient”, unless something is “pretty poor!”, or “a poor show”. They’d avoid a euphemism and say “bad”, “unsatisfactory” or “inadequate”. The thesaurus suggests “disappointing” (litotes, and hence acceptable to the upper layers), “substandard” (Weybridge), and “unacceptable” (rather Teale). 

Upwards don’t use synecdoche, or is it metonymy: they say “carrier bag” rather than “carrier”, and avoid the naff “tote” or “clutch”. Fashion writers are fond of this figure of speech (a “trench” is something you wear, not a battle line). And the "fibre" promised for your neighbourhood is not All Bran.

“Ta muchly!” for thankyou goes with “May blessings be conferred upon you!” when someone sneezes. "Prior to", "similarly", "initially" and "overly" are also very Middle Middle. It’s very Teale to say “warm” for “hot”, as in weather. (“Very warm today, isn’t it?”) To Upwards, a warm day is pleasant, a hot day is a bit much. (Teales also used to say “I’m a chilly mortal”. Stow Crats stick to hot and cold though they may admit to being "boiling" or “frozen”.)

October 2020: People are moaning that others have suddenly started saying “floor” for “ground” and it makes them want to scream. (They’ve been doing it for the whole of my life, and saying "Pick it up of off the floor!"

Patrick Hamilton in Slaves of Solitude says that a “common woman” is likely to say: ‘Sorry, I’m sure’, or ‘Sorry, but there you are’, or ‘Sorry, but what do you expect nowadays?’ It became “Well, there you go”, or “Well, this is it.” Grander ladies used to say "Life's like that" in a funny voice (Lafe’s lake thet), but I've never found out why.

"It's an aeroplane, not a plane – that's a thing for working wood!” says ex-RAF pilot. Some flinch at "grand-kids”, explaining that  “They’re not baby goats!” And the great John Peel used to say that a ''workshop" is a venue for carpentry.

Caro’s mother is probably the last woman in England who calls an ATM “the hole in the wall”.  

A friend says that at home in Devon the worst language allowed was “Bunny Rabbits!” Once grown up, she said “Damn!” one day and her mother slapped her. (Programmes get given a parental warning because Brian Cox says “b*ll*cks” once. I’m sure it’s snobbery.)

Lower-middle-class Teales don't like to make others uncomfortable by using foreign words, so they call the Asian mammals “panda bears”. The South American vegetables are “avocado pears”. They make salads or casseroles from  “tuna fish” and "penne pasta". On the side is a "ciabatta roll" or a piece of  "French stick". They're lucky it doesn't give them a "mygraine headache".

Class is dead, long live class.

More here, and links to the rest.

Monday 15 May 2023

Choose Your Words Carefully: 11 (in Quotes)

My voice marks me out as too embarrassingly middle-class to ever be welcomed into the lefty fold, but as a grammar school then sixth form drop out I'm sneered at by actual poshos.
(Writer and women's rights activist Jo Bartosch) 

In South London, boys avoid a kicking by adopting a Cockney accent, while girls get ahead by sounding genteel. (Via David Bennun)

I automatically get annoyed when I’m on holiday and I hear an American accent coming from somewhere. I just know I’m about to hear some nonsense. (@LazarusKumi)

Scottish students at Edinburgh University are treated like outsiders because of their accents and comparative lack of wealth, a campaign group has claimed. (@magnusllewellin 2023-03-09)

My grandparents, who, like me, speak in a Wearside accent/dialect, do this with my wife, who speaks in a not remotely posh Norf London/S. Herts accent. My nana is like "Eeee, doesn't she talk lovely?" (@bartramsgob)

A lot of [public-school boys], I noticed, have a special "cleaning lady voice" which is this slightly flirty, old school charming way of talking to people they regard as underlings or inferiors. (@KatyFBrand)

In 2020, France made accent discrimination, or “glottophobie” a crime. During the debate, “parliamentarians complained that many broadcasters with strong regional accents were pigeonholed into reporting on rugby matches or delivering the weather”.

Listening to Angela Rayner on the Today Programme. If she ever had an English teacher he or she should be ashamed. Just imagine this person representing my country on the international stage. (@prodworthy. Translation: Angela Rayner has a northern accent. And now there’s a big fuss about Rayner going to the opera at Glyndebourne – I was called “precious” on Twitter for not agreeing that she is “common”.)

People would prefer to be represented by a barrister with a posh voice, and think that lawyers with a regional accent sound less intelligent or professional, research from @TrentUni and @DMULawSchool shows – in @thetimes (@legalhackette)

One senior barrister recalled being told by a judge that if the lawyer wanted to practise at the Chancery Bar – where property, commercial and banking disputes dominate – “you will have to lose your Yorkshire accent”. Another barrister said their accent stood out so much that they moved back to the north of England... [One barrister’s] ambition was fuelled by being told: “People like you don’t become barristers.” (Times)

One Black Country student said his voice was mimicked whenever he spoke. Others said they were hesitant to speak up in class or ask questions. A student from Lancashire was told his voice was uneducated and aggressive. Another from the same area, who was ostracised by wealthier classmates, was asked if his family worked in coal mines or he grew up in a council house... Someone I had just met once asked me whether my home town was one of those desolate wastelands where the factories used to be. (Times)

A study has found that people from some parts of the country are significantly more likely to be mocked or singled out because of the way they speak. The standard received pronunciation accent, French-accented English, and “national” standard varieties (Scottish, American, Irish) were all ranked highly in the Sutton Trust’s Speaking Up report, but accents associated with Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and ethnic minority accents, such as Afro-Caribbean and Indian, “tend to be the lowest ranked”, said Sky News. (The Week)

Almost half of UK workers have had their accents mocked, criticised or singled out in a social setting, a survey suggests. Researchers found 46% of workers have faced jibes about their accents, with 25% reporting jokes at work. An entrenched "hierarchy of accent" caused social anxiety throughout some people's lives, the report concluded. They said those with northern English or Midlands accents were more likely to worry about the way they spoke. Many of those who were mocked for the way they spoke admitted anxiety over their future career prospects because of perceived prejudiced attitudes, said the research... funded by Sutton Trust. (bbc.co.uk on the Accent Bias in Britain project) 

A team of researchers at Northumbria University said that “accentism” causes “profound” social, economic, and educational harm for those with “denigrated accents” in the UK. There is a push to make accents a protected characteristic under the Equality Act after a government commission found that some civil servants feel compelled to disguise their accents at work. Dr Robert McKenzie, a social linguist who led the project, said “accentism” is “alive and well” in Britain, with most people often unaware of their “deeply embedded implicit biases”. He added that students with northern accents were less likely to secure spots at Russell Group universities while people with “denigrated or low in status accents” were more likely to be found guilty of a crime in court. (Times 2022-06-14. The report is called (Speaking of Prejudice.)

Twitter users disparage:
Misuse of ‘yourself/myself’. 
Brits refusing to even try to speak other languages when abroad, 
“Go shop”, “go toilet” etc.
Pronouncing the L in almond.
A thousand pound instead of pounds.
Saying “pitcher” for picture and “heighth” for height.

Friday 12 May 2023

You Are What You Eat: 18

In the 90s, I got told off for eating an Eccles cake (flaky pastry and raisins) – too stodgy, and available in packets from a corner shop. But isn’t this the kind of regional cookery we should be celebrating? Unfortunately it's a cliché that the English middle classes will eat peasant food from other cultures (polenta) but not from their own (Bedfordshire clangers, Staffordshire oatcakes).

At home, we never had Christmas cake, just Christmas pudding. And we never had a chocolate log with a papier-maché robin on the top (with wire legs). We ate slices in friends’ houses and it was delicious. Too nice, and might have encouraged us to develop a “sweet tooth”.

In the 80s, cookery writer and broadcaster Delia Smith was looked down on because she “used butter”. Was it by this time “bad for you”? Margarine was sold as a “spread” with positive health benefits. 

In the 70s and 80s, friends and flatmates were shocked that I shopped in corner shops rather than supermarkets. “But it’s much more expensive!” (There might have been a penny or two difference – but offset that against the cost of the bus fare to the supermarket.) Sometimes I shopped at the cheap supermarket Londis and they shuddered at the sight of the carrier bags. Didn’t I understand that People Like Us only shop at Sainsburys? You couldn’t get middle-class food in a corner shop, but you could  get common tinned sweetcorn and frozen fish fingers.

Soft, sweet white bread used to be reserved for the upper classes. Making it was complicated, and it was expensive. But then along came the Chorleywood process and the Aerated Bread Company. Postwar came the white sliced loaf: soft, rather sweet and cheap. No wonder my parents were appalled and called Mother’s Pride “Father’s Shame”. And home-made – sorry, “artisanal” – wholemeal bread became the class marker.

Fizzy water comes in different strengths of fizz because everything comes in a “range” (even hot cross buns) and there has to be a version we drink/eat and a version we look down on people for drinking/eating. Sodastreams are back, but Upwards are not allowed to add too many bubbles. Withholding again!

M&S Food's Best Ever Mac & Cheese! With cave-aged Cheddar, Pecorino, Emmenthal and mozzarella, topped with roasted garlic oil and onion ciabatta breadcrumb. Need we say more? (@CostaCoffee. You needn't.)

Little paper chef’s hats for the ends of lamb joints or mutton chops were utterly beyond the pale – but who eats either any more?

Apparently Americans call McDonald’s a “restaurant”, and complain that you can’t get Mexican food in Paris. They come to Europe and moan there’s nowhere to eat because they can't find their familiar fast food chains (Olive Garden etc). They also (genuinely) complain that when you order a salad in the UK you get a few green leaves. They’re thinking of the kind of hearty salad you bring to a pot luck supper in the Southern states: a meal in itself with a basis of macaroni. Educated Americans say “It’s OK to go to Dublin now – there are Thai restaurants”. Caro Stow Crat says “What is a burrito?” 

The threat of champagne being opened with a sword, which is the kind of thing I hate. (Kate Flett, The Heart-Shaped Bullet. All restaurant theatre is naff and the worst thing is to be in a party of people who all think it’s wonderful.)


He drank a little tea, black and silent, that still survived upon an upper shelf.  He swallowed some dusty crumbs of cake... They began with a soup square, which Leonard had just dissolved in some hot water.  It was followed by the tongue – a freckled cylinder of meat, with a little jelly at the top, and a great deal of yellow fat at the bottom – ending with another square dissolved in water (jelly: pineapple), which Leonard had prepared earlier in the day... Leonard managed to convince his stomach that it was having a nourishing meal. (E.M. Forster, Howards End)

When we studied this book for A Level, this episode puzzled us. It is one of the few scenes where we escape the intellectual Schlegels for more than a moment. Presumably Leonard Bast, the clerk, drinks “black” tea, as opposed to China. Surely he made himself a pot? But “black and silent” and “still survived”? The Basts’ supper consists of instant soup, followed by tinned tongue. The literary middle classes did not eat tinned food, and to them “tinned salmon” was a joke and a class marker – see John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses. I hope the Basts had some bread and butter, at least, to go with it. They wind up with instant pineapple jelly, poor things.

In Josephine Tey’s To Love and Be Wise, the working-class Sergeant Williams urges Inspector Grant to try some home-made pickles. Grant declines, explaining “I have a palate” – which he doesn’t want to spoil. (The rest of the cast fawn on Grant, saying that he doesn’t look like a policeman, but more like a “Service type” or army man.)

Darling, You Shouldn’t Have Gone to So Much Trouble! is an ironic 80s cookbook by novelist Alice Thomas Ellis. It tells you how to fake posh food quickly, using cheap, easy ingredients. There is a lot of liquidising. The Cinderella ingredients in your store-cupboard are combined with scrambled eggs and topped with browned grated cheese if your husband brings a colleague home to dinner – no takeaways. The author turns frozen pastry, frozen French beans, eggs and cheese into a flan. Condensed milk baked in its tin in the oven for hours allegedly turns into sticky toffee pudding. We used to discuss it, but never dared try it. Perhaps it was “ein joke”, like the instructions for cooking bacon on an upturned iron.

In one of his mysteries, Verdict of Twelve, Raymond Postgate uses cakes decorated with pink icing and shreds of coconut to indicate the low grade of the teashop where we meet one of the characters. I once took a fellow student for a cup of tea at a favourite café down an alley in Norwich. I ate a cake exactly as Postgate described, and my friend was shocked to the core and even talked about it afterwards. And she probably thought I was well brought-up. Many of my fellow students were shocked that I even went to cafés at all. Postgate went on to found the Good Food Guide. His fictional Dr Holmes drinks wine that “had that revolting taste of sugar, ink, and red pepper that only bad port can achieve”.

An Amazon reader called the book “dated”, citing the way the 12 jurors are described in terms of class. Only the academic is a real “gentleman”. And this is how they describe each other – the salesman is accused of “aping gentility”. None of the jurors bases their verdict on the evidence, but point out that the accused didn’t belong in a big house, having once served in a tobacconist’s shop. "Taking someone out of their class" is disparaged – which brings us back to poor Leonard.

More here, and links to the rest.

Saturday 26 November 2022

What to Wear 13

Upper Upwards wear a lot of cashmere in subtle colours. Samantha Upward buys her jerseys (never a "jumper" or "sweater") from ebay, and sometimes dyes them with Dylon or natural dyes like onion skins, tea and blackberries. The garments are old, and wear through quickly or get eaten by moths, but you can always buy more. You can even cut out squares from the uneaten bits, machine them together and turn them into another garment.

Here’s a list of very upmarket items you didn’t know you needed. 

Cashmere wash
Cashmere brush
Yacht varnish
Escargot tongs
Grape scissors
Mink storage closet
Marble polish
Silver champagne trug
Cordless hoover for your yurt
Curry comb for the alpacas

Per the Times, Nov 2022, middle-class parents dress and accessorise their children entirely in “sad beige”. This extends to dolls, toys and even mugs and plates. But as Jilly Cooper points out, “All little girls are lower middle class” (Class, 1975). Aged six, I wanted to wear a tutu all the time, and see-through plastic high heels, and wave a pink plastic miniature umbrella printed with ballerinas. Mum disdained shop-bought fancy dress – she always made ours, without consulting us, so we were forced to wear a humiliating cracker costume instead of what we wanted – something pretty.

Kate Long (@volewriter) is fighting the good fight against small boys’ clothes plastered with dinosaurs and spaceships, while girls’ clothes are pink and decorated with mottos like LOVE or PRINCESS. She’s right to be indignant, but this is also a class thing. Clothes covered in slogans, feathers, rhinestones, pink plastic beads and a unicorn appliqué are naff. But I always wanted organdie, gauze and net. And multiple flounces. And I still want to meet Prince Charming.

Again quoting Jilly Cooper: when working class men go tieless, they spread their shirt collar neatly over the lapels of their jacket. There was a fad a few years ago for middle-class men to lose the ties, but they were awkward and half-hearted about it. They just took the tie off and the shirt collar looked empty and untidy. I think the trend has passed.

Who was Liz Truss's stylist? Women politicians are going for dresses in block colours, rather than suits. It's a uniform: safe but dull, skirts to mid-calf, featuring the kind of drapery over the bust that used to be recommended to large ladies circa 1955. Truss has an hourglass figure, and nobody advised her to adopt the Bessie Braddock armoured corset. But in a short skirt her curtsey would have looked even more uncertain. 

Are Fair Isle jumpers a sign of frumpy nerdiness? Aran jumpers probably the same, though they had a moment in the 70s.

Sam buys an outfit for her daughter’s wedding, but shudders at the term “occasion wear”. Middle-class Jen Teale yearns for the days of the coffee lace two-piece – dress with matching coat. Caro Stow-Crat wears a short jacket with a fishtail midi skirt to hide her legs in the photographs. 

When Jen takes off her jersey, her T shirt never rises with it, exposing her midriff or still worse, bra. She has just learned and rehearsed a method – she probably tucks the shirt into her waistband. 

Sharon Definitely never wears the same designer outfit twice – she buys the garment, tucks in the labels, wears it once and returns it. (Dress hire companies still exist and flourish.)

Don’t tie your jumper or cardigan round your waist, or you’ll look like a child from the council estate – I was told by a girl from the council estate. And pushing up your sleeves "made you look like a washerwoman", said the nuns - especially if you then put your hands on your hips. Folding your arms was out too. (Any gesture that meant your hands touched your body were out – including putting your palms on your thighs when sitting down – these are injunctions that go back to the 18th century.)

Working-class people buy “name brands” to show they can afford them. This means the middle classes shun those brands and buy cheaper generic clothes – or expensive brands that don’t flash their identity. Boden-wearers like to pretend that they spend their entire lives on a deserted white-sand beach.

Caro asks: What happened to “country clothes” and “town clothes”? There was a moment in the 1920s when women could only wear black in town. So if you lived there year-round it would be rather funereal! The answer is that you didn’t live there all year round – you spent most of your time in the country, where you wore tweeds and emphatically no black unless someone had died. There are many restrictive rules about what you can’t wear in the country (high heels, black stockings), but what about the town? It’s full of visitors wearing hiking costume, though there’s still a dress code in the City.

From the 30s to the 50s, ankle-strap shoes were beyond the pale, especially with Cuban heels. But the most vulgar shoes ever are orange plastic kitten-heeled slingbacks with square toes from the mid-60s – worn with a touch of grime on your ankle bone, as Nell Dunn (Up the Junction) observed. Upwards could not wear sexy shoes back then, because they were “bad for your feet”. Probably true.

In the 70s, boots slid down the class ladder (became cheaper and more available), and were adopted by a secretary called Dawn. She had long hair parted in the middle, a vacant smile, a skinny jumper and an A line miniskirt. Her’s boots only reached mid-calf – Upward girls wore boots that came up to the knee (and were probably more expensive). Of course you needed to be slender and long-legged to pull off the Dawn look. She saved for a month to afford her boots. Upward girls never saved, they just ran up an overdraft.

Hercule Poirot’s patent leather shoes, that he thinks are smart and shiny, mark him out as “not one of us”. Yet he can tell that a client is not really a lady because her shoes are cheap and too new. A lady wears “good” (expensive) shoes but then gets a lot of wear out of them. Before patent leather was invented, the aim was to get black leather shoes and boots as shiny as possible – this took a lot of work. In a big house, a boy was employed to clean the household’s shoes. He was known as the “boots”. In the army, a lot of time was spent (wasted) on “bull” – polishing equipment including boots until everything shone. Shoeshine boys in the streets made a good living. But keeping patent leather shiny took hardly any work. Suddenly shiny black shoes were no longer a “sign” of being able to employ someone to spend hours on your appearance, or of having done the hard work yourself.

Upward women can’t dress too sexily – what they'd call "stereotypically feminine". They may wear a more relaxed version of current clothing – nothing too tight, skirts not too short, makeup discreet, hair not too processed, heels not too high. They aim for a natural, healthy, wholesome, practical look (see the Boden catalogue). When this cuts no ice, they may try too hard, but their tight jeans and exposed cleavage will only garner disapproving looks from their female friends. But at least the “natural look” is preferable to the academic bag lady look – layers of flapping garments that entirely conceal the figure. 

In the 70s, pretty girls were referred to as “pre-Raphaelite”. Lank hair, unmade-up face, absence of bra and cheesecloth top were supposed to be deliberately Unsexy, and it was galling when men found these girls attractive. This elfin, waiflike look was only available to the young, small and slight. And these girls didn’t have to be warm, friendly or outgoing, didn’t have to learn one subject of conversation really well, meet people halfway, or make any effort at all. They just had to BE. Lucky things. (Upward advice is always of the "work on yourself" variety – never "get a makeover". That would be far too practical.)

Unlike the British upper middle classes, well-heeled Europeans show off their wealth. They used to wear fur coats, and still sport expensive leather jackets, good handbags with gold chains, well-cut jeans, and leather boots. Their clothes look very new and clean. They go blonde, not grey – honey blonde, since they usually start out with dark hair. 

Labour Party leader Michael Foot did not wear a donkey jacket to the memorial service at the Cenotaph, it was an olive green duffel coat without shoulder protectors. Middle England still woofles that he was disrespectful not to wear the establishment uniform of black or navy Crombie overcoat. And as a Labour leader he just would have worn a donkey jacket, the uniform of the Irish navvy, wouldn't he? But so what if he had? 

More here, and links to the rest.

Thursday 24 November 2022

What to Wear 12 (In Quotes)

New winter coat has arrived and I am delighted to officially look like I own a chain of 1970s bingo halls. (@GoldenVision90)

According to Twitter, the following are naff:

Babies or small children with their ears pierced.
Wedding and engagement rings in 9-carat gold.
Massive watches.
Gold jewellery on men.

Deck shoes.
White clothes unless T shirts or shirts.
Clothing with the labels on the outside.
Active wear if not actually exercising.

Ugg boots.
Sweet, sickly perfumes.
Men walking around with their tops off at the first sight of sun.
Any form of clothing with obtrusive logos on.

Shoes without socks.
Builder’s bum.
A tartan to which you are not entitled.
Stiletto heels in the country.

Babies dressed as adults, especially in trainers.
Headbands on babies. 

Deliberately unbuttoning the first button on the sleeve of your jacket/coat is a sign of a bounder and a cad.

Janice Turner in The Times laments that this is the fifth summer of milkmaid cosplay. (2022-06-16)

The real decline of Western culture is pyjamas becoming outdoor clothing. (@VeteranGamerUK. He’s right – “athleisure” is pyjamas.)

All that money and power, yet the Queen dresses like a dinner lady at a country wedding. (@anon_opin)

The kind of holiday jewellery you would wear with a kaftan, somewhere hot and exotic: a tangle of necklaces or an armful of bracelets. (Jess Cartner Morley in the Guardian, Aug 2021)

I remember a time when everybody in the Liberties was wearing Burberry. Not realising it was, still is, very common. You would never see Burberry in Rathfarnham, Terenure or Rathgar

A writer-in to Points of View (Sept, 2020) complains that The Repair Shop’s Jay Blades wears a flat cap indoors – in front of ladies!

Does every academic have at least four stripy tops(@DrMagennis)

Dressing slovenly is a super posh thing. See also driving an old banger. People from normal backgrounds don't have such luxuries. (@Otto_English)

My mother is urging me to have my ring ‘upgraded’ because a respectable American middle-class woman needs a bigger diamond. (Dear Prudie, slate.com)

High fashion dresses have more than a touch of Margot from The Good Life - in evening wine and cheese for the boss mode. (@Amanda_Vickery. Penelope Keith and her dresser used to raid Harrods.)

She had about nine bracelets and bangles, consisting of chains and padlocks, the Major's miniature, and a variety of brass serpents with fiery ruby or tender turquoise eyes, writhing up to her elbow almost, in the most profuse contortions. (William Makepeace Thackeray, A Book of Snobs)

In Hampstead, you must wear sports attire in the morning. Around lunchtime, change into something seasonally appropriate. Gay couples wear matching sunglasses. Gentlemen, if it’s warm then you may wear your jumper over your shoulders like an 80s catalog model. Jeans are acceptable as long as they are accompanied by either a Ralf Lauren Polo shirt or a long-sleeved shirt without a tie. Ladies, long coats in autumnal colours are more than acceptable over either a jersey dress or jeans and a shirt that coordinates with your partner...  No matter what the age of your small human their outfit must cost between £50 and £500, no exceptions if your little human is not appropriately clothed then your family will be marched up to the tube station and sent to Edgware. (Via Facebook, paraphrase. Is this person really talking about Hampstead? Ralf Lauren? Catalog?)  

According to Drusilla Beyfus, in Lady Behave, 1956, when entertaining the Queen to lunch, women must wear white gloves. There was a complicated etiquette of when you took the gloves OFF (to eat finger food) and put them back ON... The Queen carried on wearing white gloves, probably because she had to shake a lot of hands. So that’s what she kept in her handbag – a spare pair!

I bought a cheap two-piece suit from the high street, hoping to make a good impression. Ten minutes before we sat down [for the client meeting, my boss] pulled me to the side, wanting to know if I could find anything more ‘relaxed’ for next time: 'the suit is a bit… pompous,' he added. So, at the next meeting, I took his advice. I showed up in the same jumper and chinos I wore clubbing the previous Saturday in the West End. But I felt shabby. 'I look underdressed,' I recall telling him, as the client strolled out in his immaculate navy jacket. And yet that was the point. As a representative of the advertising agency, I was told we couldn't be seen as old-fashioned. (Spectator)

Likewise, a woman worried that her clothes and hair didn’t “read as professional” on a Zoom call.

Her white blouse, fastened at the throat with a brooch depicting a couple of tennis rackets, was sprinkled with various bits of cheap jewellery which her means had permitted her recently to acquire. Under the rackets, a wish-bone, a turquoise horseshoe, and a bedizened safety-pin were followed by a pendant proclaiming that her Christian name began with a P. Westward, a watch hung. To the north east, a silver insect, with amethyst wings, would have been solitary but for a “Chaste design, set with fine quality pearls, at £1 10s.” A yard or two of chain encircling her neck became a loop line on a true-lover’s knot of red enamel before its terminus in a bunch of charms at her waist. (The Position of Peggy Harper by Leonard Merrick, set circa 1900. Like Jacky in Howards End, Peggy is not a lady. But Jacky is always good-humoured, and would never go back on a pal.)

I've told the tale of me wondering why it was that I could go to an exhibition dressed in jeans and no one would look at me, then go in a suit and everyone will talk to you. Then I got to be on a stand and had 20 people around wanting info and I just went straight to the guy in the suit. I've since seen this in academia where the secretary would tell everyone what to do because she dressed smarter than everyone else. And that's when I started to dress smarter as it sets expectations in people. (Matthew Jones)

Novelist Jeffrey Eugenides wrote about a student who wears self-crafted grey felt clothes and calls herself "Moss". Everybody knows that when she graduates she will put on a blouse and skirt and get an ordinary job, and change her name back to "Susan". 

When we met, my girlfriend was finishing up grad school and dressed a little young for our age—clashing or mismatched colours, old and tattered clothing ... just not what a lot of other people our age are wearing... She’s pretty eco-conscious and doesn’t believe in throwing things away... clothing that’s faded and dirty is still a part of her daily wardrobe. (Dear Prudie. Note how students are expected to morph from Bohemian to preppy to office wear. I’m guessing the Bohemian look is just as much a uniform – when you’re 19.)

For some reason that I’ve never fully fathomed, parents in those days always tried to prevent their children wearing grown-up clothes as long as possible. In every family there was a stand-up fight before a boy had his first tall collars or a girl put her hair up. (George Orwell's Coming Up for Air, talking about the years before WWI. Teenage girls wore mid-calf skirts until they were 17 or 18, even though they might be working from the age of 14.)

"She's cleverer than she looks." I've had two exec producers say this about me. Assume it's because I wear makeup and dye my hair. I really hate the pressure to look 'bookish' if you want to be taken seriously. Each to their own, but wearing make-up and nice clothes, and dyeing your hair do not mean you're thick. (@RebeccaRideal )

You know what they tell you – appearance doesn't matter. They lie. You knew that.

More here, and links to the rest.