Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Of fashion and matters sartorial, part 1 of 8

If this series of entries is anyone’s fault, it’s Julian MacLaren-Ross’s. It was he, talking about World War I uniforms, as worn by his ne’er-do-well brother, who got me thinking about the many appearances of fashion and clothing in things I’ve been reading. A few hours later, when I happened across Barbara Pym’s note about the fashions at Oxford in her youth, suddenly I was off to consult Samuel Johnson. The rest was inevitable.

From Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary (1755)
Fashionist: A follower of the mode; a fop; a coxcomb.

From a letter by Barbara Pym to Philip Larkin, collected in A Very Private Eye: An Autobiography in Diaries and Letters (1984)
I suppose when you were at Oxford nobody came into The George wearing a silver lamé shirt or went around with a lizard on their shoulder or carried a toy kangaroo—that was the early thirties when I was up. But surely there must have been girls, even in the austere, one-bottle-of-wine a term forties (shoulder-length pageboy hair, square shoulders and short skirts?).

From Edward Lear’s The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense
There was an Old Man of Blackheath,
Whose head was adorned with a wreath
Of lobsters and spice, pickled onions and mice,
That uncommon Old Man of Blackheath.

From Julian Maclaren-Ross’s The Weeping and the Laughter (1953), in Collected Memoirs
My brother, pardonably bitter, turned his back on the church, and for a time went about getting drunk in a black cloak lined with crimson silk—but somehow he was not really cut out for a roisterer.

From P. G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves Takes Charge,” collected in Carry on, Jeeves (1925)
“Oh, Jeeves,” I said. “About that check suit.”

“Yes, sir?”

“Is it really a frost?”

“A trifle too bizarre, sir, in my opinion.’

“But lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is.”

“Doubtless in order to avoid him sir.”

“He’s supposed to be one of the best men in London.”

“I am saying nothing against his moral character, sir.”

. . . .

“All right, Jeeves,” I said. ‘You know! Give the bally thing away to somebody.”

He looked down at me like a father gazing tenderly at the wayward child.

“Thank you, sir. I gave it to the under-gardener last night. A little more tea, sir?”


  1. One of the highest complimets paid to me by my favorite library school professor, Doctor Carlson, was the the time she looked at me and smiled, "Oh, that shirt."

    Or it may have been a wince, with a stress on that.

  2. I say some variation of that to myself any time I accidentally wear my African shirt outside. Because I really, really ought not to wear an African shirt outside unless I want to look like the goofiest shaved-head poser guy ever.