CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Surrey Life today CLICK HERE

The changing face of gentlemen’s fashion in Untold Surrey

PUBLISHED: 14:36 18 September 2013 | UPDATED: 14:36 18 September 2013

Championing a more exuberant look

Championing a more exuberant look

Phil Berkin

Amateur ‘historian’ Morris Otley brings us further outlandish tales from our county’s illustrious past, with a healthy disregard for much historical accuracy (if any at all)...

Summer! Finally, the dark palette of human winter clothing has morphed into something rather more joyful.

Although not known for flaunting themselves within the pages of the fashion magazines, local historians harbour quite a reputation for bucking sartorial conformity. For example, there’s a portly curator of this county who, when not swaddled in the whites and pink baldricks of his morris dancing set, is perenially immaculate in boisterous tweeds and a crimson cravat. He can’t be missed and if encountered in broad daylight on a wide street is a perfectly cheery sight.

But what’s your point, Otley? Well, forgive the rant, but in the name of Ethelred, is it only those of us with a historical bent who know that this country’s sumptuary laws have been repealed? The days when a man could be transported to Australia for wearing sky blue espadrilles (Crown v Blenkinsop 1849) are long gone. People of Surrey, we can wear whatever we choose! Whatever the season!

Sumptuary laws (rules governing consumption and frequently applied to clothing) are responsible for, amongst other things, depriving the Highland Scot of his kilt temporarily. But this, though he doesn’t half go on about it, was really no more high-handed than the curbs once inflicted on the fashion conscious male of Surrey.

Sartorial Surrey

Unlike your proud Scot, however, no son of Surrey today parades about another chap’s wedding brazenly flaunting his kneecaps; the banning of the Esher culotte seems to have put paid to that. And no maiden ever gasps at the louche embroidery of a Surreyman’s piffle slippers, or asks how he sustains the proud profile of his chubpiece.

Though, to be frank, this is probably a good thing. In 16th century Surrey, the fashion for such ridiculous accoutrement had got completely out of hand.

Although our county is not mentioned specifically in her Statutes of Apparel of 1574, it’s pretty obvious that when Good Queen Bess referred to ‘the wasting and undoing of a great number of young gentlemen, otherwise serviceable’, it was the natty Surrey gent she had her eye on. With his ‘excess of apparel and superfluity of unnecessary foreign wares’, he might not have been bringing about the ‘manifest decay of the whole realm’ she fretted about, but he was certainly blowing a fortune on tailoring. However, even more annoying, he was insubordinately messing with the order of things.

Today, whilst it’s still possible to make a reasonable stab at a man’s rank by observing the colour and ribbing of his corduroys, wearing the wrong trousers is not the terrible faux pas it once was. However, such tolerance is, historically speaking, exceptional. Until even quite recently, people could get mightily worked up if they judged someone to be dressing above their station. With his fondness for riotous colours, flouncy trimmings and trivial accessories, the 16th century Surrey fashionisto was obviously trying it on and the Establishment wasn’t having any of it.

Elizabeth’s Statutes of Apparel were repealed in 1604, but if, as they say, history has a peculiar habit of repeating itself, who knows what sartorial straight-jackets may be forced upon us in the future. So, with this in mind, why not champion a more exuberant wardrobe this winter? Hang commutery conformity, banish those dull greys and think in colour... before someone gets it into their mind to write another law on the matter.

For more dubious local history, pay a visit to morrisotley.co.uk

More from Surrey Life

14:33

With The Great British Bake Off back on our screens the nation is falling in love with baking once again. Head pastry chef at Pennyhill Park, Sarah Frankland, tells us about what it takes to make it as a professional

Read more
Yesterday, 10:51

Wrap up in your favourite coat and scarf, grab your sparklers and a warming drink, and enjoy one of these fantastic firework displays taking place in Surrey for bonfire night

Read more
Yesterday, 10:49

Home to outstanding architecture, ambitious community projects and arts ventures that are putting these villages firmly on the map, East and West Horsley are among our county’s most desirable addresses

Read more
Yesterday, 10:43

Chertsey’s best-kept secret, the Great Cockcrow Railway, steamed into a half-century this year

Read more
Yesterday, 10:34

A taste of Korea has swept into the beautiful market town of Godalming as Bada sets out its stall with a tapas-style fusion of seafood, traditional dishes and spice

Read more
Mon, 16:06

With friendship as the central theme in Adele Parks’ new book, Zoe Richards met up with the bestselling author and her publisher, Kate Mills, to find out how these two Surrey dwellers have discovered a successful working relationship, and become firm friends too

Read more
Mon, 11:37

Great things to do in Surrey this weekend: art exhibitions, walks, concerts, theatre, places to visit and other events and ideas.

Read more
Mon, 00:00

As the twilight falls, the magic begins… There’s something for everyone at Christmas at Kew – and we’re giving you the chance to win one of five family tickets for two adults and two children to the Preview Night of Christmas at Kew on Wednesday 21 November 2018

Read more
Friday, October 12, 2018

We round up 10 of the most beautiful photos of Surrey shared on Instagram this week…

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Good table manners have long been a source of national pride but in this modern age of social media are our longstanding traditions being left behind? Rebecca Younger visits the stately Beaverbrook estate for a lesson in British etiquette

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Whether you're looking for fine dining, pub grub or exotic dishes, eating out in Surrey has something for everyone. Here's our guide to the best local restaurants and pubs

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The spookiest time of the year is fast approaching! We pick some of the best events to celebrate Halloween in Surrey

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

From well kept secrets, to chilled out locations, Redhill is a good spot for a bite to eat. We round up some of the best restaurants…

Read more
Monday, October 8, 2018

From October 11 to 14, the great and the good of professional golf will tee up at Walton Health Golf Club for the 2018 British Masters. We shine a spotlight on the club as it ends an extraordinary year

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Topics of Interest


Follow us on Twitter


Like us on Facebook

Subscribe or buy a mag today

subscription ad

Local Business Directory

Property Search