New Year’s Roundup

–Discussions of Waugh’s taste in clothing have appeared in two recent blogs. One relates to tweed suits, something Waugh obviously admired and inadvertently promoted. Here is an excerpt from the “Grey Fox” website:

The Italian word ‘sprezzatura’ perfectly describes that rather dishevelled but Oh-so-English look of a well-used tweed suit, as worn with such aplomb by so many men in the early half of the twentieth century. I came across the image … of author Evelyn Waugh which perfectly illustrates that casual, crumpled and unselfconscious English style. How can we emulate that comfortable tweedy appearance today?

Waugh [preferred] a heavyweight tweed (they would normally have been fairly robust cloth in those days) in a shepherd check. As is normal with a well-worn-in tweed, it looks as comfortable as an old jumper and pair of jeans might be to us today. Men were used to wearing tailoring in those days, and Waugh would have thought nothing of throwing himself down on the sofa for a post-prandial nap fully clothed in his three-piece.

It’s this slightly disordered but so natural and unforced look, the result of wearing a suit day in and day out, that’s often admired in the English (or more strictly British) man of that era. Sadly today’s man has largely abandoned tailoring in favour of casual wear or that mix of leisure and sports wear, ‘at leisure’, that, while possibly easy to wear, lacks elegance or style.

The art of wearing tailoring for relaxation has been lost and today it’s felt that sloppy and shapeless is necessary for easy wear. Evelyn Waugh shows us that this is a mistaken view. Tweed is a casual cloth, designed originally for easy movement outdoors, retaining its shape and protecting the wearer from the elements. A good quality cloth is soft, robust and lightweight, moulding readily to the body. Its forgiving nature means that it doesn’t need to be treated with care, like a flannel business suit.

Worn well the tweed suit combines effortless style with comfort. Let’s buy more tweed suits (I suggest some sources of new and vintage tweeds below).

There are two photos of Waugh in full tweed kit posted with the article at this link. The print of a drawing by Neale Osborne of Waugh in a tweed suit is available at this site and is worth a look in any event.

–The other fashion note relates to the “black turtleneck” and appears in the weblog “Brooklyn Muse.”

Fashion, Fabric, and Culture have impacted societies across the globe. The simple Black Turtleneck sweater has been a staple in American closets since the late 19th century. It was initially developed for British polo players (polo neck) and worn by sailors, laborers and soldiers.

Many iconic individuals have been closely connected with this ebony sweater of distinction. [,,,] During his so-called “ Electric Period” of 1965-1966 Bob Dylan was rarely seen without this iconic fashion piece. In that same decade, Andy Warhol adopted The Black Turtleneck as his personal signature piece. He paired it with funky shades and a wild floppy wig. This was known to be quite an effective artistic makeover as Warhol previously was known to don preppy suits and ties.

[…]

By the 20th century, European Bohemians were seeing the garment’s elegance and took it to a new functional, everyday wear design. British playwright Noel Coward wore one regularly through the 1920s. It became known as his trademark piece and he attributed that element to comfort alone and a disdain for the conventional shirt and tie. This trend caught on quickly. The garment took on a sort of rebellious nature for the naked bodies it covered. Writer Evelyn Waugh commented that The Black Turtleneck was believed to be “most convenient for lechery because it dispenses with all unromantic gadgets like studs and ties.”

–The Daily Telegraph in an article reviewing the various turbocharged cars produced by the Bentley motorcar company describes the 2005 launch of the Flying Spur model

…in Venice of all places. As Evelyn Waugh once telegraphed ‘Streets full of water, please advise.’

No source is given, but its sounds as if it might come from Scoop. I can’t recall whether William Boot passed through Venice to or from Africa. Or it may be some one’s version of what Boot would have written had he passed thru Venice.

–The Hong Kong paper South China Morning Post has an article about how the city-state has modernized its funeral observations. Here is the opening:

Happy Valley’s historic Colonial Cemetery chapel, built in 1845 – Hong Kong’s oldest surviving British-era structure – contains a little-noticed relic that recalls the building’s original function.

An anteroom where the coffin was kept overnight, before early morning committal ceremonies, has heavy metal mesh ventilation grates set into the walls below the windows. Constant cross-draughts through the room – even when otherwise closed up – helped slow the corpse’s decay in hot weather; a practical reminder of earlier times.

The American funeral industry’s consumerist excesses – in particular, elaborate embalming techniques – all wonderfully eviscerated in Evelyn Waugh’s novel The Loved One (1948) and Jessica Mitford’s satirical, journalistic exposé The American Way of Death (1963), did not reach Hong Kong until recent decades.

–Simon May writing in the Catholic Herald considers the representation of religious themes in the works of PG Wodehouse. Here’s the opening:

A charming 1930 short story by PG Wodehouse, “Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit”, contains much traditional English Christmas atmosphere. “It being Christmas Eve,” says Bertie Wooster, “there was, as I had foreseen, a good deal of revelry and what not: first the village choir surged round and sang carols outside the front door, and then somebody suggested a dance.” There is the usual Wodehouse imbroglio and Jeeves ends up getting his trip to Monte Carlo – but nobody goes to church.

You will look in vain in the index of any of the standard lives of Wodehouse for the words “Church” or “ Christianity” (though he did profess an interest in Spiritualism) and critics down the years have attempted to address this. In the envoi to her 1982 biography, Frances Donaldson says that Wodehouse “had many of the qualities of a saint. Kind, modest and simple, he was without malice or aggression.” Evelyn Waugh made a very grand excuse for the eirenic, indeed paradisal world of Wodehouse: “For Mr Wodehouse there has been no fall of Man, no ‘aboriginal calamity’… He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.”

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