The Last Lion. Volume 1: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932

Manchester, William

Dell, 1984

p. 62

“Identifying a stranger’s class has always been a social challenge for Londoners. Today it is a matter of vowels. In [Victorian] days it was far easier, and would usually be accomplished by a glance. J. M. Bailey, an American visitor to London in the 1870’s, wrote that he could find ‘traces of nobility’ in an aristocrat’s ‘very step and bearing.’ He asked mischievously: ‘Can you conceive of a bowlegged duke? Or is it possible for you to locate a pimple on the nose of a viscount? And no one, however diseased his imagination, ever pictures a baron with an ulcerated leg, or conceived of such a monstrous impossibility as a cross-eyed duchess.’ This was Yankee wit, but the plain fact was that you could tell. Gentlemen, no less than ladies, could be identified by their clothing. They wore top hats, indoors and out, except in homes or churches. Cuffs and collars were starched, cravats were affixed with jeweled pins, waistcoats were snowy white, wide tabular trousers swept the ground at the heel but rose in fron t over the instep, black frock coats were somber and exquisitely cut. Swinging their elegant, gold-headed canes, gentlemen swaggered when crossing the street, dispensing coins to fawning men who swept the dung from their paths. (These men were followed by nimble boys with pans and brushes, who collected the ordure and sold it in the West End for fertilizer.) Bowlers were worn by clerks and shopkeepers and caps by those below them. Switching hats wouldn’t have occurred to them, and it wouldn’t have fooled anyone anyway. Despite advances in mass production of menswear, dry cleaning was unknown in the London of the time. Suits had to be picked apart at the seams, washed, and sewn back together. Patricians wore new clothes or had tailors who could resew the garments they had made in the first place. The men in bowlers and caps couldn’t do it; their wives tried but were unskillful, which accounts for their curiously wrinkled Sabbath-suit appearance in old photographs.”