Sunday, 7 June 2015

Rational Dress and the English

The English (I no longer write about the British) have never been strong on Rational Dress. You could say that the whole social order is constructed around people having to wear unsuitable clothing. Think of the Guard at Buckingham Palace in uniforms which make them incapable of guarding anything and so suffocating that they collapse on sunny days.

Protests are rare, though they do happen. This one dates from 1893:

Click on Image to Magnify


Irrationality about dress begins in schools where school uniforms have been  designed  –  over a very long period of time and often with loving paedophilic care - as wilfully inappropriate to normal activity and prevailing  weather. In addition, since children grow quickly, family budgets are easily strained by the cost of frequent replacements. School uniform has always exploited this opportunity to humiliate the poor, who can’t afford the whole rig to begin with let alone the annual replacements. (I once taught in a rural school where the local draper was a school governor since he controlled an essential aspect of school life, the price of the uniform, of which he was the monopoly supplier).

Private schools have always reckoned that parents judge them by the cost of the uniform, the more outlandish the better. For many parents, their ambition for their children rises to nothing more than a desire to put them into woollen blazers with colourful ribbon trimmings and a cap to match – and at the earliest possible age. It’s the pinnacle of English stupidity. 

Sartorially, I don’t dislike ties and I once had a large collection – most of it now gone to charity. In winter, a tie can help keep you warm. In summer, it is just a punishment. Many people of my generation went to schools where as the temperature soared, you waited for the Head’s word that pupils might remove their ties. Male teachers waited for the head to tell them they could remove their jackets. Headteachers had thermometers on their desks.

In courts, as the temperature soars, the grown up schoolboys and schoolgirls called barristers wait for judges to give them permission to remove their wigs .They rarely do, a taste for sadism being very strong in the English legal profession. It has always been  the rock-solid customer base for the BDSM industry. Only the invention of air conditioning has brought some relief to our red faced and malodorous lawyers.

At Election time, English politicians venture into nurseries or primary schools and – as the modern equivalent of Kissing the Baby – like to be photographed as they join in a session of finger painting or some such. They are always inappropriately dressed in their uniform of sober suit and tie. The pupils often enough, but thankfully not always, likewise:


Boris Johnson and David Cameron, typical English schoolboys, in their everyday uniforms


Parents would probably be shocked if they knew how much teacher time (and teacher salary) goes into devising and enforcing school uniform rules. The chief enforcer is always a Deputy Headteacher and they don’t come cheap. Abolishing school uniform would free up a great deal of school resource for better uses and would save parents money. But I do not think English parents find it possible to believe that there are successful countries, not plagued by juvenile delinquency or illiteracy, that manage to function without any school uniform at all.

And just to show the trouble really does begin at Buckingham Palace:




King George VI and Queen Elizabeth ( in a I'm-not-even-going-to try-to-compete hat) 1937



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