Steady on, Chaps

You may have spotted a certain type of outfit among the smart sets of Soho and Shoreditch. Not quite commonplace, but certainly more visible than it used to be. I’m talking about this sort of thing:

These are the Chaps, a relatively new movement that revels in being old-fashioned. Resolutely twentieth-century, it should not be confused with steampunk (though there is a certain amount of overlap).

The ethos of the movement might best be described as a tongue-in-cheek harking back to a more polite era that may never have really existed. The emphasis is on gentlemanly behaviour, fashions and activities, albeit with a somewhat bohemian bent. Its heroes are the likes of David Niven and Leslie Philips, although more modern figures who embody chap values, such as Sebastian Horsley and Stephen Fry, are more than welcome. Indeed, one need not even be male to be part of the scene – Fleur de Guerre (whose blog, Diary of a Vintage Girl, may be seen linked to your right) is a regular contributor to The Chap magazine.

Which is really where the whole thing began. The relatively small press magazine was founded by Gustav Temple, one of the fellows in the photo above, back in 1999. It received wider exposure through, of all places, articles in Loaded and continues to maintain a cult following among those who follow or aspire to Chappism. It regularly features articles on such subjects as fine alcohol, pipe smoking and moustache maintenance. 

Temple uses the term “anarcho-dandyism” to describe the movement. The aim is to bring about social change through the more positive aspects of the past – the feeling is that consumerism and conformity in the modern era have put paid to common courtesy and the simple pleasures of life, and the aim is to bring these back.

Oddly enough, though, Chappism can embrace modernity in its own unique way. For instance, there is a Chappist style of music. It’s called Chap-Hop and the first known exponent was Jim Burke, better known as Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer, seen left. A sort of unholy spawn of Vivian Stanshall and Weird Al Yankovic, his speciality is taking existing hip-hop tracks and reworking them (with extensive use of the banjolele) into a more Chappy form. For instance, his take on ‘Straight Out of Compton’ was ‘Straight Out of Surrey,’ in which he boasts of his cricket expertise. His version of ‘Let Me Clear My Throat’ was ‘Let Me Smoke My Pipe,’ whose subject matter is self-explanatory.

The other major Chap-Hopper is Professor Elemental, pictured right – although it’s fair to say that his work has a more steampunk feel than Mr B. Both are funny as the dickens, though, and well worth a listen.

However, there are storm clouds on the horizon – with his song ‘Fighting Trousers’, the Professor has instigated a feud with Mr B. The Chap ethos demands that this be settled in a manly fashion, either with bare-knuckle boxing or a duel on Hampstead Heath. I’ll keep you posted.

Chappism has become more mainstream in recent years, I suspect due to the surge in popularity of vintage fashion.

I suspect Doctor Who has played no small part in this either. First we had the determinedly 1940s-styled Captain Jack Harkness, then we had the rather wonderful Eleventh Doctor, played by Matt Smith. This character has singlehandedly revived the British tweed industry – tweed jackets are now popular even among non-Chaps. Although The Chap was quick to find fault with his use of clip-on braces. Should have buttons on his trousers, you see.

Retro fashion is an odd thing. First it was the teddy boys harking back to Edwardian fashion in rebellion against the conservatism of the 1950s, now the Chaps hark back to the conservatism of the 1950s in rebellion against the conspicuous consumption and facelessness of the 21st century. What goes around, comes around.

Further Reading

http://www.thechap.net/ – The Chap’s official web site.

http://www.myspace.com/mrbthegentlemanrhymer – Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer’s “My Space.”

http://www.professorelemental.com/fr_home.cfm – Professor Elemental’s web site.

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Filed under 20th Century, Arts, Fashion and trends, History, Music, Only loosely about London, Politics

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