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Puttin’ on the Blitz

The Bright Young Things dress up for the Good Old Days.

Mar 21, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 26 • By SARA LODGE
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The company was diverse. Connie, a transgendered person, was there sporting scarlet lipstick and a fascinator with a spotted net veil. She told me that she and her party all worked in museums and galleries, where the kind of textiles they were wearing were objects labeled and locked up. This was an opportunity to enter the world they usually kept behind glass.

“Besides,” she said, “you know in the morning it’s usually just powder and a bit of lipstick. You don’t take the trouble. It’s good to have an excuse to make the effort.” I heard this sentiment from many people. Entering the past seems to give people a sense of having more time, or measuring time differently. Women who usually dress in sweaters and jeans find hours to don stockings and petticoats. Men who usually zip their trousers and zap their remotes enjoy the gallantry of buttoned blazers and a slow dance.

Of course, the Blitz wasn’t really like this. It was a time of fear and exhaustion. Henry Moore’s sketches of Underground stations at the time show anonymous bodies, huddled together like the chrysalises of caterpillars, waiting to emerge into the light. But 70 years on, World War II has become a period of imagined glamor. 

Every generation creates its own myth of yesteryear. The Victorians dressed up in medieval costume. The Teddy Boys of the 1950s were reviving Edwardian style. The past we visit is always a country of our own making, a holiday destination that reflects what it is about home we wish to escape. In London in the early 21st century, cloned chain stores, the hectic speed of modern life, the absence of community, leave people wanting yore. Luckily, with a wave of the mascara wand, a cloche, a dropped-waist gown, and a click of the heels on a pair of ruby slippers, you can easily transport yourself to a more congenial era.

The yen for then is very now.

Sara Lodge, a senior lecturer in English at the University of St Andrews, is the author of Thomas Hood and Nineteenth-Century Poetry: Work, Play, and Politics.

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