Are sartorial standards slipping?

The issue of a deputies’ dress code was raised at a recent meeting of the States Assembly & Constitution Committee. Horace Camp offers his thoughts on the subject

Deputy Lester Queripel, left, and Deputy Carl Meerveld, with a slightly less dapper Deputy John Gollop behind. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 30108749)
Deputy Lester Queripel, left, and Deputy Carl Meerveld, with a slightly less dapper Deputy John Gollop behind. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 30108749)

The only school prize I ever received will come as a surprise for those who know me.

It wasn’t anything to do with academic prowess. In fact, the closest I came to winning such a thing was when I scored exactly the same marks as one Peter Atkinson in a year-end history exam but he was awarded the prize. This may have happened more than 50 years ago but it still rankles.

Nor was it a prize for sporting ability, although unbelievably I did once represent my house in athletics throwing things.

No, my prize was for being the best cadet in the CCF. Yes, I was as shocked as you are, dear reader, when I was informed of the great honour during a field day at L’Ancresse about 30 minutes before it was presented to me.

The CCF’s PSI [permanent staff instructor] – the late, great and much lamented Nick Ozanne, the very epitome of a traditional British sergeant major, always immaculate with creases you could shave with and shoes you could use as a shaving mirror – broke the news to me after I had been crawling through mud and gorse all morning.

I still remember his inspiring words: ‘I know it’s hard for you, Horace, but try and tidy yourself up a little bit.’

Yes, as you will have realised, I didn’t win the trophy for being the smartest cadet but for being the best one.

And that, of course, brings me to the major political issue of the moment, surprisingly overlooked by Colonel Graham in his column earlier this week – that of deputies’ clothes.

I have spent some considerable time pondering this issue and I have to say that, true to my Libran leanings, I can see both sides of the argument. As Teufelsdrockh once wrote, ‘There is no power without clothes. It is the power that governs the human race. Strip its chiefs to the skin, and no state could be governed; naked officials could exercise no authority; they would look (and be) like everybody else – commonplace, inconsequential.’

On the other hand, do we elect our representatives based upon their sartorial elegance? Probably yes and no, given that both Deputy Gollop and Deputy Meerveld were selected to represent us and Deputy Gollop doesn’t have a hat.

Compare Boris Johnson with Jacob Rees-Mogg. The Moggster looks and sounds far more prime ministerial than Boris. He is always beautifully turned out in expensive Savile Row suits and his grooming is impeccable. Boris probably also wears Savile Row suits (probably gifts from his followers, given that he is always broke) but he always looks like he has been dragged through myriad hedges backwards multiple times.

But, like John G, he does wear the approved parliamentarian dress of suit and tie, even though not smartly. Both Boris and John execute their duties well and is this because they are clothed professionally or is it down to some other factor such as talent?

Conversely, some of our deputies adopt a smart-casual approach to dress and not the formal business attire expected by others. And confusingly, some look smarter and more professional in their ‘hip’ gear than others in their suits.

Just as all cats are black in the dark, all deputies are equally as well dressed when I listen to them on the wireless. And to be honest I cannot tell if one is wearing trainers or another teal trousers. Nor do I think it would be possible to determine if the speaker was dressed appropriately by the quality of their speech or the soundness of their arguments.

When the Assembly is in session, there are about 40 or so deputies and officers present, some media and some viewers in the gallery – let’s say a maximum of 100 people. Each of them probably knows each other well and are probably not influenced a jot by how deputies are dressed.

From a personal point of view, I am very old school. I look at my grandson in his practical, modern army uniform he wears for the cadets and think how it doesn’t look as smart as the battledress of my day.

It’s the same with the police. I couldn’t imagine George Dixon turning out in one of the new uniforms. Do they even still have a whistle? And when did teachers stop wearing their gowns in class?

Possibly the thing that hits me hardest is the dress policies of some finance firms, where staff can wear trainers, T-shirts and jeans. Would never have happened in my day.

And that’s the whole point. My day has gone. For better or worse, things are different now and perhaps it’s a good thing that the elitism of working clothes is becoming less of a divisive issue. Was the business suit not just a way to distinguish the office worker from the manual worker and to draw a social distinction between the two?

When I was a farmer and in the winters wore anything that was warm and dry, no matter how it looked, was I any less of a man than the one who wore a shiny-bottomed, threadbare suit in an office?

Part of the argument is about preserving the gravity of the office. I get that. The royal family would soon be toppled if the Queen turned up to work in T-shirt, torn jeans and trainers. The clothes, jewels and uniforms are all part of the pomp and ceremony that maintains the monarchy. But even there the younger royals are adopting a much more casual approach to clothing. They are taking a risk, but by pegging their casualness at a higher level than their generations they are keeping enough of a difference to survive. And they can always fall back on elaborate uniforms to keep them special.

What is needed to be special changes over time. Courtly and parliamentary dress in the time of Victoria was very different to that of today. Change is the only constant and trainers are extremely comfortable.

In writing this article I am left with one unanswered question. Would a deputy elected on a naturist ticket be allowed to bare all in the Assembly?

Most Read

Top Stories

More From The Guernsey Press

UK & International News