Fallen Giant 1

I have had a relationship with British clothing store Marks & Spencer for twenty years.  Every time I go to London, I visit M&S and buy underwear, socks, shirts and trousers — enough to last me until my next visit.  While I’ve occasionally bought a shirt or two from U.S. outlets like Target or Kohl’s and casual trousers from Sam’s Club, fully 80% of my wardrobe carries the M&S brand — and because in terms of its fit and endurance no other brand has come close to M&S, over the past twenty years, I’ve never worn underwear or socks from anywhere else,.

Nor have many Brits:

One in three British women buys their bras from M&S — 45 bras are sold every minute in-store — while two pairs of knickers fly through the tills each second, which equates to more than 60 million pairs a year.

And from memory, about 50% of British men in the 1990s bought their socks at M&S, simply because they were the very best you could buy, at any price.  With that kind of market share, how could they fail?

M&S also screwed up royally before 2000, by the way, by not accepting any credit cards other than their own charge card.  It was that, or cash.  I discovered this blithering idiocy the very first time I went to their flagship Oxford Street store, went to the cashier with about six hundred pounds’ worth of merchandise, only to have to leave most of it behind because they wouldn’t accept my Visa card and I only had a hundred-odd pounds in cash.  I remember ranting at the floor manager at their arrogance — “throwing good business away” was the phrase I used — and meeting with complete indifference.  Later (much too late, I think) they changed their policy to accept other cards.

At some point in the early 2000s, things began to change, and not for the better.  Instead of selling the M&S brand exclusively, M&S started to sell branded clothing — “tied” brands (exclusive to M&S), but the boutique stuff was more expensive than the house brand, a lot more, but with no discernible difference in quality.  Actually (and this is just a personal observation) I think the M&S allowed their brand’s quality to slip so that they could use the lower prices to compete with the cheaper High Street- and online competition.  Underwear that I’d bought in the mid-1990s lasted for at least five years, while the M&S underwear I bought in 2017 has already started to fall apart.

When online sales came along, M&S was always going to be the first one clobbered, and they were.  Probably the only thing that saved them was the expansion of their business into takeout convenience foods (which, in all fairness, are excellent albeit rather pricey).

Now the company has been kicked off the FTSE 100 (the Brit equivalent of the Dow Jones Industrial Average — DJIA) because their corporate value has declined to the point of disqualification.   (And note BBC TV personality Jeremy Paxman’s complaint, because it’s very much the way I feel about their loss of quality).

The nearest American example of a corporation’s similar fall from grace is Sears — which once had a market share and customer esteem similar to that of M&S in the U.K., but is now in its death throes, for pretty much the same reasons.

I don’t think that M&S is going to fold any time soon — gawd, I hope they don’t, because where am I going to buy undies when the ones I have start falling apart in five years’ time? — but they have a hell of a job ahead of them.

Out Of The Past 1

Titfers

November 14, 2008
8:45 AM CDT

Oh gawd, here he goes agaln, banging on about the decline of civilization…

I know, I know. And yet, this piece by Tom Utley struck home:

The more I have thought about it, the more I believe that the urban male’s decision to abandon the hat — taken en masse on both sides of the Atlantic in the middle of the last century — is one of the most inexplicable phenomena of modern history.

I could have understood it if neckties had disappeared. They are a perfectly absurd adornment, serving no practical purpose but to attract egg stains and keep us feeling uncomfortable around the neck at the height of summer. Oh, and a lot of them are a great deal more expensive than the average hat. But the tie remains with us and it’s the hat that’s gone. Why?

Actually, I think that the disappearance of men’s hats is quite simple: JFK refused to wear them—who knows, maybe he knew that he looked like a total dweeb compared to other politicians of his day, most of whom, like Ike, looked as though they’d been born wearing them.

My beloved grandfather wore one all his life—I think he’d have gone out without a shirt before leaving off his hat—and had, as I recall, at least four: a selection (black, grey and brown) for “dress” (i.e. work, to match his suit of the day, and the black only for funerals), and one or two for “casual” outings (to work in the garden or to take fishing). Of course, he also always wore a jacket and tie when he went out, even if he was just going to visit friends, or going to the supermarket. Utley again:

There’s also something about hats — perhaps because they remind us of a past and gentler age — that seems to encourage courtesy and civility. The rituals of removing them indoors and raising them in greeting or deference to a woman seem to shape their wearers’ general conduct throughout the day.

Yup. That’s as good a reason as any why men today are slobs, and especially so towards women. The net result is boorishness, in appearance, speech and behavior. (Richard Littlejohn hates that, too. He’s talking about Britain, but we’re not far from that in this side of the Pond, either.)

In the pic which accompanies his article, Utley looks quite debonair in his new hat, although he could have tightened his tie, to avoid the Mike Hammer/Damon Runyon disheveled look. (And I understand his comment about ties being useless and impractical—I just don’t agree with it.)

I think, as I get older, I’m going to start wearing a jacket and tie every so often. I know I’d look better than I do now, and most of all, I’d feel better. (It’s the same reason why soldiers have “dress” uniforms: it’s impossible not to feel proud about yourself when you’re smartly dressed.)

I bet that if we all did that, the national civility level would improve—and that, my friends, would not be a Bad Thing in these, the waning days of our republic.

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For my Murkin Readers, the title of this piece is Cockney slang for a hat: “tit for tat”, ergo “titfer”.

Red Trousers

One photograph from last week’s event at Cheltenham stood out for me:

Now at first, my Murkin Readers could be forgiven in thinking that this is simply an example of the weird and crazy clothing tastes that abound Over There.  However, close scrutiny of the pic will show that the group does not consist of hipsters, actors, yobs and chavs [some overlap].  In fact, they seem to be rather a normal-looking bunch, other than in their choice of trousers.

And so they are.

You see, men who wear red trousers are generally of what I like to call The Polite Class:  men of substance, men of taste, men of class, and men who, secure in their position in society, do not care a fig for what other people may think of their color choices.  Here’s an article which explains the thing, in rising to the defense (defence) of red trousers and the men who wear them.  To whit:

Red trousers have become standard wear for the country gentleman—the type who drives up in a superannuated Land Rover Defender, two flatulent labradors fogging up the windows— both at home and in town. They are seen in the London SW postcodes along the District Line, on dear old things at Lord’s and at Cheltenham, in Stewards’ at Henley, at High Mass in Brompton Oratory and the debentures’ seating at Twickenham (although it’s always ‘Twickers’).

They’re worn by decent, upstanding chaps with names such as Giles or Henry, the sort whose heads are hard-wired to leap to their feet when a lady enters the room.

‘A naturalborn sporter of le pantalon rouge wears them as he does his deeply ingrained good manners—lightly.’

It is with shame that I have to report that Mr. Free Market — who fits into the above as though the category were designed for him — does not own a pair of said trousers.  Why not?  Well, there’s this, for starters:

 

…which has led to a backlash:

Overexposure has done for the red trouser, harrumphs the royal historian and commentator Rafe Heydel-Mankoo (six pairs), over drinks at the Carlton Club. Since both hipsters and social climbers— ‘akin to the Sebastian Flyte wannabes of the 1980s, carrying teddy bears around Oxford’—have appropriated them, he’s put his red trousers at the back of the wardrobe ‘until they become unfashionable again’.

…and the last sentence encapsulates the whole thing quite succinctly.

I can’t wear red trousers, of course — as much as I yearn to — because I am, in Mr. FM’s words, “One of those colonial chappies from America.”  Not even the Old School Tie can overcome this appalling nativism.

And I’m okay with that.  One does not go where one isn’t welcome, after all.


The website coyly referred to (and not linked) in the Country Life article is this one — whose name says it all — where I got the other two pics.

Eucalyptus Now

Can anyone else hear the hoofbeats?  No?  Then read this appalling news:

They were the must-have accessory of the eighties and nineties but quickly fell out of fashion.
And now the humble bum bag, also known in the US as the fanny pack, has made a surprising comeback with top designers and celebrities championing the once wildly-mocked accessory.
Fashion houses such as Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton have all showcased bum bags on the catwalk.
And unlike the garish bright, polyester styles of the eighties and nighties, designers have given the accessory a sophisticated makeover with smart leather styles often called ‘belt bags’.

And if that isn’t enough to turn your stomach:

Style-savvy models and celebrities have been spotted donning this sought-after accessory, including Taylor swift who was spotted sporting the ‘Ophidia’ bag by Gucci over the weekend.

Oy vey.  (No pics, because I refuse to be responsible for mass projectile vomiting.)

All that said, I have to confess to owning one of these horrible things.  It’s made of polyester, it’s in my SHTF bin, and it holds five 10-round 1911 magazines.  For emergency use only, when I don’t care what I look like and there are multiple goblins to be shot.

No Shit, She-Lock

You have to be utterly self-absorbed and narcissistic to post something like this:

Apparently some things are too much, even for the French, and I can see why.  Fucking hell, I’ve seen more demure clothing on the midnight shift during Fleet Week.  From now on, every new edition of the dictionary will feature this woman’s picture under “Trashy”, and rightly so.

And of course, every bloody barracks-room lawyer is going to whine that the Louvre’s rules (note the capitalization, idiot) technically allow any outfits, even one like hers inside the building.  Yeah, fine, and I’m quite aware that the museum isn’t a church too.

But:  let’s hear it for the Louvre guard who didn’t want the priceless works of art inside his building sullied by this whore I mean “influencer”.  (Oh yeah, she has X thousand “followers” and groupies, so that excuses everything.  Not.)

Of course, she is Australian so it’s understandable that she would have no class, manners or sense of decorum, but that just makes me all the more satisfied that someone would actually step up and say, “Non!”

There should be more of that.  A lot more.

Much Better

After my rant last week about men who shame their wives by dressing like slobs, I’m glad to report that at least some men have got the memo.  Here’s someone apparently named Alyson Hannigan at a recent awards show, with her hubby:

Now that’s how a man should look.  Absolutely faultless appearance.  And she’s combined sexy with demure, with excellent results.  Well done, both of you.

And these guys get kudos as well, all dressed like grownups:

Maybe there’s a glimmer of hope…