December 2, 2014 by Ville Raivio
“I am frequently asked whether I have an explanation for the truly appalling standards of dress exhibited by men (I can hardly call them gentlemen) on the streets of Britain. The slovenly, drab clothes worn by my compatriots – both young and old – cause shame to those of us who remember when the sartorial principles of the British (perhaps I mean English? – but no, the Welsh, the Scottish and the Northern Irish were our equal in this regard) were, to use the cliché (which was a cliché because it was true), the envy of the world.
I can offer the following factors by way of explanation, although (Laus Deo!) I have no expertise in the realm of social “science” (was ever a ‘discipline’ more inappropriately named?). I list them in no order of precedence.
1. The destruction of the grammar schools.
Any person – politician, sociologist, journalist or other rapscallion – who dares to talk about the collapse of ‘social mobility’ without mention of the destruction of the grammar schools (by both Labour and Conservative governments and by local authorities of both parties) is either a liar or a fool. The grammar schools allowed those from lowly backgrounds to go – with their heads held high – to the best colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. There they learnt (or, more accurately, had confirmed – for their schools had already inculcated what was best about Britain) what it meant to be a gentleman, and to dress as such.
2. The growth of the ‘celebrity culture’.
To admire those who have nothing to offer beyond the fact that they appear in glossy magazines and/or on the television (I do not think this admiration applies to those who speak on the wireless) is an idiocy which has taken root among those of limited intelligence. Such admired persons appear to spring up from the Underclass and appear to take a delight in dressing as if their chief ambition is to apply for employment in the world of refuse collection.
3. The development of the technology of communications.
The uncivilised masses appear to believe that their inadequacies can be supplied by a rigorous observation of the small screens which they hold before them as they walk our streets, sit in our restaurants and (astonishingly and dangerously) drive motor cars and pedal bicycles. Their habit inclines them to neglect their companions (how I feel for the ladies who sit, conspicuously bored, at dinner tables while their beaux stare at their telephones) and suppose that their drab, dismal clothes are in some way sufficient for those social situations for which they have the finance but, clearly, not the manners.
4. Mr Beckham.
It is, I readily concede, improper of me to introduce the name of an individual into this list of improprieties. To the gentleman himself, I apologise. Nevertheless, I have observed that many British men (and not only those who are of the younger generations) rely on this particular sportsman (footballer?) to supply them with inspiration for their own dress. And his inspiration is not in any way beneficial. His standard of dress seems to change frequently, perhaps in response to matters commercial, and is neither consistent nor useful for those who have no mind of their own.
Of course, I will stand accused – in the light of my innocent observations – of partiality and of that most hideous of modern ‘crimes’, elitism. To such critics, I say, “Well done! You have accurately divined my position.” I am, indeed, partial to proper standards of dress – see my Ten Commandments – and I have been taught to aspire to membership of the elite. Those men who do not share my views can continue to throng our pavements in those rags which pass for ‘fashion items’ (if they are expensive) or ‘bargains’ (if they are cheap). The rest of us – few though we be – will continue to attempt to adorn our nation in the formal, the well-cut and the traditional. Whatever our other faults, at least we know what constitutes proper dress for a British gentleman.”
~ the (world) critic Francis Bown