Why the ‘Southgate’ is nothing new
The Cotswolds, it could be said, has not contributed much to the long hot summer of 2018. In our neck of the woods we have had no wildfires, no flash floods, no stinging jellyfish and no MPS resigning over Brexit. We have produced no silly season stories and no sportsman of note, although Welshman Geraint Thomas must have done some of his early training for his Tour de France victory in our hills (there appears to be no professional British cyclist that does not use our lanes as a velodrome.)
The best we can claim is a decent chunk of the some 173 million bottles of sparkling wine drunk in July, and Prince Harry, who grew up in Highgrove House near Tetbury and was in the news with his marriage to Megan Markle in May. Annoyingly the couple did not take ‘The Cotswolds’ as their title but instead became the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. On the other hand the royal lovebirds are rumoured to have leased a locally converted cow shed for weekend breaks.
Despite the above I like to think the Cotswolds can claim an unlikely and much delayed 2018 victory – the fashioning of the waistcoat. England football manager Gareth Southgate was praised for the revival of the jerkin, which he wore at every World Cup match this summer, including at the ignominious semi-final. “The England manager’s sartorial elegance has inspired the revival of an item of clothing that many used to neither own, like nor wear,” reported the Sunday Times last month. I take issue with that view. It is my opinion that the Cotswolds was responsible for the revival of the male gilet. Gareth Southgate in his old-fashioned three-piece suit did little more than accidentally remind urbanites of the useful vest.
I say this with some authority. I wore a Southgate-style waistcoat every working day in London in the eighties. I was one of the very few that did and so I retained an interest in its demise. A decade later the skinny tunic had completely disappeared, with the honourable exception of bridegrooms and Francis Rossi of Status Quo. The countryside was equally bereft of the garb. The farmer’s Rupert Bear waistcoat had gone the way of the smock. Rural England wore Barbours, Puffas or tweed sports jackets as its uniform.
It was the rise of the olive green washable Schoffel shooting coat which replaced the wax Barbour as the shooting coat of choice, that indirectly kickstarted the current trend for country waistcoats. The Schoffel had a detachable sleeveless inner lining, a polyester fleece with fake leather edging and a clip at the back of its neck to attach it to its parent threads. Unfortunately it made the jacket too hot to wear and so it was left to hang unnoticed in cloakrooms across the shires.
It was an eccentric friend of mine, living in the Coln Valley, who one day decided to adopt it, minus the outer jacket, as his everyday wear much to the merriment of his chums. However, despite the teasing his friends slowly followed suit. Within a few years every member of the Cotswold gentry, including every ‘Aggie’ from the Cirencester Agricultural College (as it was then), was wearing the jerkin. It became so ubiquitous that a visiting London acquaintance, when confronted with a platoon of the fleeces in a Bibury pub, described it as “the uniform of the Cotswold Waffen SS”.
Some of us who did not want to be tarred with that label moved onto the Indian Nehru waistcoat, which could be bought at Tetbury’s Artique – ‘a small piece of India in the Cotswold Hills’ and at the Organic Farm Shop outside Cirencester. This, in turn, persuaded a local clothing company, the Oxford Shirt Company in Burford, to attempt tweed gilets. Eventually that woven number took hold. Today, after the best part of a decade, the loose sleeveless tweed Nehru is as much part of the Shires dress code as red corduroys and yellow cashmere sweaters.
Gareth Southgate has now jumped on the Cotswold fashion wagon by popularising the tight fitting variety for the urban populace. My bet is that the ‘Southgate’ will, within the next decade, evolve into a variation of the loose bit of kit worn the by the Cotswolds gentry, although probably in a man-made fibre rather than a tweed. And if that is true then we in these hills can look back on the summer of 2018 with all the pride of the wearer of the yellow jersey.