Say you’re stopped in the street by a well-groomed gent with a Leica and a fashion blog and asked why you dress the way you do. You might reel off a list of designers, muses and trends to help to illuminate your style – or taste – choices. Balmain, Alexa Chung, 1920s flappers, charity shops, whatever.
In truth though, there are much less glamorous reasons. You might wear a leather jacket on a night out because most of the friends you dance with do. Or you’ll dress androgynously because you want to fit in with a group of art school students in which you can often not tell the girls from the boys. Or you’ll have a sleeve of tattoos because your parents do too.
OK there might not be too many Style & Then Some readers to whom the last one applies but it’s the same principle, one of taste and its social foundations. Grayson Perry’s three part documentary for Channel Four, All in the Best Possible Taste, explores taste (fashion, personal appearance, interiors, transport, art) amongst the working, middle and upper classes and does a great job of digging into why we really dress the way we do. As his alter-ego Claire, the artist can be seen dressing up for a night out in Sunderland above and climbing the class ladder in the below two promo shots.
It’s a very British thing to be fascinated by class and taste but I am – perhaps because in London I’ve come into contact with people of similar ages and personalities but who have been brought up in entirely different ways. Perry is really personable and never patronising – it helps that’s he’s from a working class background and now he’s a big hitter in the art world – but the aim of the series is to produce tapestries on his subjects and he really wants to understand their choices.
Apart from some surprising observations like Perry’s estimate that working class people in Sunderland probably spend a higher proportion of their income on art (in the form of tattoos) than wealthy collectors of his own work, there was one thing that stood out for me. The idea of dressing, or decorating your home, to distance yourself from a lower social class.
The idea in the South of England that all Northerners are stupid, slutty and as far from sophisticated as you can get is tossed around as a joke but I think there’s still a lot of Londoners who believe it. So as far as I can remember I’ve tried not to have my boobs on show too much or wear short dresses with tottery heels (unless I’ve got staple black tights on and a big cardigan).
In fact whenever I wear anything tight with heels I feel distinctly Northern and much more working/lower class and so pretty uncomfortable. If I go out with messy hair, clashing clothes and a hole in my tights, I don’t care so much because posh people dress down so often it’s no longer a matter of maintenance in my eyes.
If you’ve moved around the country or got a job with a lot of people who are better educated or more middle-class (whatever that means) than you then you’ll know what I mean.
And maybe there’s certain things you wouldn’t dream of wearing for fear of being propelled back to some less desirable image of yourself. For instance, I wouldn’t ever get a fake tan or have false French Manicured nails just in case. That said, in terms of taste there’s other guilty pleasures that we should hang on to – for me, it’s eating chips, cheese and gravy whenever I go on a night out in Manchester. And I will always have a good stash of 5in heels, it’s just how I was brought up.
Watch all three episodes of All in the Best Possible Taste on 4OD now. I know you all love Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex – it’s like that but with some tapestries involved.
Note: sorry I’m six months late with this – I don’t watch much TV and saw the first installment on a long haul flight.