Sunday 30 January 2011

Weather Zones and Hippies

The great thing about the heat here is that it is mitigated by good sea breezes and the houses are built with big verandah overhangs so that it is cooler inside and ceiling fans are enough at night, without air con. The thought of actually living somewhere where there is a grinding, freezing, icy, rainy, snowy winter fills me with horror. But everything has a price on its head: to make big $£, you have to sell your soul to a demon in a banker-striped suit, in a brass monkey-freezing weather zone; to redeem it and live somewhere warm, you have to give up earning big $£ but you can do as you please and give the rat-race the go-by, which, I tell you, is bloody good news: I see my oldest friends struggling around a city that they increasingly dislike, in a society that they say is crumbling around their ears, and the older they get the faster they have to run to keep the wheel moving fast enough to grind enough grain to justify their continued existence, as there are youngsters coming up behind them, with mean, greedy eyes, twisted, slavering mouths and hatchets in their hands - and the youngsters, at best, are: wearing Ralph Lauren; they live in New Cross, Beckton, Archway and Kentish Town; drive Beamers and Toyota sports cars; send their small kids to Montessori schools; pretend to like sushi and Woody Allen; would only ever watch Jacques Tati on the sly; follow foreign sports' teams; drink Dutch beer and ultra-chillled Guinness; don't smoke; play squash; suck up, pro tem. to the men and women that they'd assassinate in a trice and play lots of smiling golf.

Yes, yes, I have been 90% hippie all along. Now I even sometimes kick my shoes (sorry, sandals) off and go barefoot on the Natureza Reserva.

Today's picture is of Charles Lees' The Golfers


Saturday 29 January 2011

Dress Rules, Custom and Social Sanctions

This consideration of dress ‘rules’ flows from a request on the forum for an answer to the question when did it become ‘the rule’ for the full white evening dress waistcoat to be covered by the fronts of the coat. He who poses the question rejects contemporary illustrations.
People often carp on about ‘rules’ as to dress and their dislike of them. There is a lot of muddled thinking over this and, I confess that, on page 17 of History of Men’s Fashion, I contributed to it; although, when I referred to ‘general rules’ instead of ‘general customs’, I had no idea of the avalanche of protest that it would provoke, from some members of a generation who want to ‘hang loose’ and ‘free the spirit [man]’.
There are some circumstances in which there are still legally enforceable rules as to dress and these rules might, as in the case of the armed forces’ regulations as to dress, be enforceable by way of disciplinary proceedings and even, ultimately, dismissal from the service. Another example is that a Judge may refuse to hear Counsel whom he holds to be improperly dressed: Counsel becomes invisible.
There were, before the Second World War, detailed prescriptions of (royal) Court dress for all the categories of those attending Court and also in relation to different events and times of day. These prescriptions were made, from time to time, under the authority of the Lord Chamberlain. Infringement of them might, at least, be met with a humorous suggestion from Mr Wilkinson’s man*, that “sir might try harder next time” to, at worst, exclusion from an event. RAB Butler was once turned away from the Privy Council because he was wearing the ‘wrong coat’. The worst outcome then has been social exclusion from a place or an event for breach of a social custom as to dress.
Social exclusion as a sanction is, less and less, a sanction that is exercised in the modern world in relation to customs as to dress; although, for example, the Caledonian Ball organizers refuse to admit men who pitch up in a mere dinner jacket and there are many West End and City clubs where I am sure the senior porter would not hesitate (on the sound basis that he represents that the greatest good of the greatest number should prevail) to say to a member “I hope that you don’t think that you’re coming in here dressed like that, sir!” just as a club servant enforced the rule against smoking in White’s against the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) who then went off in a huff and formed the Marlborough Club. In these places you seldom see: tweeds, brown shoes, blazers or straw hats. I go into this more in my forthcoming book History of Men’s Etiquette: A Short Guide to The Sporting Life. Even the last incarnation of the Eccentric Club had a sign (beneath a picture of a naked lady) which warned: “Ties must be worn at all times”.
However, I doubt whether anyone has ever suffered social exclusion because his Marcella vest did or did not protrude from beneath his coat fronts. The nearest that I can get to a specification of the most formal early twentieth century evening dress is from the 1912 edition of Dress and Insignia Worn at His Majesty’s Court (Harrison). This prescribes that the waistcoat should be:
“Single-breasted [Sorry, Mr Bingley], White Marcella with a roll collar and three small gilt buttons of the same pattern [as the coat buttons], the distance between the bottom button and the bottom edge of the waistcoat to be the same as the distance between the buttons. Waistcoats with long pointed fronts below the bottom button are not to be worn. When the Court is in mourning the waistcoat should be of the same material as the coat.”
There is nothing here which expressly states that the waistcoat should be covered by the coat fronts but there is a heavy implication that this was expected because long waistcoats were expressly forbidden.
But if anyone wants to find specific evidence of such a ‘rule’ or custom, excluding illustration, he will search in vain.

*Wilkinson was an ancient court tailor and robe-maker, which spent far too much time policing Court events and not enough time minding the shop so that it eventually went out of business.

Today's picture is of a feather in every cap: Sir Phillip Mitchell, G-G of Kenya, in his tropical uniform (and swan plumes), with local Chiefs (and ostrich feathers), awaiting the arrival of the Princess who would leave Kenya as HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Friday 28 January 2011

John Williams 1903-1983

John Williams was a great British character actor, whom we all recognize as the inspector in Hitchcock's 1954 film Dial M For Murder, Sabrina's (rather unlikely) chauffeur father in Billy Wilder's Sabrina (1954) and as the beleaguered insurance agent (H.H. Hughson) in Hitchcock's 1955 film To Catch A Thief. Always perfectly dressed and poised, we see him in stills above, from the top, in the first picture, with Robert Cummings and in the second with Jessie Royce Landis, playing mother, Mrs Stevens ("Nobody calls me Jessie anymore"), to Grace Kelly's Francie Stevens ("Come on, Jessie") and in the third picture, he is with Cary Grant as reformed jewel thief, John Robie, "The Cat".

Jessie Royce Landis also played the mother of Cary Grant's character Roger O Thornhill in Hitchcock's 1959 film North By Northwest (in which appears the famous non-suit, as I like to think of it; a piece of clothing as anonymous as the character who wore it, although moderns seem to go crazy over it).

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Don't Tell Alfred

Here is (Alfred) Duff Cooper again; this time, as British Ambassador, at a British Embassy 'do' in Paris just after War II. He is with Susan Mary Patten, then wife of an American diplomat. The DJ has been described by Duff's grand daughter as a 'Dodgy Tux' and she reckons that it was probably made out of satin, by one of the French couturiers who dressed her grandmother as Ambassadress, rather than by Savile Row. Nancy Mitford wrote the amusing novel "Don't Tell Alfred", loosely based on the Coopers' time at the Embassy and Antony Beevor and his wife Artemis Cooper have written a book called Paris After The Liberation 1944-1949 (Penguin, 2007), to some extent based on Duff Cooper's Diaries.

There we are then: a post a day for January 2011.

Duff Cooper as First Lord of The Admiralty

Above is Duff Cooper, as First Lord of The Admiralty in 1937, a position that he famously resigned in protest at the policy of appeasement, that culminated in the Munich Agreement with Hitler in 1938 (Neville Chamberlain's "Peace in Our Time"). Nearly always perfectly dressed (there is a picture of Duff in a city suit, aiming a shotgun in some country place), note the appropriate cap for inspecting a ship; nowadays, most politicians, would pitch up in a baseball cap, brown shoes and get the salute wrong.

Burns' Night

This is an excerpt from Book III:
25th January is Burns’ Night when the Scots (wherever they may be in the world) congregate to celebrate, with a Burns’ Supper, the birthday of the great Scotch poet Robbie Burns (1759-1796); author of some poems that are read and loved wherever the Scots-English language is spoken; including: Tam O’Shanter; Address to a Haggis; Auld Lang Syne, and My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose.

At the more formal suppers, the full order of proceedings is as follows: there are words of welcome from the host and then the Selkirk Grace is said:

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

All then remain standing to receive the haggis (comprising sheep offal, onion, oats etc., cooked in a sheep’s stomach), served with mashed neeps (turnips or swede) and tatties (potatoes), as the chef is piped and slow hand-clapped with it to the top table. The host or another diner then recites the Address to A Haggis and, at the line “’an cut you up wi’ ready slight”, he or she, with gusto, cuts the haggis open, to applause and a toast to the Haggis in whisky; after which there follows the meal and then the Loyal Toast and any other toasts. After this there is a speech To the Immortal Memory of Robbie Burns; The Toast to the Lassies and a response from a Lassie and then, of course, more poems and songs. The evening ends with much carousing; everyone singing Auld Lang Syne and then taking great care not to trip over their snow shoes on their way hame.

Monday 24 January 2011

Tattersall patterned vests

As I mentioned in History of Men's Fashion: What The Well Dressed Man is Wearing, Cording's of Piccadilly originally adapted the patterns of horse blankets used at Tattersall's to patterns for use on vests and viyella shirts. The house pattern is shown in today's photograph and cannot really be beaten. However, I should have six buttons, rather than five and in shanked mother-of-pearl.

Saturday 22 January 2011

Webley Enfield No 2 Mark I .38 Calibre Service Revolver

This is an iconic piece and would be great for plinking tins in the garden, assuming that you live in a country where they haven't banned hand guns in a knee-jerk reaction because they failed to stop half a dozen madmen running amok.

Friday 21 January 2011

Book reprints

As my books are reprinted (DV) - the first one already has been - I am keeping files on corrections, amendments and additions and should value any suggestions for corrections from readers who spot any mistakes in relation to anything at all. I should add that I am removing the directory from Book I as it is too much to have to keep up with business moves, mergers and closures.

Tattoos: Naff or Not?

There was a time when tattoos were much more fashionable in the higher socio-economic groups than they are now and there were tattoo artists in fashionable areas to cater to the demand. Jenny Lady Randolph Churchill had a snake around her waist and another tattoo around a wrist; King George V had a tattoo from his long naval trip as a youngster with his brother the Duke of Clarence and Avondale, and the Southern Belle turned British actress Cora Brown Potter (wife of 'Tuxedo' Brown Potter) had an interesting and telling tattoo, which I disclose (with a photographic plate) in Book II.

Above is a picture of John Julius Norwich (son of Duff and Diana Cooper) and his lovely first wife, Anne Clifford, showing that they have tattoos too.

So, depending how and where they are executed, tattoos are not necessarily naff.

Another Bowl of Norwich Porridge: Duff and Diana Cooper

Since the first post about these elegant fowl was so popular, here is another one about Duff and Diana Cooper. Above, they were photographed in August 1952, at the wedding of their only son, diplomat, broadcaster and historian, John Julius Norwich to Anne Clifford. Apart from managers of bankers Coutts & Co (who continued to wear frock coats in the office until the drooling, rabbid, dogs of 'modern Britain' recently engaged their poisonous fangs a little deeper), maybe Duff was one of the last men in England unselfconsciously to wear a real frock coat and here it is perfectly carried off with cashmere striped trousers, a stiff shirt collar, white vest, shining topper, galosh-topped boots and chamois gloves. A gardenia in the buttonhole would have been better than the pocket handkerchief and I know, from a better print of the photograph, that he is carrying a crooked partridge cane (of the family Palmae).

Thursday 20 January 2011

Every Night Is Friday Night

...and every morning is Saturday morning. But it all has a price on its head (doesn't everything?). Nevertheless, yesterday was 33'C (which converts to 91.4'F for any fogeys tuning in), with a generous sea breeze (halcyon days) and it was impossible to keep off the beach and out of the sea, which was blood warm and turquoise, deepening fifty metres out to azure blue. I also know that in at least one part of London yesterday it was 3'C, so the ape was glad to be able to be nearly naked.

However, the holiday makers here at this time of year are noisy and the traffic is crazy and the shops and restaurants are below par. But, hey: overall, who am I to complain?

Tuesday 18 January 2011

Swinging The Lead

Since I delivered all the components for Book III, instead of getting stuck into Book IV (which I have started), I have been "swinging the lead". Apparently, this expression comes from the pre-sonar, depth-sounding practice of a man standing on the starboard chains of a ship (a small platform) with a lead weight on a marked rope which he is supposed to submerge to check the depth below the keel; properly called "heaving the lead". Owing to the drag on the line and the weight, this was an arduous task; so shirkers used to swing the lead in the air. From the degree of supervision, I think that the seaman in the picture is about to heave the lead.

I, on the other hand, am swinging the lead.

Friday 14 January 2011

World Without End

In an increasingly secular world, I suppose that it is inevitable that the scientists would look for ways and means to enable us to live nearly forever; after all, if the alternative is perpetua nox dormienda after a mere century of living (and often with the engine failing and big oil leaks in the last twenty years), then let's find a way, Dr Frankenstein, to keep the body going with spare parts and so forth and we can all live to be a thousand. I guess that it will become a fashion to call people Methusalah.

But what is this necessarily burgeoning population going to do with its time: will their be jobs for all and what of retirement and pension funding? Will the reproductive function remain intact throughout and, if so, what is that going to do to the population of the limited space that the earth has? Or are we to be sent off to other planets; if so, what laws will prevail there?

Moreover (and crucially) has anyone thought about where all the sewage is going to be treated?

Will everyone be expected to send Christmas cards to their 33 X grandparents and all the others in between?

Has anyone thought all this through, before Dr Frankenstein ceases to be a harmless horror story and actually starts to practise his dark arts?

What if we really do have souls, Dr Frankenstein? Has anyone given a thought to the burden of 10 X the normal amount of sin? That would mean a longer spell than might be comfortable in Purgatory or is there going to be a cure for that too?

Thursday 13 January 2011

Countdown to publication of Book II

According to the publisher's website, the actual date of publication is now 31st January 2011 and, thankfully, pre-sales are being made on various sites.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

He travels fastest...or Luggage-humping

He does travel fastest who travels alone. No doubt about that one. He probably also travels more satisfactorily without any electronic devices at all; certainly no telephone. But he who travels with only air cabin baggage and an absolute minimum of items in it, has fully mastered the art of travel. I know of someone who was a Victorian adventurer and traveller and he often pitched up for a weekend at the houses of relatives with: a toothbrush, a comb and a razor in his breast pocket. Obviously, he wasn't going to be dressing for dinner and his underclothes and shirt needed to be laundered each night but I expect that he enjoyed himself immensely. And all free too.

I long ago swore that I would never, ever, ever again take a suitcase on an airplane or a train and what: time, effort and stress are saved. A reasonable alternative is to send a suitcase on ahead - to be picked up by someone else.

Monday 10 January 2011

The Return of A Sulka

A Sulka has a website ( and might one day return to production; all that depends on the current corporate owner. Meanwhile, here is a silk jacquard and satin smoking suit (for such suits and dressing gowns they were especially famed), from the 1950s. In the freefall of our age, 'smoking jackets' seem to be making it out to parties in places other than one's own home. In the days when full smoking suits (such as this), were still the thing, such dress, outside the home would have been unthinkable.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot

It seldom rates in all those lists of the hundred greatest films of all time etc but Jacques Tati's 1953 seaside romp, Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot, at L'Hotel de la Plage, Saint-Marc-sur-Mer (1953)is one of my favourites. Jacques Tati knew and could exploit, with perfect accomplishment and timing, the humorous potential of the human face, feet and foibles.

The actual hotel used is still there (rather prosaically part of the Best Western group)and it is possible to go to stay there but it has been 'refurbished' and I don't suppose that the dining room swing doors still make that 'boinging' noise everytime that they are swung; Monsieur Hulot and Martine went home long, long ago, and, of course, the scenery will all be in colour.

Saturday 8 January 2011

Aero Shoe Trees

Shoe and boot trees come in all manner of kinds: principally the hinged shoe last and the three part ankle and full boot last; although the three part last can also be made for shoes. Traditionally, they are all made out of mahogany but, with the advent of air travel, they are now frequently hollowed out in the fore part and might even be made out of a lighter (but stable) wood, such as Obeche. One extreme example of a lightweight last is the one known at John Lobb as the hollow, hinged, wax-polished, extra-hollow aero, which is made out of Obeche, and even has holes drilled through to lessen the weight even more. An example is shown above. Since bespoke shoes are often as light as a feather (you feel as though you are floating on a cloud), when you really are floating on a cloud, just think of the advantages of an extra-light last.

Book III

The publisher has decided to call Book III History of Men's Etiquette but the cover images, the blurb and the sub-title A Short Guide to the Sporting Life make it abundantly clear what it is about. I am trying to get a copy of the cover to put up here. The current Adobe format does not seem to want to appear!

Rudolph Valentino

Rudolph Valentino (born Rodolfo Alphonso Raffaello Piero Filiberto Guglielmi 1895-1926) was one of the first great stars of the (silent) screen; starring in films such as The Four Horsemen of The Apocalyse; The Sheikh and Son of the Sheikh. Although they are over-acted in a wide-eyed, over-demonstrative way and even though the footage is black and white and old and crackling, it is still possible to see the star that briefly shone. Rather like Cary Grant, even now, most people have heard of Rudolph Valentino and even recognize him. The suggestion that his voice was unlikely to have carried him into the age of the talkies is wholly unsupported by the recordings that exist of it, including him singing A Kashmiri Love Song in a pleasing baritone. The feverish, on-screen adulation which he inspired was not reflected in his personal life. Twice married and twice divorced, he did not seem to find and keep any woman; indeed, he said: ‘Women are not in love with me; I am just the canvass upon which they paint their dreams.’ When he died, at 31, of peritonitis, following an operation for a gastric ulcer, the public mourning was great and the streets of New York were lined with hundreds of thousands of weeping mourners; albeit that this outpouring was encouraged by the studio, which had yet to release his last film. The anniversary of his death is still marked at the mausoleum where he was entombed in a vault originally reserved for the husband of his friend June Mathis. The vault was, at first, ‘borrowed’ and later quietly bought by his estate. Legend has it that he was buried still wearing the platinum slave bracelet and watch given to him by his second wife, set designer Natacha Rambova (actually born ‘Winifred Shaughnessy’). For many years, following his death, a mysterious ‘lady in black’ used to appear at this annual ceremony.

He was not, in fact, originally, the poor Italian boy of popular fancy but the son of a veterinary surgeon. Owing to his French mother, he spoke French as well as Italian and also learned English and Spanish and had some knowledge of German. The catalogue of the sale of his effects, following his death, shows that he had an extensive library and many valuable, even museum quality, antiques - especially furniture, doors, paintings, arms and armour (which he brought from his European tours), as well as the latest motor cars and four Arabian horses. Everything was sold off for a song to pay debts, following his death. His life was a far cry from following the cult of ignorance which governs the tastes and values of most modern celebrities and he patronized London tailors and shoemakers, to ensure that he was always well turned out.

His former house (in a Spanish style) Falcon Lair, above Beverly Hills (also shown above), has, fairly recently, been stripped of most of the cladding materials and the site will probably become a ‘condo’ - in the best modern taste.

Friday 7 January 2011

What has it all come to?

I have been sent the above images of a recent formal dinner in London; admittedly, it was a dinner principally for students but what on earth are they playing at? Surely, better by far a requirement for lounge suits and ties than suggesting that guests pitch up half-dressed and even in braces at the dinner table. It must have been intended and arranged; otherwise, how would so many people have appeared like this? I know that the Royal Navy devised Red Sea Rig long ago and dispensed with coats for evening wear but just because of the intolerable heat: not something that is ever likely to afflict Londoners.

The older generation (in the top picture), who encouraged this nonsense, need a jolly good talking to! If black tie is to go the way of all flesh, because people cannot be bothered with the time and expense involved and mastering its slight mysteries, that is just another part of our civilization that slides into the abyss, but dumbing it down like this is appalling:

"Sink me the ship, master-gunner,
Sink her, split her in twain:
Fall into the hands of God,
Not into the hands of Spain!"

(From Tennyson's The Revenge.)

As with everything: either do it properly or don't do it at all!

Razor Squares

I received an unexpected and very welcome Christmas gift from a friend on a forum. It is a 'Razor Square' in a 'three mountain' design. It is made from a starched, fine, white cotton 16" square (other colours are also available) and really is as sharp as a razor! There are many other shapes too.

I don't have direct links on this blog but the website is and it doesn't stop there because William J Thompson has even produced an illustrated and comprehensive book on the subject, called Razor Squares, which is available to order through

The above image is taken from the website.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Twenty One 'Followers'

I know that more people read this blog than expressly sign up to 'follow' it but every time that the number of 'followers' gets to twenty one, someone falls off the waggon and it remains at twenty. Let's see what happens this time!

A Plate From Book III

Above is a .416 calibre bolt action Big Game rifle by W J Jeffrey & Co (at J Roberts & Co). I give you the image here as it is so striking in the colour format and it will be reproduced as a monochrome plate in the book. The photograph is by courtesy of the makers.

Page View Averages

I have a statistics' counter on this site that has operated from the beginning. The average monthly views of individual pages, since July 10th 2010, is 4,630, which is not bad from a standing start. However, the site was meant to complement and promote my books and it has succeeded in only half of that objective, as sales remain steady but modest. This is a pity but there we are. We are constantly driven to market our own books but the reality is that, without a huge marketing machinery behind a book and a 'celebrity' name on the cover, most books either trundle along or just sink like stones.

I should just be grateful that Book I trundles.

Murder In The Sleepy Hollow

Last night, coming home late, all seemed quiet and so I went up to the bedroom but there I sensed that all was not well. There was someone lurking behind the net curtains infront of the French windows. This is Brazil and you know all the stories of violence. I had a flat throwing knife in my hand and decided where to aim and threw the knife. It pierced the curtain and sounded on wood. Immediately, a gun fired from behind the curtain but I wasn't standing infront of it anymore. Somehow, somebody else, a total stranger, was standing there now and, hit by the bullet, fell forwards, through the gunsmoke, and into the windows, which were now open and empty; leaving me with an unexplained corpse in my bedroom.

On the plus side, I am the only witness. On the other hand, my account sounds hollow. The choices are: to report the matter straight away and take the consequences(which might include a spell on remand in a Brazilian gaol where, I dare say, the conditions are less than wholesome and the manners shy of polite), or to dispose of the body: maybe, by dumping it in the lagoon. I could try to cremate it in the large brick BBQ but it might make a terrible smell and bring the neighbours around.

Before I could resolve this dilemma (and most fortunately),I awoke with a start.

That's what I call a proper nightmare.

Today's picture is Fuseli's 'Nightmare'.

Monday 3 January 2011

The Ancient Cornish Game of Hurling

The principal annual game of hurling takes place on Shrove Tuesday which, of course, depends on when Easter falls. The event that I am most familiar with is the St Columb hurling in central Cornwall, which happens to be my mother’s home town, and I recall that my grandparents had in their possession a very old and pitted hurling ball. Long ago, the game (which has nearly no rules and no referee), used to be played all over Cornwall but now is confined to St Columb and St Ives and is probably as ancient as the Obby Oss at Padstow and the Furry Dance at Helston. It is a rough and tumble game that has been played since pre-Norman times, with a ball, about the size of a cricket ball, covered in beaten silver with a raised silver seam on which a motto traditionally appears. This used to be in the ancient Cornish language but one of the modern versions of this is ‘Town and Country Do Your Best’, which is a reference to the fact that the game is played between teams of townsmen and countrymen whose objective is to run with and pass the ball to get it into the correct goal, the goals being placed two miles apart. The only taboo is to hide the ball, except in jest. The game begins in the market place at 4-30 pm, when the ball is ‘called-up’ by last year’s winner, who holds it aloft and encourages his team to recapture it. In fact, the winner each year may keep the actual ball, provided that he replaces it, with one of local manufacture. He then ‘throws-up’ the ball from a stepladder, after calling out: ‘Town and Country do your best for in this parish I must rest’ and raising three cheers. All hell then breaks loose in a giant scrummage of St Columbians of all ages; to the extent that shopkeepers and householders even board up their windows. The game can take many hours. The race over, the winner of the ball is then carried back to the market place, to the Hurling Song, where he proclaims whether the ball is won for Town or Country. Later on, everyone returns to the market place and the ball is ‘called-up’ again and a pub crawl takes place. The ball is repeatedly immersed in gallon flasks of beer (making it into ‘silver beer’) and this is shared around. Fortunately, despite the loss of so much custom and tradition, across the board, this game appears so deeply embedded in the local consciousness that it is likely to continue and I have even seen a photograph of a cousin of mine at a recent hurling.