Sunday 14 November 2010

What to Wear

Wearing "ethnic" is sartorial code for, "I am much too serious to bother myself with fashion. I choose jewellery that looks a bit like something you'd find in an obscure gallery of the British museum to show how cultured I am. My female friends wear artisan scarves and consider themselves evolutionarily superior to women who wear diamanté." The tribal trend is an attempt by fashion designers to combat this. Good luck with that. Kate Muir ©Guardian News and Media 2010

Stow-Crats believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The upper classes don’t DO fashion. Harry wears his father’s indestructible tweed three-piece suits. Princess Anne’s style was fixed in the 60s, the Queen Mother’s in the 30s (those hats), and Queen Mary’s in the 1910s. Caro’s mother would get a tweed suit tailor made in a classic style so that it would last for years. One does not wear black in the country, one wears hunting clothes in camouflage colours – even one’s Wellington (rubber) boots are green. Sam used to call them “Wellingtons” but now finds herself calling them gumboots. Jen wears black “wellies”, Sam’s are flowery, and Sharon wears pink ones with a swirly pattern.

The same declension applies to trainers. Caro’s children wear white lace-up plimsolls (called after Mr. Plimsoll, who invented the Line). When Sam was a child, she wondered why she couldn’t have black plimsolls, or the elasticated ones that you didn’t have to lace up, like her friends. Eileen’s children wear “plimmies”. Jen and the Definitelies wear trainers. Jen’s are pink, blue or stone and look quite like shoes. The Definitelies’ trainers are big and have thick soles and cost a packet. Dave Definitely opens a shop selling them to collectors.

Eileen buys her clothes from Jacques Vert and thought Norma Major always looked well turned out. She and Jen purchase mother-of-the-bride outfits and occasion-wear from designers called Jesiré and Claudia Strater. (Sam thinks occasional gifts are what you give to people only sometimes. Eileen has a set of nesting occasional tables for when you have occasion to use them.)

Caroline wears a shirt with the collar turned up (in the 80s it was a piecrust). Before scarves disappeared from all heads but the Queen’s, she knotted hers on, not below, her chin. Both stratagems are designed to hide a double chin or wattles, which she doesn’t have.

Sharon Definitely’s clothes are trimmed with white fur. She wears white shoes with a white handbag (with fringes and rivets). Once the Definitelies adopted pink acryclic pseudo crochet ponchos nobody else could wear one (“Instant chav!” sighed Samantha). Definitelies dress their children as mini-adults. In the early 60s, everyday wear for little Definitely girls was a very short black velvet frock with a lace collar, accessorised by white pants, white knee socks and black patent T-bar shoes.

Jen’s clothes are always new, clean and ironed. She gives them to charity long before they’ve had a chance to get grey and bobbly. Sam wears Oxfam clothes, or a velvet jacket she’s had since university. She sticks with a hairstyle that she thinks suits her. If she lives in the country, she’s still wearing a long entrelac cardigan in muted French blue, jade and ochre.

When people wore slips, Sam would have called them “petticoats”. They’re now called “chemises”, according to the catalogues. Sam would never wear a "top" but a blouse, shirt, teeshirt or jersey. Or a shawl or stole. Eileen would wear a jersey or sweater, Jen and Mrs Definitely a top. Jen wears a “tee”, as the fashion press calls teeshirts. Sharon lives in sportswear. Sam looks down on people who don sports clothes without doing a sport, forgetting that men’s three-piece suits were based on 18th century hunting clobber.

Christine Teale saves up for a pair of expensive knee-high boots (Upwards never save up for anything, they just get a bigger overdraft). She has a smart work wardrobe, black and white if she works in the City (London’s financial district – translator’s note), and completely different weekend clothes. She wears strappy vest tops and cropped combats which make her bottom look large, but she doesn’t care, it’s just the thing for enjoying a barbecue in the back garden with friends. Her clothes become middle aged (or as she’d say, mumsy) far sooner than Thalia Upward’s. She’ll never meet Thalia in Wallis, but they might bump into each other in Gap or Next. Thalia goes to work in the same eccentric gear she wore as a student (Human Resources “have a word” with her about it).

Sam can't wear patent leather (the nuns used to say that if you wore patent leather shoes, boys could see your pants reflected in them). She can't wear faux leather either, even though she's a vegan. She is seen riding a sit-up-and-beg bike (with a basket) along the pavements of Bloomsbury, wearing a floral frock teamed with a cycling helmet.

No bare arms after 35, only pearls before dusk, says Caro’s mother. If she tells you in a marked manner “It’s snowing in Paris,” she means your petticoat is showing.

Don’t wear anything too jolly, says Mimi Spencer in The Times, 13 Nov 2010. This applies to patterned wellies, appliqué, decorative knitwear, “interesting” hosiery and witty handbags. … The same goes for slippers in the shape of cuddly toys, paisley, red and green together and over-accessorising (big earrings + big necklace).

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