Shirley MacLaine: 'I’m still not sure why Downton Abbey is such a hit’ Fresh from the set of the third series, Shirley MacLaine explains why the Granthams’ future rests on her shoulders.
By Barbra Paskin 13 Mar 2012 in The Telegraph
Veteran American actress Shirley MacLaine is amused at reports of Dynasty-style catfights between herself and acting legend Maggie Smith now that she’s joined the cast of Downton Abbey.
“Maggie’s got nothing to fear from me, and I’m just thrilled at the prospect of working with her,” declares the 77-year-old Oscar winner. “I love her to death. She and Meryl (Streep) are my very favourite actresses.”
In an exclusive interview at her Malibu home on the eve of her departure for London, MacLaine is bursting with her customary energy, only slightly tempered by a lingering cold.
With her faithful terrier, Terry, flopped beside her on a couch, she confesses to a quiver of anticipation at the thought of playing Martha Levinson, the wealthy mother of Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern) in the third series of the hit ITV show.
Most actresses would admit that being cast opposite the redoubtable Maggie Smith – who is just six months younger than her American counterpart – would be enough to test even the strongest of nerves.
But Shirley, who won the Oscar in 1984 for Terms Of Endearment and has been nominated for another five Academy Awards (against Maggie’s two Oscars and four nominations, but who’s counting), says she is nonchalant about her new role.
“When my agent called and asked: 'Do you want to go head to head with Maggie Smith in the British series?’ I just chuckled,” she laughs throatily. “It’s not going to be a problem, I’m certain Maggie and I will get along just wonderfully. Intimidating? Certainly not!”
One salivates at the thought of these two venerable actresses pitting their wits against each other – especially as the script calls for MacLaine to cross swords with Maggie Smith’s combative and cynical Dowager Countess. It’s certain to be a riveting clash of caustic British versus American style.
“But I still don’t know exactly what happens,” says MacLaine, tantalisingly reaching for her Downton script and flipping through it.
“I’ve got this script but it doesn’t tell me what has happened between the end of the second series and beginning of the third one.
“All I know is when I show up, it’s a year later and it’s no longer a convalescent home for wounded soldiers.”
One thing seems certain: the fate of Downton Abbey may rest on her American shoulders. But her character will invoke the imperious Dowager’s scorn for advocating that the British should adapt to changing times.
“Of course I, as my character, go over and say: 'Why don’t you become a little bit more American and more comfortable with change and let it go?’ ”
Good grief – let Downton Abbey go?
“We have all these wisecracks about what my character says about the family,” reveals MacLaine, without expanding on this, “and about why I’m there. And it’s all done in a manner that’s very witty and biting… although in some ways it’s honestly cruel.”
MacLaine smiles enigmatically, reaching for another handkerchief to smother her sniffles.
“I’ve been watching the series on TV and I love it. But I’m still not quite sure why it is such a big hit. Here as well as in the UK. I knew I loved it but I didn’t know all these other people were looking at it. I found it very encouraging about the intelligence of the audience, to tell you the truth. Yet I’m asking myself what is it about this show that is proving so irresistible?”
One answer, she conjectures, is that people on both sides of the Atlantic want to be transported away from a time of plunging economies, home foreclosures and financial failures.
“When times are bad, people like to lose themselves in the sheer glamour of another period: beautiful wardrobes, magnificent meals served in elegant settings. It’s brilliantly done, great writing and fabulous costumes and all that – and certainly the ambience of that time and age is appealing.”
Fast-forward a week or two from our interview and Shirley has begun filming on Downton Abbey and is tweeting dispatches from the set.
“Everything is going well,” she writes after her second day. “We shot outside in wind and rain. Love the cast and crew.” And the following day: “Amazing day on Downton Abbey. I love the British humour and temperament and functionality. Maggie is so subtle and so much fun!”
Shirley MacLaine has always had a propensity for causing raised eyebrows – and, as she has become older, she has found herself playing up that side of her character. She doesn’t believe in being politically correct and says her age allows her the freedom to speak her mind. Even if at times it sounds outrageous.
Utter frankness is what propelled her latest memoir, I’m Over All That, on to the best-seller list. She appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s show, telling the talk show host – and all of watching America – that she’d once slept with three men in the same day.
Pretty candid, I remark.
“Yes I was rather candid, wasn’t I?” she beams mischievously, without a hint of shame.
After completing her fortnight’s filming on Downton Abbey, Shirley will put herself under the directorial wing of Ben Stiller, who has cast her in his remake of the classic film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which starred Danny Kaye.
In a wonderful show of irony, she will play Walter Mitty’s mother. What Ben Stiller didn’t know was that Shirley and Danny Kaye once shared an intense romantic relationship.
“He couldn’t believe it when I told him. He’d had no idea, and I couldn’t get away after that,” she laughs. “He wanted to know everything.”
MacLaine, who has written a dozen best-selling memoirs explaining her psychic beliefs, admits that she wonders what Danny would make of her being cast as his mother in the film he immortalised.
Has she tried to communicate with him, I can’t resist asking.
“No,” she admits. “Although I told Ben I would!”
But that’s another story.
Simon’s first book, Le Snob: Tailoring, was released in 2011.
It is a small, pocket-sized guide to all aspects of buying suits, from finding quality ready-to-wear to selecting cloth for a bespoke linen jacket. It covers having suits altered, the advantages of made-to-measure and tips on visiting a proper tailor for the first time.
It includes personal contributions from many of tailoring’s leading lights, including Pat Murphy from Huntsman, John Hitchcock of Anderson & Sheppard, Antonio de Matteis from Kiton, Patrick Grant and Michael Drake. In a ‘Words from the Wise’ section in each chapter, they give their advice on cloth, colour combinations and standing naturally when you’re being measured.
There are chapters on style icons, black tie, maintenance, and something brief on accessories. There is also a short glossary and a list of recommended tailors around the world.
It is available now on Amazon, through publishers Hardie Grant in the UK and Australia, and Suddeutschland in Germany.
Simon Crompton in http://www.simoncrompton.co.uk/le-snob-tailoring
A journalist with a passion for classic men's elegance, Simon writes freelance articles for several international magazines as well as running his own website, Permanent Style.
Simon is a freelance journalist with a passion for style and good journalism.
His career is as a trade journalist, having edited magazines related to finance, banking and the law for the past 10 years. He is currently the editor of Managing Intellectual Property, the leading global magazine for patents, trademarks and copyright with a readership of 13,000 and annual turnover of around £4 million. He manages a team of eight journalists and editors based in London, New York and Hong Kong.
He writes his style blog, Permanent Style, and freelance features for several websites and magazines in the UK, US and India. The work varies from weekly columns to specifically commissioned features, with varying fees.
Simon was educated at Trinity College, Oxford, where he studied philosophy, politics and economics and was the editor of the college paper. He was awarded the Stirling-Boyd prize for contributions to the college, won a philosophy prize in logic and was president of the PPE Society.
Simon is married with two daughters. He lives in Peckham Rye, London and has too many suits.
Review: Le Snob Tailoring – Simon Crompton
in Reviews http://www.themitchelli.com/2012/01/review-le-snob-tailoring/
In a recent conversation with a colleague about the different ways to identify a quality suit, I found myself quoting from, and recommending Simon Crompton’s Le Snob Tailoring. That evening I found my copy to check I had passed on the correct information, only to end up reading the book from cover to cover for the second time. Simon Crompton’s Le Snob Tailoring, his first book, had been at the top of my “Must buy” list as soon as I heard about it. An essential buy for any modern gentleman who has more than a passing interest in tailoring, it’s an informative and interesting read for everyone else. You should all be familiar with Simon Crompton’s work on The Rake and his men’s style blog Permanent style. If you are not, just a few minutes spent on either site will be ample to demonstrate his attention to detail and the quality of his work. Both sites are listed in my directory section.
The reader is introduced to the fundamentals of suit style, materials and construction methods with concepts beautifully illustrated in understated water colour. Interesting facts and points to note are stamped with the le snob logo to ensure you retain all key information that will transform you into a tailoring snob too. Nice touches include a few pages on alterations when explaining the difference between ready to wear, made to measure and bespoke, or the ‘words from the wise’ sections where high profile contributors provide valuable insight to the concept being explained.
You are then guided through the process of having a bespoke suit made. The steps and terminology is explained so for anyone embarking on having their first proper suit made will know exactly what to expect when the time comes. The book is full of throw away comments that remind the aspiring dandy that even though Simon is sharing some very valuable knowledge here, they are still worlds apart.
“As a rule of thumb, until your wardrobe is so full that you only wear a suit once a month, stick with super 100s to 130s.”
A full section on details and finishing touches and mini directories of retailers, bespoke tailors and suppliers supplement the traditional chapters on rules or care ensure this is an excellent read.
My only criticism is Simon clearly has much more to give in this space and the Le Snob range of books although highly entertaining, are a touch light weight as a vehicle to showcase Simon’s knowledge of tailoring. It is a well written book that anyone could read, so hopefully there will be a volume II to push the concepts further.
In conclusion, this is an excellent introduction into the world of tailoring that will provide you with enough knowledge to suitably arm you for either your first trip to the tailors, improve your overall understanding of menswear and style or even give you that winning edge in after dinner conversation.
Terry Ramsey reviews the documentary exploring Queen Victoria's relationship with her Indian servant Abdul Karim.
By Terry Ramsey 26 Apr 2012 in The Telegraph
You may have seen the stories that pop up in the popular press about British women, old enough to know better, who fall in love with dusky young waiters in far-flung parts of the world. But it seems that like so many unusual British customs, this practice dates back to Victorian times – and was pioneered by the Queen herself.
Yes, according to Queen Victoria’s Last Love (Channel 4), she became enamoured of a handsome table-hand, having fallen for his exotic charms. His name was Abdul Karim, and in 1887 he was given to Queen Victoria by the Indian arm of the Empire to be a servant. It was not long before the attentive young man caught her eye.
Queen Victoria had by this time lost her beloved consort Albert (in 1861) and subsequent companion, the ghillie John Brown (in 1883). Maybe she had a soft spot for servants because, at almost 70, she fell under the spell of Karim, who was in his early twenties – though, despite the teasing title of this documentary, it was not a sexual, or even a romantic, affair. She loved him like a mother – and, indeed, signed letters to him as that. He became her teacher and she learned Hindustani from him. She gave him houses (three of them), a luxury lifestyle and medals.
Needless to say, this wasn’t popular in royal circles, where Karim was despised for being a servant (which meant he was low class), for being an Indian (which meant he was even lower) and for being Queen Victoria’s favourite (which is what really hurt). This antipathy wasn’t helped by Karim’s personality.
“If one knew him today he would be a pain in the arse,” said Farrukh Dhondy, author of a TV screenplay about Karim. “He was pompous, conceited – you can see it in his face – and absolutely did not think of knowing his place. He pushed for whatever he could get.”
The Royal household hated the man, and tried to get rid of him – writing letters attacking him, sending an envoy (with the marvellous name of Fritz Ponsonby) to investigate his Indian background and even, in the case of the Queen’s medic, Sir James Reid, revealing that Karim had gonorrhoea.
So much for the doctors’ oath of secrecy.
But the harder they attacked, the more Queen Victoria supported her man – until her family threatened to have her declared insane. Mind you, she was planning to give Karim a knighthood, so they felt they had a point.
This documentary told the story in an entertaining fashion and, given the limited photographs and documents available, writer and director Rob Coldstream kept the story flowing with expert interviewees and dramatised scenes – the latter a technique that can be clumsy but was subtly effective here. It featured a very believable Queen Victoria, played by Veronica Clifford, who appeared suitably fearsome and, at times, imperiously deluded.
This film about Queen Victoria and the lowly Indian she loved was all terribly British
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 25 April 2012
They were a rum lot, the Victorians, weren't they? What a crazy, throbbing mass of crinolined contradictions and conflicts they were – endless charitable good works on the one hand, endemic poverty and unshakeable belief in the undeserving poor on the other. It was social suicide if you fiddled suggestively with a glove button in mixed company, but you could shag your way round every brothel in Covent Garden without anyone batting an eyelid. Probably because said eyelids were drooping in the opium dens between brothels, but that's another story.
It is only appropriate, then, that Queen Victoria, leader and symbol of the age, was the rummest of the lot. Deprived of her passionate marriage to Prince Albert by his untimely and very inconsiderate death, she sublimated her energies into overcomplicating mourning practices for the nation ("What a load of crepe!" they cried from Land's End to John O'Groats), turning the map pink and cultivating disconcertingly deep friendships with unsuitable types. First, as we all know, there was Billy Connolly who, before he became a successful standup comedian, was a ghillie and then personal servant to the Queen. He died of sporran-mite in 1883 and the Queen went on to develop an equally intense friendship with Abdul Karim, a Muslim native of Jhansi in British India, which was unpicked last night in Queen Victoria's Last Love (Channel 4).
In the course of their friendship, which spanned the last 14 years of her life, Victoria lavished attention, promotions and delightful, often house-shaped, baubles on Karim, who began his working life with her as a waiter at table and rose to become her personal secretary. It seems to have brought out the worst in everyone. Karim, whose early history suggested he was born a man on the make, became domineering and arrogant. The Royal Household, being already domineering and arrogant, was able to concentrate on becoming furiously resentful of Karim's unprecedented transgression of racial, social and – the thought was always in the air if rarely spoken – sexual boundaries, and uniting against him. Victoria became only more fiercely loyal. The only time she ever gave in was when her son, the Prince of Wales, said he and her doctor would have her declared insane if she went ahead as planned and knighted him. He remained untitled, but at her side until she died. Then they turfed Karim out of his house(s) and burned everything he owned that carried the royal crest, in a raging conflagration of snobbery and racism. He was banished to India and died there a few years later.
The programme was neat, orderly and interesting but never sprang to life as the material could surely have allowed. Everything was covered, but nothing and nobody was pressed. It had that oddly muted air that you often find even now in documentaries about the royals and/or the rich folk around them. Descendants of the protagonists were allowed to tell the family versions of the story without much by way of challenge, alternative viewpoint or fleshed-out background. Everyone preferred to emphasise the class rather than racial aspect of events – the Victorian fetishisation of hierarchy being so much more absurd and palatable to modern tastes than the deep, ingrained prejudices that allow you to colonise all those you perceive as lesser beings. It was all, if you like, terribly British.
Last Night's Viewing: Queen Victoria’s Last Love, Channel 4
TIM WALKER THURSDAY 26 APRIL 2012 in The Independent
Every year at the court of Queen Victoria, the royal household amused itself with "am-drams": costumed aristos created tableaux inspired by well-known paintings and stories.
Sometime around 1890, the photographic record shows, an Indian man appeared as a servant in the background of one such image. Within a few years, however, Abdul Karim was centre stage, seated on a throne, as the King of Egypt. This fantastic detail, from Channel 4's engaging documentary Queen Victoria's Last Love, reflected Karim's rising real-life status as the favourite servant of the elderly Victoria. Arriving at court in 1887 as a mere table-hand, he soon became the Queen's Hindustani teacher and beloved "Munshi". She gave the young man houses at three of her residences, and signed her letters to him "Mother".
Great Britain was gripped by Islamophobia, exacerbated by its imperial forays in the Islamic world, but the Empress defended Karim from anti-Muslim prejudice. This sounds remarkably enlightened for the 19th century, until you learn she loved her servant so much that she wrote to the Viceroy of India, recommending he ban a rival Hindu festival.
Karim's improper, irresistible rise infuriated the household, who did everything in their power to undermine him. The Queen was deterred from awarding him a knighthood on her Diamond Jubilee only when her doctor threatened to declare her insane. After she died in 1901, Karim was banished to the lands he'd accrued in India.
We know about Victoria's former favourite, John Brown, thanks to Billy Connolly. But this was an intriguing, rarely told final chapter of the Queen's life, narrated in the genial tones of Geoffrey Palmer. The Munshi was not the wronged gentleman one might imagine, but a creature of raw ambition. "Pompous, conceited... A pain in the arse," was one historian's assessment.
H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor's Hunting Lord of the Isles tartan evening suit, 1951, woven in shades of green and white wool, the Scholte double-breasted jacket labelled and indistinctly annotated `H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor', dated 8.6.51 and numbered 2719, with wide lapels, side vents, curved cuffs with three buttons; the matching trousers by Harris of New York, zip fastened, with narrow tapering legs to the ankle; together with a Hawes & Curtis matching backless waistcoat, no 4996, and cummerbund; a Scholte dark green corduroy backless waistcoat, bearing the Duke's name, dated 8.10.47, no 189493; and two Hawes & Curtis white pique highland style dress-waistcoats chest 97cm, 38in, waist 74cm, 29in (7) This suit is one of the most stylish and flamboyant of all of the Duke's wardrobe. He was photographed wearing it in the early 1960s but was to continue to wear it throughout his life. It combined carefully considered tailoring with the dramatic use of an ancient highland tartan. The modern cut combined with the traditional tartan produced an avant-garde and almost shocking ensemble. Every time the Duke ordered a suit it must have posed something of a logistical nightmare. His jackets were made by his favoured London tailor - Scholte, his waistcoats, shirts and accessories by Hawes & Curtis, but for his trousers he went to New York for - his 'pants across the sea' as Wallis jokingly called them. This is the suit of a quintessential dandy. As Prince of Wales and throughout his life he loved to lead fashion rather than to follow it. A suit of such dramatic pattern and colour would undoubtedly make him stand out in a crowd (as if he didn't already) though such is the power of the ensemble that few would probably dare to follow his lead - and should they try, they would be unlikely to pull it off with the elan of the Duke! Provenance. Sotheby's auction of the wardrobe of the Duke of Windsor, lot 2922, 24th February, 1998.
Description: H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor's Hunting Lord of the Isles tartan evening suit, 1951, woven in shades of green and white wool, the Scholte double-breasted jacket labelled and indistinctly annotated `H.R.H. the Duke of Windsor', dated 8.6.51 and numbered 2719, with wide lapels, side vents, curved cuffs with three buttons; the matching trousers by Harris of New York, zip fastened, with narrow tapering legs to the ankle; together with a Hawes & Curtis matching backless waistcoat, no 4996, andcummerbund; a Scholte dark greencorduroy backless waistcoat, bearing the Duke's name, dated 8.10.47, no 189493; and two Hawes & Curtis white pique highland style dress-waistcoats chest 97cm, 38in, waist 74cm, 29in (7) This suit is one of the most stylish and flamboyant of all of the Duke's wardrobe. He was photographed wearing it in the early 1960s but was to continue to wear it throughout his life. It combined carefully considered tailoring with the dramatic use of an ancient highland tartan. The modern cut combined with the traditional tartan produced an avant-garde and almost shocking ensemble. Every time the Duke ordered a suit it must have posed something of a logistical nightmare. His jackets were made by his favoured London tailor - Scholte, his waistcoats, shirts and accessories by Hawes & Curtis, but for his trousers he went to New York for - his 'pants across the sea' as Wallis jokingly called them. This is the suit of a quintessential dandy. As Prince of Wales and throughout his life he loved to lead fashion rather than to follow it. A suit of such dramatic pattern and colour would undoubtedly make him stand out in a crowd (as if he didn't already) though such is the power of the ensemble that few would probably dare to follow his lead - and should they try, they would be unlikely to pull it off with the elan of the Duke! Provenance. Sotheby's auction of the wardrobe of the Duke of Windsor, lot 2922, 24th February, 1998.
Joanna Southgate's heavily tattooed arms caused a stir at Royal Ascot. Rachel Johnson and Sali Hughes debate whether tattoos should be banned from future events
Rachel Johnson and Sali Hughes
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 23 June 2012
Tattooed women caused controversy at this year's Royal Ascot. Photograph: Richard Young
Rachel Johnson, editor-in-chief of the Lady and novelist
So should females with tattoos be allowed or verboten at Ascot? Should tramp stamps be on view, and their owners permitted to penetrate the royal enclosure, that epicentre of social climbing during the especially rainy midsummer period still wistfully called The Season?
As editor-in-chief of the Lady, I would like to make my position on this important matter of etiquette crystal-clear. A discreet tattoo on your ankle is OK and you are more than welcome to trail around in your stilettos in the Berkshire mud for as long as you like. After all, if Ascot turned away all women with tattoos, Sam Cam wouldn't be allowed in the royal enclosure.
But when it comes to dressy, regal, social occasions and women sporting wide expanses of flesh inked with barenaked ladies and writhing octopi (as one race goer did) – nooooo! We don't want to see your "body art" any more than your thighs, thong or side-boobs. The dress code is there both to protect others from the unsightly, and help you preserve your own tattered shreds of dignity. The 2012 one demands that "midriffs should be covered". So should tattoos. Expect to see this enshrined in the 2013 rules.
Sali Hughes, writer, broadcaster and Guardian columnist
The organisers at Ascot are utterly correct in allowing tattoos in the royal enclosure, and rightly consistent. Had they adopted zero tolerance on body art, they would have had to exclude Prince Albert, Winston and Lady Randolph Churchill and countless debs and Sloanes from the inner sanctum, as well as ban George V and Edward VII from their own do. Besides, I think the aristocracy rather lost its right to tattoo snobbery when Queen Victoria allegedly inked her front bottom (something I would be in favour of covering up for the races, let the record reflect).
Not all tattoos are created equal, any more than hats and frocks are. I'd set the rate of exchange at one tramp stamp = one Debenhams fascinator; one tribal arm band to one pair of naff nude stilettos. I happen to think good tattoos are beautiful (I have two myself), but whatever your thoughts personally, they are part of how people live today. A ban on them would be about as discerning as outlawing Facebook users or those who can't tell Ant from Dec.
RJ But, Sali, are your tattoos on exposed flesh? That's the point, surely, not whether you have two, or that so many mugs have had themselves inked. The organisers at Ascot, you're correct in saying, have not banned tattoos, but after this year's shower on the dress code front, they surely will follow my advice to outlaw visible "body art" (if we really must insist on calling it that). For while milliner Stephen Jones said approvingly – in other important sartorial news – that Ascot was "hattier" than usual, following the historic ban on fascinators in the royal enclosure, the truth is, not everyone at the races looked straight out of Cecil Beaton's My Fair Lady, despite the stricter dress code and all the fashion police patrolling the course. My friend Catherine went on Ladies' Day and sent me texts from the front line. "A bit cold. And slaggy," was the first. I sent back, "Visible tattoos, and thongs?" to which answer came, "Yes. Too much orange flesh and ugly legs and hideous shoes."
Look, Sali, Ascot is not just a racecourse. It is a showground for English style. I happen to like the nude stilettos you find so naff, and have a pair myself, but tattoos? I find they don't pass the crucial test on these matters of elegance and style, which is "Would Kristin Scott Thomas have one?" Like hell she would.
SH My tattoos are indeed on exposed flesh (weather permitting). I know – the very idea! I am now imagining you clutching your pearls in horror. But you are right in saying Ascot is a showcase for British style. A style known for its boldness, eclecticism and eccentricity – never more evident than during these sorts of events. Frankly, the best thing about Ascot (and arguably its chief purpose in 2012) is the gawping and smiling at all the brilliantly bonkers looks on parade. Tattoos can only add more flavour. I think it's entirely fitting to have them on display – one can hardly be offended by mermaids, roses and anchors while lauding a hat shaped like an ice cream cone wedged in a teapot. How is Sam Cam's (visible) dolphin – the cliched hallmark of any art-school toff – acceptable, but not other, larger, bolder designs? Or are you planning to police this by drawing up a list of acceptable/unacceptable motifs and a sizing chart, like those for determining what you can and can't carry on to a plane?
Re: Kristin. Admire her though I do, the day we apply Jeremy Clarkson's acid test for style is the day fashion meets its maker.
RJ Precious few institutions still insist on any standards of appearance. I think that women (OK, ladies) secretly appreciate the ones that do have dress codes. And they like knowing that, for just one day, they are expected to make a superhuman effort to look dainty (I spent approximately three weeks "getting ready" for Ascot last year, even with the expert assistance of Bruce Oldfield). We can slob around in tracksuits for 364 days a year, but on occasions such as Ascot, or the royal box at Wimbledon, or a garden party at Buckingham Palace, it's a rare chance to scrub up en masse. If one of us fails, we let the whole side down.
The sad thing in all this is that no woman ever goes to Ascot thinking she looks less than cracking, so there is plenty of snobbery at play here, not to mention insane pressure on us all to be as thin and groomed as Kate Middleton. I'm all in favour of people doing what they like, but when you're in a club, you have to play by the rules, for the sake of all members. So I do think that racegoers should refrain from flaunting tattoos as well as their plunging declivities, inner-thigh stubble, etc, even if at Ascot this demands the enforced deployment by the style Stasi of that most dreaded and offensive item – the cheapo pashmina in jewel tones.
SH Oh, I'm all for fashion snobbery. It's Ascot's lifeblood. The difference between us is how we view tattoos. You have the rather peculiar idea that having a tattoo is equal to not cleaning one's teeth or shaving one's underarms. Those with tattoos don't see them as sloppy or slatternly. They are permanent features on our bodies, albeit ones that we have chosen. Banning them is like banning nose jobs and face lifts – at which point, Ascot would be a barren landscape soundtracked by tumbleweeds and crickets. I respect that tattoos aren't for everyone, but frankly, I'd sooner have view-obstructing top hats and braying twerps banished from The Season. We all have our crosses to bear.
We do agree on one thing, however. Jewel-toned pashminas are the devil's work but, given that they are being handed out to overexposed women by the Ascot fashion police, you may have to pick a team. Tattoos or pashminas, Rachel? I know you'll make the right choice.
Royal Ascot courts controversy again as it polices a new dress code • 'Dress code assistants' will check on racegoers' attire • In 2011 overzealous officials led to Ascot issuing refunds
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 June 2012 09.44 BST
Royal Ascot begins with the event once again courting controversy by employing a team of specially trained "dress code assistants" to police racegoers' attire.
There were complaints during last year's meeting at the Berkshire track when small orange stickers were affixed to the clothing or badges of visitors who breached the course's dress code.
The policy, carried out by overzealous officials, was described by some as "patronising and humiliating" and Ascot later issued admission refunds to those affected. It is believed to have cost Ascot a five-figure sum.
As Royal Ascot 2012 started on Tuesday, women were expected to wear skirts or dresses of "modest length" which fall just above the knee or longer. This clarifies previous guidance which stated miniskirts were "considered unsuitable".
Strapless, off the shoulder, halter neck, spaghetti straps and dresses with a strap of less than one inch (2.5cm) are not permitted and midriffs must be covered.
For men, black or grey morning dress with a waistcoat and tie are now compulsory in the royal enclosure – despite the warm weather expected on the first two days of the five-day meeting. Cravats are not allowed.
A black or grey top hat and black shoes must be worn.
In the royal enclosure, fascinators are no longer deemed acceptable. However, in the grandstand, which is open to the public and subject to less stringent rules, a hat or fascinator will be compulsory for women. For men, a suit and tie will now be imperative.
A selection of waistcoats, ties, pashminas and other items will be available at the turnstiles for those who need them.
Royal Ascot's dress code aims to banish the commoner within
Cover your head, your midriff and any hint of thigh, and as for assless chaps ... fashion strictures are in a class of their own
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 19 June 2012
Style. So unmistakable, yet so ineffable. How do you catch a sunbeam? How do you caress a gentle summer breeze? How, if you're the dress code administrators at Royal Ascot, can you define that timeless quality known as "commonness" and keep it out like a noxious sewer smell?
The new and exacting royal enclosure dress code aims to do just that. Out goes the old advice that "miniskirts are considered unsuitable" – this leaves too much room for the wearer's own judgment. In comes the admonishment that skirts must be knee-length or longer (trouser suits are also tolerable, but your tailored shorts can go screw).
Also, you should wear a hat, or at the very least a "headpiece with a base of four inches or more". Not that embarrassed apology for a head covering known as the "fascinator". (And by the way, who is supposed to be fascinated by a feather bobbing about on top of your head? Maybe they work like the lure on an angler fish, suggesting the movement of a small bird to draw eligible and unwary men towards your mouth.)
No longer shall royal enclosure sensibilities be assaulted by the full indecency of a lady's clavicle. Straps of one inch or more are a necessity, and they must go across the shoulders rather than snaking round the neck in a back-revealing halter.
And your midriff must be covered, although the idea that anyone ever thought the royal enclosure would be cool about their belly button hanging out all over the place makes me worry that public decency has sunk lower than I thought. Perhaps Royal Ascot should have also explicitly proscribed nipple cutouts and assless chaps (potentially allowed, as long as they're the same colour and fabric as your jacket).
If all this sounds absurdly prescriptive, it's because Royal Ascot is creating an absurd situation: dress codes are usually a way of keeping the wrong people out, not coaching them on how to fit in. No sportswear, no football colours, no pyjamas in the supermarket. The only places that normally have to give such stringent guidance on hem lengths and hat size are work and school – places you don't belong to by choice, which use apparel to stamp themselves on your identity.
Find a club you want to be a part of, though, and you'll infer the fashion rules quicker than I could bankrupt you if you left me alone for an afternoon with your debit card and the Net-a-Porter website. So why, when the royal enclosure is supposed to be a desirable place to be, a place where you have to prove your worthiness to belong by getting someone to sponsor your application to get in, can patrons not be trusted to figure out the vagaries of strap width for themselves?
The demise of formalwear is part of it: the number of occasions for which jeans are inappropriate is probably fewer than the number of pairs of jeans you own. And when nobody wears a hat any more, anything on your head – even if it is just one pluming feather – can feel like making an effort.
But most of all, I think it's about the occupants of the royal enclosure needing to feel reassured that the ticket they've paid for is keeping the wrong people out. You may not be totally au fait with the coded class meaning of the spaghetti strap (it means you have no class, apparently), but with all the money and effort you've made to get in there, you're bound to notice if someone else if lowering the tone with too much knee flesh.
It's a sign of wealth closing ranks. No more of the pretence that social mobility is likely or desirable: in the coalition's Britain, it's openly acknowledged that the poor will stay poor and the rich will stay rich. And the rich, increasingly keen to assume that their spoils are a result of good character (and not, say, luck or greed), prefer not to be confronted with the sight of other people struggling to articulate the signs of privilege – or worse, to feel that they themselves are showing their lack of breeding.
Any slip-up could betray them all, give away the secret that they're not some separate, midriff-less caste whose innate talents have simply drawn money towards them. The more they measure their hat bases and tug at their skirts, the more it's obvious that what rich people really fear isn't a commoner slipping past the sentries and sidling among them; it's that their own commonness might start to show.