This season, for the first time in a surprisingly long time I have High Street trends on the brain. As it’s my first foray into this area for a while, I’m being restrained and am not going all out and fantasising about wedge wellies but am confining myself to two trends in particular: country sports clothes being all the rage, and country sports magazines being forbidden to the “underage”.
Ten years ago London’s streets were filled with welly-wearing waxed-jacket owners marching in protest against the hunting bill on the Liberty & Livelihood march. This year there are more Hunter Boots and Barbour jackets than ever before in the capital, but does this signify a swing in public sentiment?
In addition, pretty much every clothes chain on the high street has a “country chic” collection this autumn: from the very worst type of made-in-china-polyester-psuedo-tweed, to some really quite impressive British made woollen wonders. Everywhere you look there are pheasant and stag prints and motifs. Both ketchup and mustard colour trousers are properly “fashionable” for the first time since goodness knows when.
And it’s not just for teenage fashion gurus, there’s something available in this trend for everyone, no matter how young or old. Just take a look at Next’s “Heritage” range to see how easy it is to dress your tiny tot of a son (or daughter) as if he were heading out on the shoot bus rather than the school bus (just be careful what you put in his flask).
Plus, there’s no need to stop at your wardrobe, tweed throws and cushions abound in interior and furnishings departments, and Zara, for instance, had a rather natty line in pheasant-feather trimmed cushions and is even selling coasters decorated with Victorian hunting scenes.
So, according to “popular opinion”, it’s ok to deck out yourself, your family and your home in country sports kit. It must be, the High Street has spoken; 10 million sweatshop workers can’t be wrong. However, like all good oracles, the High Street is unpredictable and often self-contradictory. It has also pronounced, via its largest chain of newsagents, WH Smith, that it is not ok for children to read about shooting. There are also calls for short people to be discouraged from reading about guns by keeping shooting magazines strictly confined to the top shelves,
presumably to leave more space on the eye-level shelves for fashion and celebrity mags filled with images of “celebs” in their boots and Barbours.
So where have these two apparently contradictory trends come from? Does the urban vogue for rural chic indicate a deeper understanding of country ways? Or is it just a response to the fact that the Duchess of Cambridge looks hot in wellies, Downton mania, and the wettest, coldest summer in living memory? (Even “townies” need to keep warm and dry). Does the hoo-hah over magazine sales show that the gulf between hunters and hunt-nots is as wide as ever?
Regrettably, I don’t have the answers. I suspect that the magazine mess is yet again a small and mis-informed minority making life difficult, and not representative of majority opinion. I’m also rather sceptical about some of the “country” clothes that make up this season’s collections: a lot of them are as impractical and unethical as ever and do almost nothing to boost British designers and businesses.
However, I do see plenty of grounds for hope. Some ranges are heading along the right lines, if not there already, with good quality products sustainably made and designed in Britain. And, regardless of magazine sales, there are a number of shooting groups doing marvellous things to open up shooting and country sports in all forms, which can only be a good thing: favourite examples of the week are the Shotgun & Chelsea Bun Club and BASC bringing more young people and women into shooting, and Countryside Alliance backed schemes for schools to learn more about hunting by “adopting a hound”.
And, of course, I have done my bit to support the British High Street in these tough economic times. Real tweed should be encouraged….especially in the form of Brogues…