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.

1 comment:

  1. Love every dynamite word of this.
    Do you know a book called The Englishwoman's Wardrobe? WAs also a TV doc, late 80s maybe, Angela Huth. Highly recommended, one of the great joys of my life. She asked people - famous and not, Jilly Cooper, Margaret Thatcher, WI president - to show her their wardrobe. (I mean, why not a series? Why not every week for 20 years? I'd watch, and I'm sure you would too.)