Thursday 4 October 2018

What to Wear 8

Caro Stow-Crat says: “Please, no fancy dress after 40. Though Harry did once go to a fancy dress ball as a bishop...”

A welcome erosion of class structures has seen top hats relegated first to the top shelves of cupboards and wardrobes, and then donated to become a staple of Amateur Dramatic Club costume collections. (Lucy Adlington,
Stitches in Time) Thomas the Tank Engine’s Fat Controller (Sir Topham Hatt) was originally the “Fat Director” – a 20s caricature capitalist in a morning coat and top hat, grown fat on the profits of a private railway company. When the railways were reprivatised, why didn’t he revert to being a director? He's still an outdated stereotype.

Caro wonders when a bowtie became a “dicky bow”? A dicky is a fake blouse consisting of a Mao collar and enough material to show under a V-necked jumper. It's a useful way of using up remnants, and will delude your friends that you own more blouses than you actually do. A “dicky bird” is what vulgar people call a bird.

Samantha says “I refuse to buy my grandchildren clothes covered in writing and logos”. She buys them clothes at Muji and Uniqlo. Sharon Definitely buys her daughter (Madison) pink T shirts that read “Little Lady” but also “Girls Can Do Anything”. Her son Jayden dresses in scaled-down army uniform.

Lower middle-class Jen Teale uses shoe deodorisers, Caro chucks smelly trainers, but Samantha insists on wearing them out. She may Google for an old-fashioned (cheap) home remedy (baking soda) that doesn’t work. 

“Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” This advice made sense in the days (80s and earlier) when a secretary wore a blouse and skirt, while the lady boss wore a suit.

I’m old enough to remember when we called face veils “yashmaks” and made jokes about them. Perhaps those old white men who moan about “political correctness” could cast their minds back. Nobody forced us to stop joking about yashmaks, we just stopped. We don’t give small children replica guns any more, either. Or sweet cigarettes.

Young people holiday in the far East and come back with batik sarongs. (In my day they went to India and came back with kurtas and kaftans – but not saris.) But no Upward goes to Whitechapel or Ridley Road market to buy a long flowery dress as worn by Muslim ladies, or a glittery shalwar kameez – or even a cotton shalwar kameez. They’re very cool in hot weather and are perfect for the office. Likewise, Boris is appalled by niqabs but not by a Carmelite nun’s outfit. The Times (August 2018) shows “manxi” dresses that are very like a Muslim woman’s dress, but no connection is made. Is this crossover? Cultural appropriation? Caro wears a genuine pashmina to the opera, over an oxblood taffeta evening dress with a wide skirt. Her great-grandmother wore a genuine Indian paisley shawl.

When I arrived at university in the 70s my sunglasses with pale pink frames puzzled other students. I seemed to be middle class – didn’t I know that the colour pink was common? And pink plastic! I also wore a pink mohair jumper – I was going through a 50s phase. I was ahead of the trend – lurid mohair jumpers were a punk fashion in the later 70s. And this was in a decade when we were supposed to be breaking down barriers of all kinds and creating an egalitarian society, free of all prejudice. They dressed entirely in blue denim or brown corduroy. (Can you still get brown denim? They never seemed to grasp what “prejudice” meant, either.)

In 2018 Teales wear 7/8 jeans, white T shirts and cardigans or jackets in a subdued, plain colour. Usually blue, navy, and grey. They look almost Boden. They achieve this look by buying cheap clothes and discarding them as soon as the material goes sad and shabby. They ruthlessly “edit” their wardrobes, and wash everything after one wearing. They iron their T shirts. Upwards, on the other hand, have “favourite” pieces they are sentimentally attached to and persist in wearing them however grey, bobbly and sagging. They fail to notice that modern fabrics don’t last like the old-fashioned kind. Teale clothes, being featureless, have no associations and are just replaced by more of the same.

More here, and links to the rest.

Canny Upwards in the 70s used Catherine Milinaire's Cheap Chic as a style bible.

1 comment:

  1. I remember reading several different Cheap Chic kinds of books. One of them said 'the best advice for being able to get away with cheap clothes is never let yourself get bigger than a size 12.' Then you can wear any old tat and look good...