british

Above All, Foreign.

"Meanwhile, he stands there. Slowly, deliberately, like a magician, he takes a single book out of his briefcase and places it on the reading-desk. As he does this, his eyes move over the faces of the class. His lips curve in a faint but bold smile. Some of them smile back at him. George finds this frank confrontation extraordinarily exhilarating. He draws strength from these smiles, these bright young eyes. For him, this is one of the peak moments of the day. he feels brilliant, vital, challenging, slightly mysterious and, above all, foreign. 

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From  Harvard Psych Dept. website .

Professors Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), 1960s. From Harvard Psych Dept. website.

His neat dark clothes, his white dress shirt and tie (the only tie in the room) are uncompromisingly alien from the aggressively virile informality of the young male students. Most of these wear sneakers and garterless white wool socks; jeans in cold weather and in warm weather shorts (the thigh-clinging Bermuda type; the more becoming short ones aren't considered quite decent). If it is really warm, they'll roll up their sleeves and sometimes leave their shirts provocatively unbuttoned to show curly chest-hair and a Christopher medal. They look as if they were ready at any minute to switch from studying to ditch-digging or gang-fighting. They seem like mere clumsy kids in contrast with the girls; for these have all outgrown their teenage phase of Capri pants, sloppy shirts and giant heads of teased-up hair. They are mature women, and they come to class as if dressed for a highly respectable party." (46)

 

Isherwood, Christopher. A Single Man. London: Meuthen & Co., Ltd, 1964.

 

Kids these days! A thoughtful and scornful observation of early '60s students. Made me think of Take Ivy, the highly idealized style book by Teruyoshi Hayashida. The distinction between professor and student is the pearl in the oyster here, reinforcing our nostalgic ideas about Berkeley, the American '60s, etc. Also: the word "garterless."

Bengal Lancer

"Wilson stood gloomily by his bed in the Bedford Hotel and contemplated his cummerbund, which lay uncoiled and ruffled like an angry snake; the small hotel room was hot with the conflict between them. Through the wall he could hear Harris cleaning his teeth for the fifth time that day. Harris believed in dental hygiene. 'It's cleaning my teeth before and after every meal that's kept me so well in this bloody climate,' he would say, raising his pale exhausted face over an orange squash. Now he was gargling; it sounded like a noise in the pipes.

Wilson sat down on the edge of his bed and rested. He had left his door open for coolness, and across the passage he could see into the bathroom. The Indian with the turban was sitting on the side of the bath fully dressed; he stared inscrutably back at Wilson and bowed. 'Just a moment sir,' he called, 'If you would care to step in here...' Wilson angrily shut the door. Then he had another try with the cummerbund.

Film still from   The Lives of a Bengal Lancer  , 1935.

Film still from The Lives of a Bengal Lancer, 1935.

He had once seen a film--was it Bengal Lancer?--in which the cummerbund was superbly disciplined. A turbaned native held the coil and an immaculate officer spun like a top, so that the cummerbund encircled him smoothly, tightly. Another servant stood by with iced drinks, and a punkah swayed in the background. Apparently these things were better managed in India. However, with one more effort Wilson did get the wretched thing wrapped around him. It was too tight and it was badly creased, and the tuck-in came too near the front, so that it was not hidden by the jacket. He contemplated his image with melancholy in what was left of the mirror." (61)

 

Greene, GrahamThe Heart of the Matter. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1962 [1948].

 

I like thinking of Wilson having watched many movies about Brits abroad in the great Empire and imagining how lovely and well-put-together and not-at-all-sweaty his life would be. The cummerbund, a British trope of Indian origin, is here representative of all of the struggles coiling around him, unavoidable but completely unmanageable.

Protection

"Bertrand came out on to the step, glancing from one of them to the other. He was wearing a blue beret, which had much the same effect on Dixon as Welch senior's fishing-hat. If such headgear was a protection, what was it a protection against? If it wasn't a protection, what was it? What was it for? What was it for?" (188)

Blue beret (and so much more) at  Agi & Sam  A/W2013

Blue beret (and so much more) at Agi & Sam A/W2013

Amis, KingsleyLucky Jim. London: Penguin, 1972 [1954].

 

What was it for? Why do we wear hats with character? At the time Amis was writing, hats on men were still common--even socially necessary. To not wear a hat would have been significant; what does wearing a funny hat mean?

Un-Prim

"'Oh, I see all right, James. I see perfectly.' This time her voice was flat. She wore a sort of arty get-up of multi-coloured shirt, skirt with fringed hem and pocket, low-heeled shoes, and wooden beads. The smoke from her cigarette curled up, blue and ashy in a sunbeam, round her bare forearm.

Elaine de Kooning, 1950s. Detail from a portrait of the de Koonings by Rudy Burckhardt. In the  permanent collection  at the Guild Hall.

Elaine de Kooning, 1950s. Detail from a portrait of the de Koonings by Rudy Burckhardt. In the permanent collection at the Guild Hall.

...

'...What the hell do you take me for? It isn't as if you didn't know what I've had to put up with, all these last weeks. It's intolerable, absolutely intolerable. I won't stand for it. You must have known how I've been feeling.'

She went on like this while Dixon looked her in the eyes. His panic mounted in sincerity and volume. Her body moved jerkily about; her head bobbed from side to side on its rather long neck, shaking the wooden beads about on the multi-coloured shirt. He found himself thinking that the whole arty get-up seemed oddly at variance with the way she was acting. People who wore clothes of that sort oughtn't to mind things of this sort, certainly not as much as Margaret clearly minded this thing. It was surely wrong to dress, and to behave most of the time, in a way that was so un-prim when you were really so proper all of the time." (76-77)

 

Amis, Kingsley. Lucky Jim. London: Penguin, 1972 [1954].

 

You are how you dress! Or should be, anyway, right?

Public Exhibition

"Wilson liked poetry, but he absorbed it secretly, like a drug. ... His taste was romantic. For public exhibition he had his Wallace. He wanted passionately to be indistinguishable on the surface from other men: he wore his moustache like a club tie--it was his highest common factor, but his eyes betrayed him--brown dog's eyes, a setter's eyes, pointing mournfully towards Bond Street." (12)

Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, certainly no shrinking violet. But what a mustache! From  here .

Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen, certainly no shrinking violet. But what a mustache! From here.

Greene, Graham. The Heart of the Matter. Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books, 1962 [1948].

That passionate interest is so far from what I am interested in personally that I can't understand it, but it's such a wonderful description of this character. What kind of mustache does he have, what "club" does he belong to? What is a nondescript mustache in British West Africa in the 1940s?

Fashion suffers.

"Fashion suffers by being very much more interesting than those who follow it." (ix)

 

McDowell, Colin. The Literary Companion to Fashion. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1995.

 

I knew this exists, but I never picked it up--this is the 1995/analog version of this website! But better organized. So maybe this is, instead, an extension? If I may be so bold? Really looking forward to reviewing his new book on Worn Through in two weeks...