London Life: WestEnd Style (Part Two).
In much the same way that the human body cannot independently gauge temperature, only react to changes in temperature, the style of a WestEnder is most noticeable when he mixes with his fellow non-WestEnd Londoners. On Piccadilly he blends into the architecture of the arcades, but on Brick Lane he stands out as a great example of how diverse city life can be. For only when a fish is out of water do you ever really realise the true nature of what it must be for a fish to be a fish…
What follows is short trip through the working day of a WestEnder, the places he may go and the people he might meet. For diversity I’ll take him to the fringes of his home territory and introduce some of the other London tribes he may very well come into contact with during the course of a day in the city.
And to entertain you further I’ll give them all funny names too. Starting with…
The Chancery Lane Chancers
Let’s start the day with lunch!
Today our WestEnder is required to go to the very limits of the WestEnd world for lunch – Beyond even Covent Garden to the home of his company’s solicitors in Chancery Lane, that buffer zone between the WestEnd and the City of London where all the legal boys hang out.
Working in a creative WestEnd industry our WestEnder would probably deal with a company like Denton Wilde Sapte and have done so since they were Denton Hall back in the good old days, but because I’ve decided to call the denizens of Chancery Lane “Chancers” I must immediately make it clear that I am not talking about Denton Wilde Sapte who I in fact hold in the highest esteem. Instead let’s pretend that our WestEnder deals with a far lesser company (Insert name here) … And so to lunch, probably at The Gaucho Grill on Chancery Lane
Well, where else do men go to eat good red meat near Chancery Lane?
Well, there’s Simpsons
and Rules …
But our WestEnder isn’t dealing with Denton Wilde Sapte so we’re heading off to The Gaucho instead.
Like all business lunches around the world nobody is actually going to talk business until the coffee is on the table (and even then it’s a bit of a drag, isn’t it?) so we can all relax for a while & see what everybody is wearing if we are so inclined…
Our WestEnder will be in his working clothes: The soft grey suit, the burnished brown leather shoes, all the stuff from part one of this odyssey. Our Chancery Lane boy, however, will look just a little bit different.
Just check him out:-
And in a ‘harder’ fabric than a WestEnder would chose too: a tightly woven worsted. The kind that can go a bit shiny if the dry cleaners mess up whilst pressing it. Grey or navy blue 3 button with side vents in the usual ordinary English cut. Chalk stripes would be more Denton Wide Sapte (And that’s the last time I’ll mention them I promise). Maybe he got his suit at “Stanley Ley“http://www.stanley-ley.co.uk/ down at the bottom of the Lane.
… Even though he’s forever looking in the window of Ede and Ravenscroft
… And a white shirt!
Plain point tennis collar, sober small repeating pattern tie (Dark blue, dark burgundy or dark green background, never red), gold cuff links, but new so they still shine a little bit too much.
… With black shoes!
Oxfords, even if his degree is from somewhere very different…
But don’t knock him – he’s a hard worker looking to get ahead so he’s playing it safe. And you can tell he’s ambitious by the way he’s brushed his hair back to give himself that wonderful legal profile that you see in all those great Daumier prints. He’s a chancer on the way up, so good luck to him. By this time next year he’ll be with another firm yet again and probably in Ede and Ravenscroft Chalk stripes if all goes according to plan. Life is one long game of Snakes and Ladders down on Chancery Lane.
But he is a little dull though… Worthy, but dull…
… And all too soon it’s 3pm and time for our WestEnder to head back to the office.
But not for long.
5.30pm is standard knocking off time after the 9.30am start (Sadly that’s all changing now even in the WestEnd… Soon the day will come when the working day starts to take up all day. Let’s hope that none of us ever live to see that happen…)
The end of the working day means the start of the drinking day (Drinking at lunch time doesn’t count – Being sociable is a part of your job, surely?), and so it’s time for our WestEnder to meet the members of another London tribe –
The Men in Black –
You can run, you can hide, but if you work in the WestEnd in an office with at least a handful of women then sooner or later you’ll end up at Strawberry Moons. It’s like a little bit of Essex in the WestEnd (To put that into context I once heard New Jersey referred to as the Essex of America. Does that make sense?).
Be a man and deal with it.
Strawberry Moons is hidden just off Regent Street but women can still find it. I think they have some kind of radar for cocktails and pink decor. WestEnders come here to be sociable with the girls in the office and, if single, to hopefully meet that Holy Grail of a good night out: The Blond in Black Underwear. Strawberry Moons girls are great fun, but maybe not marriage material for a WestEnder… But then again you never know…
Drinking and people watching is probably the best way to survive the ultra-female-friendly vibe of Strawberry Moons and in the process you’ll see The Men in Black. Check them out because that’s just what they’ll be doing – checking out everyone and everything in the place. I think maybe they’re looking for love…
The Men in Black have blonds in black underwear on the brain too, but they’re probably a little more serious about the quest than our WestEnder. He’s maybe after a little fun, they’re often here to find Miss Right although they’d never admit it.
The Men in Black are pretty much just standard issue British businessmen. They’re the same in Manchester, Reading, Newcastle, or Nottingham. They keep the country ticking over.
And they wear:
Department store three button black suits!
Often from Debenhams. They take RTW literally and actually wear Ready To Wear clothing without having it altered it to fit them, bless them. I love it when the cuffs of their jackets slide down their hands as they reach for their drinks and then they shake them back over their wrists as they raise the glass to their lips with a quick sideways look to check that you haven’t noticed.
To be honest they’re all really nice guys, it’s just that they’re also just a tiny little bit… clueless?
The Men in Black do read the men’s fashion mags though and so their shirts, ties and cufflinks are always whatever is currently a la mode, albeit within their slightly limited budgets.
Well, who else is there? (Shhhhhhh – don’t tell them!)
And they are also the kings of the big, black, square-toed, slightly orthopedic looking shoe.
And some even go so far as to wear black raincoats too…
They’re actually really rather smart dressers. Well, not smart in that sense, but they’re clever dressers. The suit stays the same pretty much but they bring in all sorts of different colours, textures and accent details in their choice of shirt and tie. The fit of their clothing may not be quite up to snuff, but they do take a certain pride in how they look and what they wear. And, as I say, they keep the country ticking over. Their country needs them.
But enough of them – Time for our WestEnder to eat again and to meet some more different people – Variety is the spice of life! Why else do we choose to live in cities?
The Honourable Members
And so our WestEnder is back on Regent Street again and into a black cab heading for Grumbles in Pimlico where he has a date with his WestEnder girlfriend. Will tonight be the night? (Isn’t every night the night when you’re a WestEnder?)
Grumbles is softly lit and wood panelled like a cigar box with jokey pictures on the walls to laugh at if the conversation with your date hits a sticky patch – A wise choice. And being Pimlico it is in another of London’s “buffer zones”, for in Pimlico you can easily rub shoulders (and knees if your tables are too close together) with various “B list” Members of Parliament who have flats nearby. “A list” MPs tend to have flats in Westminster itself just up the road, but I think I like the “B list” boys more – Junior Members of Parliament and those from the Deep Provinces (a little like the “Deep South” in America, but usually from the Midlands in England). They haven’t yet picked up the professional arrogance of the “A list” crowd. They’re still eager to please.
In the past you could tell a Conservative Member of Parliament from a Labour MP in much the same way that you could tell a sailor from a policeman. They wore different uniforms. Double breasted suits were for Conservatives who also used to brush their hair back rather like a Chancery Lane Lawyer. Labour MPs on the other hand always used to wear single breasted suits and let their hair fall forward. Their hair was never quite as glossy as the Conservative’s either…
But now those days are gone with both parties brushing back their hair and wearing single breasted suits for work. They’ve sort of sartorially met in the middle somehow. Only when you see them wearing their off-duty clothes these days can you still tell them apart at a glance. And tonight at Grumbles at either end of the restaurant you can spy a couple of Honourable Members catching a little late supper before they return to their one bedroom flats just around the corner to drink themselves to sleep once again, all on their own once more…
And they wear:
Clothes that tell you all about their individual political party’s aspirations and marketing positions!
Just check them out –
Labour: Old “man-of-the-people” blue jeans that look as though they hurt. It’s not the cut or the brand that’s the problem with them, it’s just that MPs live in suits so much that their casual clothes are usually rather old and they’ve grown out of them all somewhat, due to all the endless sitting down in meetings that they have to do. They all develop these flaccid Westminster physiques and ash grey faces after a few years in the job. Only if they become successful do they suddenly bloom overnight with healthy complexions and gym memberships. Sadly our “B listers” here are still on the way up. They’re still having to work way too hard…
And with their jeans will be their old trainers worn with their dark (navy, charcoal or black) work socks. Up top they’ll wear some God-awful shirt from God-knows-where. Might also be denim even. And it could do with ironing too. Poor chaps, they’re far from their wives and families back home in their constituencies and so their clothes can often get in a bit of a muddle. What they need is a woman’s touch. But when you’re an ambitious MP how can you get one in the big city without there being a national scandal? And so they soldier on alone.
Conservative: Old “I-own-half-of-Shropshire” cords with bits of food stuck to them. Un-ironed tattersall shirts or old stripey business shirts with collars so worn that you can actually see inside them and note their construction. Lambswool V-necks with holes in the cuff where they’ve rubbed on their wristwatches everyday for the past 15 years. Old shoes once worn for work probably, but now just being worn out. They want you to think they don’t give a damn how they look, they’re far too focused on running the country for such trivia. In reality nobody actually looks like they do by accident. It’s all carefully put together to look careless. I suspect that those of them without dogs even go so far as to buy Labrador or Golden Retriever hair on some kind of black market from pet shops to rub on to their trousers just to get the look down to a “T”. They look great, whatever their politics may be. Younger ones may wear Rugby shirts and canvas jeans that fit.
And so some aspects of the old separate political uniforms do still survive after all…
It’s getting late now so we’ll draw a veil over our WestEnders for a few hours. Our WestEnder’s girlfriend has a top floor flat in nearby St.George’s Square up 4 flights of stairs (with each flight narrower and more dimly lit than the last) and so from Grumbles our couple will move on to her place for a spell I think. These things happen. Who are we to judge?
3am is traditionally when the whole of London gets the munchies. Some raid the fridge. Some try to go to sleep and ignore them. Some do what all the best people do and head East – It’s bagel time again!
The EastEnders –
The Brick Lane Beigel Bake is the place where the whole of London meets and ends up having to queue no matter what hour of the day or day of the week it is for bagels. And it is here in that queue that East meets West and North meets South and you realise that the world is full of different people and that they all live in London. A certain kind of WestEnder may have a certain kind of style, but when you pick him up and drop him down into the East End he becomes just another face in the crowd because out East everybody is different. A typical EastEnder is always an atypical EastEnder and the queue at the Beigel Bake proves it. All races, colours, religions and persuasions mix together there as a wonderful reminder that people are just people and trying to pigeonhole them and classify them in any meaningful way is just a waste of time and I think I like that.
And so that seems to me like a good note on which to end this attempt to pigeonhole and classify the various styles of people living and working in and around the WestEnd of London. “WestEnders”, “Chancery Lane Chancers”, “Men in Black”, “Honourable Members” and “EastEnders” are all both real and unreal at the same time. They may share certain very superficial characteristics, but that’s probably all that they really do share in the final analysis.
It’s only what’s on the inside that counts anyway.