Sara Mait­land

Why do coun­try men of a cer­tain type sport brightly coloured trousers?

Countryfile Magazine - - November In The Country - Lynn Hatz­ius Il­lus­tra­tion:

So what is it with these fine-wale cor­duroy trousers in crazy colours, sported al­most ev­ery­where – the ‘smart ca­sual’ out­fit of choice for a cer­tain posh ru­ral male? And they’re not just any old colour – the cod­ing is quite strict: most com­mon are all shades of red, from baby pink to ma­roon, and a par­tic­u­larly odd shade of yel­low that I’ll call mus­tard (there are a cou­ple of greens too, but never pur­ple or blue).

The trousers are sported with a rather nar­row range of shirts – col­lars and but­tons, nat­u­ral fab­rics (of course) and old-fash­ioned in cut. Par­tic­u­lar va­ri­eties of shoes, al­ways leather, are es­sen­tial and, if it is cold, a knit­ted jersey – ideally with a hu­mor­ous pat­tern – is also re­quired.

It is not of it­self a bad look – there have been far worse fash­ions for men. Grand­fa­thers and fa­thers of these pink-legged blokes per­haps wore bowler hats, de­spite the fact that these were orig­i­nally a work­ing class fash­ion-item, cre­ated be­cause game­keep­ers found top hats got knocked off too eas­ily.

The city-gent look (that bowler, a three-piece suit, tie, black lace-up shoes, an im­pec­ca­bly rolled um­brella and an – ideally an­cient – briefcase) was de rigeur. Gen­tle­men also needed not only a morn­ing coat, but two dif­fer­ent pairs of trousers (pale stripe for wed­dings, a wider black

CLASS SYM­BOLS

stripe for fu­ner­als). Com­pared to that, a pair of bright red cord trousers seems a mild and not unattrac­tive ec­cen­tric­ity. In­ter­est­ingly, women have been a bit more sub­tle about sport­ing class in­signia. When I was a child they were stricter: those pearls that you never took off (“dar­ling, pearls lose their lus­tre if they aren’t kept warm by skin”) and those silk head­scarves.

There may have seemed to be a wide range of colours and pat­terns, but there re­ally was not. But the dead give­away was the as­ton­ish­ing (if point­less) art of ty­ing them so that the knot re­mained pre­cisely on the tip of the chin through­out a long day on a grouse moor in a force eight wind. The only woman who can still pull that look off is the Queen – grubby Bar­bour, heavy boots and head scarf. When peo­ple talk about ‘ban­ning the head­scarf’ they do not mean her kind, they mean a com­pletely dif­fer­ent kind, even when it looks al­most ex­actly the same.

It is an­thro­po­log­i­cal re­ally. Ev­ery group ev­ery­where – es­pe­cially when it feels half-con­sciously su­pe­rior to the other groups around it – makes sar­to­rial choices so that mem­bers can find each other in a crowd. We fem­i­nists did it in the 1970s with dun­ga­rees (they were grossly inconvenient for ev­ery pos­si­ble ac­tiv­ity ex­cept recog­nis­ing each other).

To be fully ef­fec­tive, the look has to be a lit­tle tricky – not eas­ily im­itable by those not re­ally in the gang. Hence the an­cient ac­ces­sories: as well as the red trousers you also need your great grand­fa­ther’s – now very shabby – lug­gage or shot­gun case or binoc­u­lars (leather lasts well!)

Your ‘uni­form’ has to be bizarre enough that no one would wear it by ac­ci­dent and, where the ‘rules’ are com­plex, not ob­vi­ous. Whether it is pink trousers or the face pierc­ings of a proper Goth, it is worth look­ing ec­cen­tric if peo­ple are look­ing ec­cen­tric with you and ‘oth­ers’ feel slightly ex­cluded.

It’s per­haps chal­leng­ing be­ing a ru­ral toff nowa­days: colour­ful trousers are a cheap price to pay for gang mem­ber­ship.

Have your say What do you think about the is­sues raised here? Write to the ad­dress on page 3 or email ed­i­tor@coun­try­file.com

Sara Mait­land is a writer who lives in Dum­fries and Gal­loway. Her works in­clude A Book of Si­lence and Gos­sip from the For­est.

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