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A Shout From The Attic: Return To Zin - 4

"Whilst it is true to say that I have never been fashion’s slave, it would be equally misleading to suggest that I have always been a traditionalist. I have sought to be ‘other’ in fashion as in many other things,'' writes Ronnie Bray.

On Human Vanity

It might strike you as strange that an old man should talk of vanity. However, I was not always old, nor have I always shunned the enticements of the moment’s fashions. Hard to believe as you look at me now in my conservative clothes and senior haircut. Well, close inspection will show that my clothes are not all that conservative and my hair style may not be quite what you would expect except when Gay chops it off in great lumps and lets the alien gray fall onto the kitchen floor.

Whilst it is true to say that I have never been fashion’s slave, it would be equally misleading to suggest that I have always been a traditionalist. I have sought to be ‘other’ in fashion as in many other things. The principal reason, I suppose, is to be noticed. Somehow being noticed became equated with being loved and I spent my childhood being ignored. I know there are some that would tell it otherwise, but I was there all the time.

During my time in the REME in the Middle East, I wore navy blue hose tops. Until, that is, I was attached to the Green Howards infantry battalion, who wore green ones. I bought some green ones so that when I mounted guard with the Green Howards I could wear my blue ones and when I mounted guard with the REME I could wear green ones. Odd, but legal. At the same time, I wore an Edwardian suit until Teddy Boys made them unpopular.

As a sixteen-year-old, I wore a black British Warm woollen overcoat, a grey Homburg, and yellow string gloves, plus a bow tie. I still wear a bow tie 99% of the time.

I was the first in Huddersfield to wear a two-tone shirt. It was a present from Merrill Tingey Phelps, a missionary, who brought it with him to wear on informal occasions. However, there were no informal occasions and I had a birthday in 1951 so the two-tone shirt came to me. I wore it self-consciously to dances in the marquee in Greenhead Park during the Holidays at Home programme in the summer of that year. With a pair of blue and white Venetian Blind sunglasses, I was envied for the first time in my life.

During missionary service at Cheltenham, I decided to change the colour of my hair, bought the colourant from the chemist, took it to the public slipper baths, and applied it kneeling in the bath. The colour – dark black – left my hair untouched but dyed my face a very mucky colour and I had to sneak home through the back streets of Cheltenham and wash a lot more than I was accustomed to for several paling days.

Those who knew me smiled at these little eccentricities. I mention only to explain that whilst I have never been the paramour or slave of style, I have at times approached its many forms in the guise of a worshipper, though never fully converted.

The nearest I got to going the whole hog was during the tight trouser fad of the early sixties. I had the legs for tight trousers; strong, muscular and deeply sculpted. The envy of bodybuilders with puny pins, my legs were, and still are, marvels of nature, the envy of Ozymandias himself. Those thin-legged youths in tight trousers that still flapped around their ankles when the wind blew would be shown what proper legs looked like in tight trousers!

I lived in Southampton, kidding myself that I was a writer, when the style hit the high street shops. I found a pair suitably cheap and bought them, intending to rush home and put them on before doing my Dandy promenade in Above Bar. However, true to form I could not wait. I entered a public convenience and removed my baggy trousers and pulled, tugged, squeezed the light grey herring-bone woven pegged trousers over my bulging calves until, breathless with exertion, I managed to pull the waistband up to where my middle was waiting and threaded my belt before pulling them tight around me.

I could not bend my legs to stand up. The pants were so tight that they made my knees redundant. Gaining one’s feet stiff-legged in a small cubicle in a town centre toilet is no easy accomplishment. Eventually by sheer dint of effort, I managed to raise myself to the upright position. Then I tried to walk.

It was at this point that the idea of the day hit me like a brick. The trousers were too tight. I struggled to a seated position and started to take them off. I could get them as far as my knees and then my manly calves prevented all further movement. They were stuck and they were stuck fast.

I needed Plan Two. Plan One had been to remove them and replace them with the old fashionless bags that hicks wore. Plan One didn’t work, and I sat there thinking what Plan Two might be. Calling for help from the confines of a public lavatory could be misunderstood, so I decided to try to get home.

Rising with the same difficulty as before, I strutted out like a marionette, and headed up London Road towards my room. I was helped across several roads by kind old ladies who mistook me for a cripple. They were not far wrong. My feet had turned black due to insufficient circulation. They were at risk.

Once I had gained the fastness of my room, I set about dismantling the trousers by painstakingly unpicking the French seams at the sides of each leg, taking care not to puncture my manly but throbbing calves in the process.

Such was the weave of the cloth that, added to the fact that it had been cut on the bias to obtain the shape, undoing the seams let the tension out of the weave and it started to unravel like a cheap wick. They did have a certain charm, and they were the only frayed end tight trousers in Southampton for some time, although I wore them only when I did not need to impress anyone.

And, for a while, that was my concession to fashion. I learned that fashion didn’t suit everyone and if it did, they were probably short of a few good Sunday dinners. And my circulation has been in good shape ever since.


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