From New Labour to Classy Conservatism: the year posh became cool
Some cultural critics are calling it the Downton effect. Others say we are seeking refuge from reality in a nostalgic quest towards the better aspects of times gone by. Whatever the reason, the notion of class is no longer a cause for war: we’re all posh now.
As The Independent on Sunday reported last week, sherry, once the sole preserve of grandmothers and estate alcohol cabinets, is undergoing a revival. It is the latest in a year that suggests an appetite for times gone by, a yearning for the class divide, and a chorus of cash-tills that have catered to demand.
Stately homes across Britain are seeing a rise in ticket sales, with visits to historic houses and castles in England up by six percent in the second quarter of this year.
In fashion circles, sales of fur capes, first en vogue nearly a century ago, have risen by 220 per cent year-on-year according to Debenhams, while other Edwardian items such as elbow length leather gloves have seen a 534 per cent rise. It is a trend fuelled by the soaring popularity of Downton Abbey, which has caught retailers off guard.
Carie Barkhuizen, spokeswoman for Debenhams says: “Women are stripping ‘aristocratic chic’ right back to basics and embracing Edwardian style underwear as well. Waistnippers designed to create an hour glass shape and corsets have seen sharp sales increases.”
Then there’s polo. After a successful trial in state schools earlier this year, the Gaucho International Polo group plans to export the horseback sport into more state schools across England next year, while public-school educated figures like English captain Andrew Strauss, who led England to become the world’s best test playing nation, command a new level of respect as football-playing counterparts are more commonly ridiculed.
Posh people are increasingly finding favour too. Aristocratic fashion icons like Samantha Cameron and Kate Middleton are constantly the beneficiaries of favourable coverage centred around their grace and class. And Kate and Sam have even usurped Kate Moss as modern day icons for a young generation of Britons. “British fashion icons like Kate Moss used to be seen as universally accessible, rebellious and anti-establishment,” argues Rachel Barrie of Fallon, the ad agency behind Cadbury’s drumming Gorilla. “Now as it gets incrementally more exclusive the two biggest UK fashion advocates are the prime minister’s wife and a member of the Royal family.”
Anthony Seldon, biographer of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, says: “In times of economic uncertainty, people often hanker for times past. Hence nostalgia breeds in times of instability, while during periods of optimism people tend to look ahead as they did in the 1980s.”
Britain’s increasing obsession with class is infectious and has transmitted itself overseas. Debutantes parties will be exported to China for the first time next year, while Debrett’s are among a number of British publishers profiteering from a new appetite for books on etiquette and manners. “The economic climate has added to our fascination with how the other half live as we look for ways to at least temporarily escape the daily realities of life,” says Richard Helyar of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. “There is also the inevitable backlash against the trash culture of reality TV, z-list celebrities, disposable fashion, spin and artifice.”
So what is fuelling this cultural shift? Lucy Jameson of DDB which devises advertising for Volkswagen, says the shift mirrors history. “You only have to look at the 1930s, Nestle launched Quality Street with those iconic tins and a brand steeped in Victoriana – crinolines, stagecoaches, gas lamps – all symptomatic of the sentiment for Victoria times; which were seen as stable and calm. Today, the side of class that is being picked up is the decent, wholesome and ordered side of the aristocracy.”
But spare a thought for those watching on from outside. Bonnie Greer, the American playwright who lives in Britain, says: “I think class is always a mysterious thing to anyone who is not British. It remains a complete obsession in this country and it always will be. In a way we should try and relax about it because it is intrinsic to how people identify themselves and say who they are.”
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, cites national condemnation of the August riots as well as its timing – in stark contrast to Kate and Will’s wedding three months earlier – as responsible for a step-change in outlook and attitudes. “For the first time you saw a universal condemnation across classes that set a boundary on anarchic activism,” he says. “The idea of activists breaking into Fortnum & Mason was all very well. But when it was people in Tottenham burning down houses, that mood irrevocably changed.”
Picture:ITVTagged in: aristocratic chic, Debenhams, Downton Abbey, Stately homes
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