If Gardeners' Question Time is covertly racist, then what do the dress codes of Pall Mall clubs conceal? The question occurred to me because someone told me recently that, if you are a member of the Australian National University's convocation, you're allowed to stay at the Oxford and Cambridge Club, (sadly the club only belongs to what someone called Andrew McBride described in a letter to the Telegraph some years ago [I'll copy the letter out here tomorrow, or next time I have a moment - it's worth a read] as the "melancholy tranche of clubs that advertise for members".
Having learnt that I am entitled to this privilege, however dismal it might be, I naturally decided to have a look at the club's website. Its startlingly comprehensive dress code made the digital trip worthwhile.
What class terrors and repressed libidinous flutterings were at play as the members of the committee drew up their rules, which include the prohibition of:
Strapless, very flimsy, transparent and very low-cut tops/shirts/blouses
Midriff, crop and bandeau tops (or equivalent)
Mini-skirts (Oh what is that noise? It sounds a lot like old men panting)
as well as:
Roll- and polo-neck jerseys and pullovers (except for Ladies)
Ponchos and kaftans
Flipflops and casual boots (including hiking shoes and boots, and uggs)
Leisure wear, such as shorts, tracksuits, t-shirts and training shoes (except in the squash courts and changing rooms)
Jodhpur-style trousers - are jodhpurs themselves all right, do you suppose?
Leather and suede clothing (except as noted below) - I wonder if this rule extends to leather shoes, given that "plimsolls" are also verboten
Suede, leather and denim skirts, dresses, blouses, and jackets (for either sex), are permitted at any time when the garments are tailored and otherwise indistinguishable from attire considered appropriate, except with regard to fabric. Jackets, coats and other items incorporating distressed, torn, or heavily studded fabrics are not appropriate at any time.
Less stringent standards may be applied to children under 14 years of age than to those aged 14 and above - as children under 10 are not allowed into the club, this only leaves a window of four years in which to really enjoy the run of the club while wearing distressed denim shorts and trainers.
There is also a surprising fetishisation of carried items in all their glorious variants:
Luggage (including hand-luggage, but excluding small handbags), carrier bags, “outdoor” coats, and umbrellas must be deposited in the lockers, cloakrooms, or at the front desk; they may under no circumstances be brought in to the public spaces of the Club house including the library, or left in the corridors or stairways. Exceptionally, briefcases may be taken to the business centre.
I love the thought of the endless meetings in which every outfit possibility and portable container type was envisioned and described. I shall remain forever puzzled about why an outdoor coat needs to be framed with inverted commas. I note that no attempt has been made to address the question of religious headgear or, indeed, any form of national dress.