Monday, 8 July 2013
Men in Shorts
They should have noted the fate of the first Englishman so to do at Wimbledon, one Brame Hillyard, who took to the court in 'shorts' in 1930, was soundly beaten and sank without trace to become a mere footnote in tennis history. The more famous Bunny Austin was rather more successful playing in shorts, but never won a final (he lost to Don Budge and, for his pains, received a £10 gift voucher redeemable at a high-street jeweller. Those were the days.) The New York Times summed up Bunny Austin's 'look' rather neatly: 'With his white linen hat and his flannel shorts, the little English player looked like an A.A. Milne production.' Quite.
The craze for short trousers on men originated in the crackpot notions of a bunch of faddists and 'hygiene' fanatics who styled themselves the Men's Dress Reform Party (that's a bunch of them in the picture above, confirming that jacket-and-shorts is just about the worst wardrobe combo available to mankind). The Men's Dress Reform Party was an offshoot of the New Health Society and related to the nudist Sunlight League. We know their type, and they are frequently lampooned in the novels of P.G. Wodehouse - not least in the form of Roderick Spode's fascist organisation the Black Shorts. Rather than succumbing to the crazy notions of the Men's Dress Reform Society, the Wimbledon authorities would have done better to heed the words of an anonymous writer on the subject of 'dress reform' in the Tailor & Cutter:
'A loosening of the bonds will gradually impel mankind to sag and droop bodily and spiritually. If laces are unfastened, ties loosened and buttons banished, the whole structure of modern dress will come undone; it is not so wild as it sounds to say that society will also fall to pieces…Such restraints were not noxious: they were the foundation upon which civilisation rested and protected men from savagery and decadence.' And from looking very silly.