Thursday, April 21, 2011


It’s an age thing. Or a generation thing. One person’s trendy is another person’s tacky. Taste, fashion, style, manners, even language – all have movable boundaries, are endlessly flexible, surge in and out like the tides.

At sixteen I painted my fingernails scarlet and my grandmother, had she known, might have raised a disapproving eyebrow. Much later when nail polish went from all shades of red to all shades of any colour you can think of, my own eyebrows rose a trifle. Later still, to my surprise, I chose blue when a grand-daughter wanted to paint my nails a couple of Christmases ago. If red is OK, why shouldn’t blue, green or purple be OK?

In my youth grannies had noticeably blue rinses through their stiffly permanent-waved white hair. So quaint. But recently on television I saw middle-aged women with screamingly blue and pink hair, and what’s more they were wearing really silly hats, and even worse, it was after dark. So not done a generation ago. They must have been yesterday’s punks, I decided, with a superior smirk. Punkhood does not age well. But neither do most of the fashions of the past, except when they return only slightly modified and masquerading under another label.

Mention “leopard print” and my mind flies back to 1950s London and the notorious Lady Docker. Once a dance hall hostess, she out-lived two husbands before she married Sir Bernard Docker and set off on an extravagant and ostentatious life-style that had the press and public permanently drop-jawed. Sir Bernard was chairman of this and director of that, and apparently had a cavalier way with company funds. Lady Docker had no taste but she had a glorious time with shareholders’ money and everything she did was splattered all over the nation’s newspapers. Her cars were gold-plated and upholstered with fur and skins flayed off animals. She bought the real thing and made it seem trashy.

Leopard skin looks better on leopards, and leopard print, in 1950, equalled cheap and was worn only by ageing, busty barmaids (surely an extinct species). Now it’s trendy, and I am ready to be converted. After all, I changed my mind about fake fur when – briefly – it came in day-glo colours and was made of nylon. It wasn’t pretending to be something it wasn’t, and it was fun. I also changed my mind about wearing high heels and jewelry with pants – why not, I said, and piled on the bling. Perhaps there is a pinch of Lady Docker in most of us.

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