Thursday, July 25, 2013

Tribes of Great Britain

I recently saw the Rolling Stones in Hyde Park (Jagger still moves like Jagger, in case you're wondering) and couldn't help but notice half the audience wearing Rolling Stones T-shirts. How uncool! It struck me how much us Brits love to pigeonhole ourselves, and literally wear our identities on our sleeves.

At gigs and sporting events it manifests itself in T-shirts; in the workplace it's suits or checked shirt and jeans on a casual Friday. Hipsters get a lot of flack for trying to look individual by looking identical to every other hipster in the land (ie ridiculous) but their painstaking, misguided effort is almost endearing (they're often compared to the hippies of the 1960s but lacking a political - or any - agenda, their look comes across as pure posturing). Sad couples like to wear matching outfits and posh people red or mustard-coloured trousers.

When walking in the countryside, walkers or ramblers like to wear their rambling gear, including walking sticks, as if they're climbing Mount Everest rather than having a gentle stroll in the Chilterns. Joggers too like to look the part. But in recent years it's cyclists who dress up more than any other tribe, and where a cycle through Richmond Park usually feels like the third leg of the Tour de France. But even cycling to work looks like it's a race for most cyclists, with their £1000 bikes and costumes costing almost as much (mainstream brands have also got in on the act with Levi's, for example, now producing a range of pricey and pointless cycling attire).

I don't know, to me, shaving one's legs and wearing a Rapha jersey and £195 Vulpine rain jacket just to go 0.3 seconds faster on a bike ride through the Surrey Downs on a Sunday afternoon strikes me as incredibly pretentious and ponsey. The cycling thing seems a mostly British preoccupation. There was a friendly, completely unpretentious cycling network I discovered cycling round France a year ago, with little of the competitiveness and expensive attire found here.

But uniforms of intent are with us throughout our lives, from babies wearing pink or blue to delineate sex (interesting to note pink was for boys and blue for girls up until the 1940s) to the elderly wearing hideous, ill fitting beige and pastel attire. There must come a time, perhaps in their late 60s, when old folk just think 'fuck it', I'm not out to impress anymore, I'm going purely for comfort and don't care what it looks like. I really like seeing the elderly still dressing well; the beige and pastel and slip on shoes makes me fear old age more than anything else.

I'm of the Groucho Marx school of thought where I wouldn't want to be a member of a club that would allow me as a member. But mainly, and I realise it's unavoidable, I just don't like to be pigeonholed by haircut, T-shirt or shoes.

* The mobile phone in the air at concerts has long superseded the lighting of candles or waving of lighters in the air (am I imagining this or did fans used to do this in the 60s, 70s, 80s? Look at the cover of Before the Flood). It's funny how fans prefer taking out of focus photos at gigs rather than record the actual music (video would seem to be the most complete option), but the photo is proof of being there to post immediately on Facebook (naturally). It doesn't matter that Jagger looks the size of an ant in the pictures or that an audio clip would be far more representative (the girl in front of me was phoning friends during the concert and giving them a blast of Sympathy for the Devil when they picked up. Now this I liked as it was in keeping with the live experience, not to be saved, repeated or posted but enjoyed in the moment).

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