A couple of years ago I bought a pair of jeans in a department store. I was quite pleased because they were heavily discounted, very comfortable and looked okay. However, a couple of days later I read something in the paper that put me off ever wearing them. What it said was that red trousers (as these were) were considered to be a fashion faux pas by the vast majority of Britons but – more importantly – they were strongly associated with posh people.
I don’t believe everything I read in the papers, and I don’t care all that much for fashion, but I was determined to err on the side of caution if there was any chance that people might assume I was posh. So I put them in the drawer while I considered the evidence. Sure enough, whenever I was in London I would see red trousers on men who were unmistakably posh. So my jeans sat in the drawer for ages.
Sometimes people claim Britain is no longer a class society but there are definite “markers” as to people’s social background, including their appearance. “Big hair” in young men is an upper-class thing; short hair a working-class thing. Wearing T-shirts when it is cold is working class. Burberry used to be a posh brand, but now it’s just as often lower-class people trying to show that they have money. And so on. We see the way other people dress and judge them on it.
Anyway, the other day my inner scrooge got the better of me. I couldn’t handle the fact that I had paid for something that I had never used. So I decided to test drive my red jeans around Colchester. My theory was that fashion changes so fast that in the intervening period the association of red trousers and posh people may have changed. Indeed, it was just as likely that red trousers means rock stars by now (?) Or I figured that, since there are relatively few posh people in Colchester, the average person wouldn’t know about the unfortunate connotations of red trousers.
So out I went, though feeling rather self-conscious. As far as I could tell no one was staring at me. But on the other hand no one else was wearing red trousers. It was a busy shopping day and I must have passed several hundred other men over a period of about an hour before, inevitably, I did pass a bloke in red trousers. My immediate, instinctive thought was: “Look at that posh idiot.”