Well Trousered, Sir: Gustav Temple Talks All Things Chap

With their new field-guide to gentlemanliness, Am I A Chap, The Chap magazine continues to fly the flag for etiquette and well-pressed trousers. Gustav Temple unclamps his trusty Meerschaum for a few words.
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“I suppose I’ve always been ‘that way inclined‘, if you like,” ponders the impeccably mannered Gustav Temple, as we discuss, over the miraculous medium of bakelite, the development of his interest in all things gentlemanly. “I’m 46 now, but in my twenties I was kind of interested in dandies, and Brummel and Baudelaire, and Oscar Wilde and that whole thing… so, very pretentious affected kind of 25 year olds wearing frock coats and top hats! Completely out of kilter with what was going on, but it just interested me, dandies in particular… but as a 46-year old man it’s no longer a vocational option, what with two kids and all that! It now fascinates me still purely as a philosophy, it fascinated me then as a way of life and I really wanted to live that way.”

Mr Temple‘s esteemed publication has been in circulation since 1999, in which time the tenets of dandyism and gentlemanly conduct have undergone a heartening revival. To further underline the Chap’s manifesto of anarcho-dandyism, an informative new tome Am I A Chap runs through the sartorial essentials, profiling some definitive chaps past and present, and subjecting various hapless hopefuls to a withering inspection and some stern-but-fair criticism.

“ I remember being 14 ” continues Gustav on the awakening of his sartorial tendencies, “and being interested in James Bond almost exclusively, and I really wanted to be James Bond, and asked my mum if I could have a dinner jacket and all that. I suppose it’s to do with Englishness and a fascination with quintessential Englishness, which has faded in and out of our lives over the years… from the end of the fifties more faded out, but it’s coming back in now. Don’t quite know why, but everyone seems to be much more comfortable with the idea of Englishness now than they were when we started. When we started, some people were even suspicious, ‘what’s this, is it right-wing?’ and we just laughed, and said ‘if you’re asking that, we’re not even going to talk to you!’ Union Jacks have been revitalized, everyone’s comfortable with Union Jacks now, which is great, the connotations that there used to be with Englishness have sort of gone because of the way society’s moved forward I suppose. And now I think The Chap’s role in culture, if it has one at all, is to celebrate the eccentric, and the eccentric English gentleman, and define him! And define what he is, and how you can be a gentleman without being from the upper classes…”

And now I think The Chap’s role in culture, if it has one at all, is to celebrate the eccentric, and the eccentric English gentleman, and define him!

I was about to say, Chappism does seem to be divorced from class and privilege ¾ we’re run by a bunch of ex-Etonians now who don’t strike me as particularly debonair…

“They’re not chaps are they? Not a single one of them shows any style or flair whatsoever! So there’s no longer an association between upper class and well-dressed or being well-mannered. If anything, the upper classes are seen as a bunch of nasty yobs… the Bullingdon Club, you know, it’s just grotesque, not the slightest bit appealing. So you can almost separate the gentlemanly affectations, dress codes, manners, etiquette, often if you so wish as part of your everyday life, have some fun with it. And perhaps make the world slightly better… it can’t do any harm, the worst harm it can do is you might offer your seat to a lady on the bus and she might be offended, if she thinks you’re insulting her, but it’s never happened to me, people are generally not offended by courtesy, or bowler hats!”

At times you’ve taken an almost militant stance, like with your Civilise The City demos…

“It still is in a sense, but the days of our anarcho-dandyist, situationist demonstrations… they’re not over, that was a phase we went through to get our message across, we now, for various reasons… well we kind of got our message across I suppose is the answer! In that, when we started Civilise The City, there were three of us chaps, just the editorial staff… the first one, perhaps 40 people turned up, and that was very impressive, and they were all like-minded souls and they all did what we suggested and enjoyed it. Second one, there was about 200 people, and now we have 1500 people turn up to the Chap Olympics every year, all or whom are dressed immaculately, who buy into our whole ethos. So in a way our work is done, we’ve found the happy few who want to follow us, but that’s not to say that the revolution is over! We still have that same sort of attitude, we just get it across in different ways. It’s quite hard to do a demonstration, post-9/11, the police are on your back the whole time and it’s not really much fun. So we prefer to get the message across through the magazine and through events really.

If we just said ‘nice effort old chap’, the message wouldn’t get across

Reading the book, particularly with regard to those who send their pictures in, it struck me there’s a precarious balance between breaking conventions and making some hideous faux-pas, the line between being a chap and a chump…

“ It’s all a bit harsh, but we’re trying to help, obviously! But also, people are suckers for punishment! That column’s been running for five or six years now, and there’s this never-ending stream of people submitting, we get five a week, and they all know what they’re in for, they say ‘I know I’m going to get a drubbing, but here we are!’, it’s almost like they enjoy the masochistic kind of thing… we have to be harsh, if we just said ‘nice effort old chap’, the message wouldn’t get across, we have to be rigid about it, and quite frankly very few people seem to cut the mustard. The ones who do, we’re quite clear that they have done. But I really don’t like the idea of part-time chaps, where they just go on some event and get some charity shop clothes, and false moustaches are my bête noir! If you’re going to do it, do it properly, but don’t dabble. Because that makes it look like fancy dress, that’s why we’re so careful to pick out the ones who really are trying to dress properly and the ones who are just larking about.”

The personalities mentioned in the book indicate a pretty broad church, ranging from various members of Royalty to Billy Childish…

“I suppose, it’s a good point, Edward VII and Billy Childish, that’s quite a feat! But even Edward VII, within the constraints of his position, was still a dandy. He really annoyed his parents for being so obsessed with clothes! And he pioneered the bowler hat, the pressed trouser, the plus four, so many things. That to me shows he was against the grain, he was looking way beyond what he needed to look beyond to fulfill his duties, that makes him a chap! And Billy Childish, exactly the same, but in a completely different sphere of life. He’s a musician, he’s an artist, he’s got no reason to be well-dressed or chappish in any way, but he chooses to do so. And he grows himself a big moustache, goes on stage with his awful thrashy band, with this lovely moustache, Harris tweed jackets and Brogues… and that’s incredible, so I suppose they’re both different ends of the social spectrum but both trying to get beyond their social spectrum, and strive for something that I call dandyism! He’s consistent as well, the moustache is new, but I saw him back in the eighties, even then he stood out from the rest, with his Oxfam suits, his short back and sides, his consistency… consistently bad musically, and consistently brilliant sartorially, and his paintings, they are what they are, they’re naïve paintings, they work! He’s part of a breed of self-taught artists I suppose.”

Peter Andre is a good example, off on completely the wrong tack. Every opportunity to be a dandy, to dress well, he can afford to have any tailor in the world make him a suit and he just dresses like he does!

And are there figures you would consider as anti-chaps, someone beyond redemption? Clarkson for instance?

“Where do you start? Jeremy Clarkson, the absolute anti-chap! Anyone from Top Gear! Ant and Dec, and I’m thinking of Chris Moyles - the anti-Christ, never mind the anti-chap! That’s the antithesis really. Anyone who celebrates sportswear… David Beckham, people thought of him as a bit of a dandy, but he’s just styled by other people. Wayne Rooney you could say, but in a way, he’s actually not a good example, because I don’t really mind people who are true to their roots, true to the soul of their background, it’s when people are pretentious and try to be something else, it’s irritating. When someone has the right background, say Laurence Llewelyn Bowen, he could be such a stylish fop, but he’s just an irritating, perfumed prima donna! He’s a fop, as opposed to a dandy. Peter Andre is a good example, off on completely the wrong tack. Every opportunity to be a dandy, to dress well, he can afford to have any tailor in the world make him a suit and he just dresses like he does! I can’t think of any man, or woman who has a tattoo, of any description… that’s another reason to reject him!”

So what’s upcoming in the world of The Chap?

“We’ve got the Chap Of The Year, it’s a kind of launch of the book, we’ve been running online votes to get ten contestants, and these are the kind of people who send their pictures in for Am I A Chap, but they’re kind of the better ones. We’ve asked for nominations from the public, some of them are people I kind of know, some of them aren’t, and we’ve got quite a good mix, we’ve got one lady in there! So it’s going to be an incredible mix, from a proper English toff, to a fully bearded steam punk character, and everything in between including a lady. And they’re going to be put through their paces on stage, in front of an audience and three judges, sartorial, grooming and seduction, various tasks, and the audience will vote on whether they’re a chap or a chump! And we’ll eliminate three each time, the Chap Of The Year will win a fully bespoke suit, and that’s the new format! The Chap Olympics are happening in July, so that’s how we go about spreading the message now, because it’s good fun, everyone in a room together, and they just get on ¾ people do mingle at Chap parties!”

Am I A Chap by Gustav Temple is published by Beautiful Books.

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