“Toffs and Toughs” – The famous photo by Jimmy Sime that illustrates the class divide in pre-war Britain, 1937 –

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Ehhh, not really at all. It’s very reductive to make it about “Shirt and jacket” vs “Shirt and jacket”. Let’s actually break it down, sartorial-history style! (I understand that this is a school uniform–one still used today at places like Eton!–but I’m going to be talking about it like it’s their normal clothes.)

Toffs:

* Shirt has detachable collar, probably fastened with studs or links.

* Tie, probably silk

* Waistcoat, again silk or similar

* Morning coat

* Pin-striped wool trousers, perfectly tailored

* White gloves

* Top hat, silk or similar

* Boutonnière

* Cane

* Perfectly polished leather shoes.

These guys are wearing a style of clothes known as “morning dress”. Exactly as it says on the tin, this is a DAYTIME formal dress code. This would have been entirely inappropriate for an evening function, which would have required “full evening dress”, which is a completely different set of clothes.

What are we picking up on here? A couple of things.

a) These boys probably have somebody to help them dress (collars don’t stud themselves!) or at least to tailor the pants and polish the shoes. A valet or something like it.

b) They have enough money and time to necessitate a seemingly-arbitrary shift between two sets of clothes in the middle of the day for no reason other than what social mores dictate.

Now, let’s compare them with the Toughs:

* Ill-fitting coats, store-bought or second-hand.

* Scuffed, filthy shoes. Probably their only pair except maybe a set of “church” shoes if they’re lucky.

* Some in shorts (with fraying knee-socks), some in long pants.

* Mismatched fabrics between jacket and pants, not part of a set.

So what are we picking up on here?

a) Everything is in TERRIBLE condition. These boys do not have a tailor or valet. Everything is store-bought or handed down, which is a HUGE cultural difference between having your clothes custom-made and cared for.

b) These clothes are the ones they could get. These are outfits born of necessity, not of society or fashion. Still, they’re making efforts to look cool (see how they’ve all winged their collars out in a “V”? Very hip at the time!) despite their lack of disposable income. Interesting here, to see a contemporary trend vs. the stuffy morning dress.

Here’s my point:

The difference between tailor-made/store-bought, “morning dress”/the day’s outfit indicated at the time a MUCH, MUCH wider cultural gap than hoodie/suit. It was not “classy” because they were wearing jackets. It was seen as a sign of unshakable poverty, of a class one COULD NOT escape from. To be a boy wearing morning dress looking at a boy with only ONE pair of shoes wouldn’t be like a boy in a suit looking at a boy in a hoodie and sneakers. It would be like a boy in a suit looking at a kid in an African village wearing one of those t-shirts they print prematurely with the losing Superbowl team.

You WOULD NOT see a boy of the Toff’s class dressed like a Tough. Would never happen in a million years. Whereas now, you can find pictures of Prince Harry wearing a hoodie. You can find pictures of Eugenie and Beatrice wearing clothes from high street shops. (Yes, they make a big deal about it being from high street shops, but still.) Conversely, a working class woman can go on Rent the Runway and snag an Oscar de la Renta gown for 70 pounds and dress like Kate Middleton for a weekend.

**tl:dr: Clothing has been democratized in a way it’s never been before. It’s tempting to look at pictures of the past and go “everyone looked so classy then!” But it’s a lot more complicated than that.**

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