LIZ JONES FASHION THERAPYFrom Barbour jackets to Hunter wellies, can we townies EVER pull off the country look
A few years ago, I was invited to lunch by Stella Tennant at her lovely manor house in the Borders. Stella is not only a supermodel, but the granddaughter of the Duchess of Devonshire.
To say I was worried about what to wear would be an understatement. As Stella was also, at that time, the face of Burberry, and starring in the billboards shot by Mario Testino, I decided to wear head-to-toe Burberry, as a sort of homage.
Burberry, patented in 1888, and which forged its reputation designing waterproof coats for British soldiers in World War I (the reason the garment became known as the ‘trench’), would be perfect for a visit to somewhere that was bound to be cold, windy, rural and fashionable.
Liz wears a Pringle of Scotland tank top, 225, Pringle shirt in soft grey, 325, Hunter Original wellies, 79, Bates cap, 79, and Barbour International in petrol blue, 249
I put on a Burberry sweater, a box-pleated skirt, and a navy, nylon coat with the trademark chequered lining. Imagine my disappointment, then, when Stella pulled up at Stirling railway station in a battered old estate car, littered with rubbish and her dry cleaning, and wearing jeans, Converse sneakers, and a jumper that looked as if it had once seen service in a dog bed.
She looked beautiful, of course, with her gamine haircut and unmade-up face with her luminous blue-grey eyes. But she showed me that the posh, the truly posh, are just not that interested in fashion — even if they make it their living.
The house was like something out of a fairytale, but like Stella and her car it had a lived-in, careless air: the boot room, stuffed with wellies and several generations’ worth of Barbour jackets, had the aroma not of Burberry Body, but good, well-walked labrador. As Mary Quant notes in her new autobiography, the truly posh look down on those who have to buy their own furniture, used as they are to having things ‘passed down’.
Truly posh: Stella Tennant with her daughter Jasmine, and Otis Ferry in the 2006 Burberry campaign
Country girl Liz says posh pretenders have a new poster girl in the Duchess of Cambridge (pictured with Scotland Yard protection officer as she takes new dog Lupo for a walk)
They look down on those who buy lots of new clothes, too. Everything is top-notch quality and, therefore, given the landed gentry’s dislike of spending money, is never thrown away. This accidental eco-friendliness explains why our so-called ‘heritage’ brands are enjoying a sales boost, while cheaper, less durable High Street and even luxury Italian labels are, at best, flatlining.
But the reason they are now fashionable among those who hail from trendy urban Hackney, and not rural Herefordshire, is not only because they are made (mostly) in the UK, and use the best fabrics and craftsmanship. It is also about buying into a super-confident outlook, where a garment is worn casually, without a care in the world.
Take Barbour, which started life as a maker of oilskin jackets for fishermen and dock workers in 1894. It is still a family firm, still made in the factory in South Shields, with 72-year-old Dame Margaret Barbour at the helm. Once the preserve of the hunting, shooting and fishing set, it is now worn by fashion darlings such as model and presenter Alexa Chung.
Hunter wellies are popular with Hollywood style icons Anne Hathaway and Angelina Jolie
At Port Eliot in Cornwall last summer, there were so many Barbours on narrow, youthful backs, I thought I was at a three-day equestrian event rather than a literary festival. The most popular Barbour is the International, followed by the Liddesdale, which starts at 80 and rises to 150 for one with down quilting. Sales of Barbour coats for women were up a staggering 400 per cent in 2011 compared with 2010.
Barbour, though, has not remotely
‘done a Burberry’, refusing wholeheartedly to cross over into high
fashion. It is little changed, merely adding a few fashionable colours,
such as pink, emerald and blue for summer 2012, say, or a small
collaboration with designer Alice Temperley.
has it courted celebrity, stating proudly it even insists members of
the Royal Family pay full price, although when Helen Mirren wore a green
Bedale to portray the Queen in the 2006 film, sales of that particular
Pringle is yet another ‘heritage’ brand
that is seeing sales soar. Founded in 1815 and still manufactured in
Hawick, in the Borders, it not only invented the twinset — a Great
British Posh Staple (remember it as worn by Joan Fontaine in the 1940
film of Rebecca) — but was way ahead of its time, being one of the
first brands to court celebrities, including British actress Margaret
Lockwood, and use them in its advertisements back in the Forties and
Popular choice: Hunter wellies, despite the price tag of 79 for the Original Green, have seen sales soar
Hunter wellies, too, despite the price tag of 79 for the Original Green (a style that first saw the light of day in 1956), have seen sales soar (up 30 per cent in 2011 in Selfridges alone). In February, during New York Fashion Week, I lost count of the number of fashionistas in Hunter wellies trudging through the slush.
While I now live on Exmoor, deep in green Barbour-wearing country, I never dress ‘posh’. I find Barbours simply not warm enough for the reality of looking after horses in winter, while a flat cap might make me look as though I condone shooting and fishing, which I most certainly do not. I tend to dress in a much more eccentric and townie fashion, with Prada jodhpurs, a Helmut Lang frock coat for walking my four dogs, and a Topshop parka for mucking out.
I still fit into a Harry Hall tweed hacking jacket I’ve owned since a child, but it’s too precious to be covered in the green slobber from the horses.
The adoption of the uniform of the posh by fashion style-setters and pop stars — add-ons include tweed flat caps from Bates on Jermyn Street, Harris Tweed jackets, Hilditch & Key shirts, Swaine Adeney Brigg jodhpurs and hand-made brogues from John Lobb at almost 3,000 a pair (I love the fact Lobb still sells ‘felt bath slippers’) — is not just about the economy, or buying less, but buying better.
It is also because posh pretenders have a new poster girl in the Duchess of Cambridge, who has shown how the middle-class can transcend their roots. But, unfortunately, even Kate has not managed to get the look quite right, largely because she does not have the correct attitude.
While Diana was truly aristocratic — and when first in the public eye stuck to her Sloane Ranger uniform of white collar peeping over her sweater, an Alice band, a string of pearls and navy courts — Kate has verged too close to the High Street and high fashion.
She has a careful, uptight air and could never sling a Barbour over her shoulders with quite the right nonchalance, nor leave home with bed-head hair. I doubt her car ever has rubbish in the footwell, but rather something small and green and smelling of pine.
And I still don’t understand how posh people manage to preserve their clothes so impeccably: I had my eye on my mum’s embellished, silk-lined Pringle cardi, but was disappointed to find it had been ravaged by moths.
Even grubs privileged enough to inhabit the netherworld of the posh turn out to be very different indeed.