Suzie Smith (of this parish) brought my attention to the website Look At My Fucking Red Trousers earlier this week and the subject of the re-emergence of red trousers into the mainstream ticks all the right boxes for me, namely class, dandyism, British tailoring and the theft of styles. Having nothing better to do than try and run my business in the worst recession since world war two I thought I would investigate further.
Like most fashions no-one will honestly know where red trousers originated, but like every other subject in the UK most people will have a theory on it and their theory will be undisputable fucking fact.
"The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." - Bertrand Russell
You only have to listen to old casuals crapping on about who the first football lads were (Wade Smith returning from Europe with bags of Adidas versus Soul Boys in Canning Town etc etc) to realise that you are never really going to be able to tie down a style or a movement to one particular area. My theory is that clothing styles evolve, they are mostly fluid and lots of things are stolen from lots of areas. It’s not the source of the Nile, it’s clothing and things are going to be taken from here, there and everywhere. Relax. Just like football violence, it no longer matters.
Still, Suzie got me thinking about the red trousers. Sitting in my magnificent oak-lined library overlooking the Deben (the shared portakabin on the A12 near Felixstowe) I lit a number 4 pipe and began to think. I was interested to know where the look originated; my theory initially was that it has two separate, very distinct routes that have now found themselves merged together on the not so mean streets of London.
I did know in the back of my mind that from time immemorial or certainly back to the 1950s, those in US Prep School or East Coast Ivy League circles, wore red jeans and chinos almost as a uniform, often with a blue blazer, deck shoes and a button down shirt (preferably from Brooks Brothers or J.Press). Understandably, I initially believed that this Preppy Look could be sportswear related and given the popularity of Country Clubs and Golf within WASP circles I concluded that the look had originated on the fairways. Some digging revealed that I had the right idea, but the wrong sport.
Sitting in my magnificent oak-lined library overlooking the Deben (the shared portakabin on the A12 near Felixstowe) I lit a number 4 pipe and began to think. I was interested to know where the look originated
Red Trousers as a Preppy Style seem to originate from the uniform of the New York Yacht Club whose sailors and enthusiasts wore a trouser, made in Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard called “Nantucket Reds” produced by a company called Murrays Toggery Shop. To this day the trousers are still produced and as far as I can see are the originators of this particular style.
The British Red Trouser Route, seems to have started with the aristocratic practicalities of working on an Estate (think Chatsworth, not Broadwater Farm) and the need for hard wearing practical clothing, particularly a cloth called corduroy.
The word corduroy originates in fact from medieval times, where kings would prefer to wear corduroy, so it was understandably named: le corde du roi (from French, the cord of the King). After years of bearing this name, it eventually became Corduroy due to mispronunciation or simplifying the word.
In addition to Cords, came the Barbour, which was originally a coat favoured by working class shepherds, farmers, gamekeepers and gillies, and was hijacked from the working man by the aristocracy alongside brogues and tweed coats.
NB: it looks like a lot of their aristocratic stuff is currently coming the other way – it was always thus, the original Teddy Boys of the late 1950s bought their Edwardian Drape Coats from Jermyn St & Savile Row, whilst early casuals were very big fans of key British Heritage Brands such as Crombie, Aquascutum and Daks.
Sometime in the 1980s it became fashionable in London to demonstrate that you were still in Debretts and part of the Landed Gentry by continuing to wear country clothing in “Town” whilst driving a Series Two around SW1 with a bale of hay in the back of it. The country “look” imitated and seen everywhere today was born and soon had it’s own name (the Sloane Ranger), Godfather (Peter Yorke) shops (Hackett, Peter Jones) and Royalty (Diana).
The aristocratic fascination with bright colours (Hunting, Public School Colours, Brigade of Guards, Polo, Boating Blazers) and general nod to Beau Brummel “Dandyism” meant that country clothing and in particular, cords, could not stay brown, fawn or green for long. At some point brown became brick, became plum, became... red. This multicolouring of previously drab-coloured garments goes some way to explain why Prince Harry (a red-trew affectionado) was recently seen sporting some bright blue suede Desert Boots in the Caribbean. (Desert Boots themselves originate from the North Africa Campaign of World War Two, but that is a different story).
So there you have it. A largely pointless explanation for the two very distinct origins of the current trend for Fucking Red Trousers. Back to work.
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