Category Archives: Shopping

What the heck is Boxing Day, anyway?

Christmas has thus far been a 100% success, and now I’m settling down for the traditional Boxing Day power-down. Many will be out in the sales, fighting for bargains. Personally, I’m a bit old-fashioned, and treat the whole thing as basically “like Christmas Day, only more mellow.” If my choice is between fighting my way up Oxford Street and sitting around eating turkey and drinking port, you know which one I’m going for.

Boxing Day is a holiday that only really exists in Britain and Commonwealth countries, and seems to mystify those from other countries. It’s really quite simple. It’s a bank holday to help you recover from Christmas. It falls on the Feast of Stephen, when Good King Wenceslas looked out (there was nothing on TV except the Bond movie, and he’d already seen Live and Let Die like ten times).

I’ve heard alternative theories as to the origin of the name. One is that it was the day when boxing matches were held. While there are many sporting events traditionally held on 26th December, including boxing in Italy and several African countries, this explanation has been dismissed by experts as “like totally retarded.” Another is that it’s when the churches broke open their poor boxes for distribution to the needy, or put boxes out for collections. However, the explanation that seems most widely accepted is that it was when households would distribute Christmas gifts of trinkets, food or money – to servants. The name seems to have first appeared in the seventeenth century, when earthenware boxes were the favoured containers. Such servants would largely be household staff, but later on this expanded to include postmen, chimney sweeps and anyone else who had helped the household during the year. Through the twentieth century, households grew smaller, employing fewer servants. Technological innovation also made running a house less labour-intensive, so the tradition of Christmas boxes died out. Except… not entirely. It’s still common to give a little something to your dustman, paper boy, secretary etc., only we don’t call it “boxing” any more.

Although Boxing Day is a largely British and Commonwealth phenomenon, it’s also a Christian festival. St Stephen’s Day also falls on the 26th, and various countries have their own ways of marking the occasion. In Ireland, there’s the Feast of the Wren, when groups of revellers would go from door to door, singing and dancing and carrying a dead wren on a stick. Feathers from this wren were supposed to be a charm against shipwreck. Latterly, a live or fake wren has been used instead, because seriously, guys. In Catalonia, there is a feast where local cuisine as well as the remains of the Christmas feast are served, which sounds more like my kind of party. Returning to Britain, the tradition in Wales was to flog your female servants with branches of holly for no reason. Ironically, there are no celebrations in Serbia, the country for which St Stephen is the patron saint.

I’m not sure exactly when it became this horrendous shopping day, but quite frankly I cannot be arsed with that sort of thing. I did my struggling through the shops in the week before Christmas and have no desire to repeat the experience.

Therefore, my plan is to continue with the gluttony and materialism until I pass out, before going for the traditional Quiet Pint with Friends. Merry Christmas, chums.

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Filed under 20th Century, Current events, History, Only loosely about London, Shopping

To Be A Pirate King

After the signing on Saturday, Izzi and I rushed off to complete my pirate costume. Pirate costume? Perhaps I should explain.

You see, on Wednesday, my good chum Tiny Emma, who is well versed in the ways of debauchery, invited me along to an event held by an organisation known as Corset and Diamonds. This, I was told, was a burlesque-and-electro-swing evening themed around Pirates of the Caribbean, which is a film that I understand enjoyed a certain amount of success a few years ago.

Unfortunately, I’m currently rehearsing for a play that is on next week (you should come and see it, it’s going to be awesome) and so the amount of time available to produce a suitable outfit was somewhat limited. So, a certain amount of improvisation was needed. I decided a little research was in order.

Of course, it almost goes without saying that most of what we think of as “piratical” is more-or-less BS, invented by fiction writers, based on misunderstandings and half-truths, reinforced by years of retelling. For -instance, you know the old pirate voice, the “ha-harrr, Jim lad, splice the mainsail, keelhaul the mizzen-mast, belike and by thunder!” accent? That dates all the way back to 1950, derived from Robert Newton’s performance as Long John Silver in Disney’s version of Treasure Island. Now, there was some truth in his performance – he was a Cornishman by birth and based the accent on the sailors he used to see. But the near-universal Mummerset growl of Hollywood movies was nowhere near as prevalent as you might think. Particularly given that so many pirates were, you know, not English.

And you know the Jolly Roger, the black flag with the skull-and-crossbones? Again, nowhere near as common as the movies would have you believe. More common was the plain black flag, or the plain red flag. They both indicated that this ship was not part of any navy and therefore not obliged to follow any niceties of international law, and if you’d like to surrender now then I’m sure you’ll save us all a lot of bother. Most common of all, however, was to simply fly the colours of whatever country you were pretending to be from until the other ship was too near to run. This would arouse less suspicion than having, you know, a flag that basically says “HELLO WE ARE PIRATES” from a distance. Of course, for the pirate with a sense of style, an off-the-peg skull-and-crossbones wouldn’t do, and many prominent buccaneers went with a custom design. I rather like Blackbeard’s one, pictured below. By the way, the red flag was also commonly known as the “jolie rouge,” from which we get the term “Jolly Roger.” So there you have it.

But what about clothes? Your basic pirate costume seems to come in two forms. You’ve either got the foppish Captain Hook-style outfit, very elaborate, lots of brass buttons, or you’ve got the raggedy seadog look.

The reality, in fact, lay somewhere between the two extremes. Pirates did indeed like to dress up, they were basically the pimps of the sea in sartorial terms. But commonly, the elaborate clothes they were able to get were stolen. So you might get a seadog acting the foppish macaroni in the coat several sizes too large, tottering along in shoes a size too small.

However, your average sailor was also pretty handy with a needle and thread – they had to be, with sail repairs to be made. So they could rustle up their own clothes if needs be. And if a recent haul included silk, lace or other fancy cloth, those clothes could be extremely… do people still say “bling?” Am I using that word correctly?

So the conclusions I drew:

1. There is a lot of freedom, the only limits on an authentic costume being period accuracy.

2. The party is tomorrow and I don’t have much money, throw something together.

So, what I went with:

Shirt: They all laughed at me when I bought a frilly white shirt at the Stables in Camden, but WHO’S LAUGHING NOW? It came from that basement stall run by that rather theatrical-looking woman.

Trousers: I don’t own any breeches, sadly. There is a shop in Camden that has a lot of theatrical costume, including several pairs of breeches, but these were around the £35-40 mark, which was a bit much for me. However, in the Paws charity shop in Tooting I found a pair of black trousers. I hacked the legs off below the knee to create a raggedy look that might, if you didn’t look too closely, pass for breeches.

Waistcoat: I have a rather elaborate and shiny red waistcoat with brass and mother-of-pearl buttons. The style is a bit too modern for the Golden Age of Piracy, but with it worn open this wasn’t too noticeable. Just the sort of thing a dandy sailing lad might steal from a fat unarmed merchantman.

Footwear: If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from years of amateur dramatics, it’s that if you wear a pair of breeches and a pair of long socks, nobody can tell you’re not wearing stockings. Shoe-wise, I just wore my trusty black Oxford brogues. Ideally I’d have liked a buckle, but I didn’t have any.

Headgear: At Izzi’s suggestion, I picked up a black bandanna from a stall in Oxford Street. I also managed to get a brown tricorn at So High Soho on Berwick Street which looked a lot more elaborate than its price tag would suggest. The shop was closing for the day, but they let me dash in, which was cool of them. Incidentally, do you have any idea how hard it is to get a decent pirate hat that is both affordable and doesn’t look crap? Very hard.

Accessorising:  Primark really came through here. I found a cheapo pendant for £1.50 in the Tooting branch along with a battered-looking brown belt which was free because the guy on the till forgot to ring it through har har. I also added a couple of pocket watches and two more pendants to give the whole ensemble that more-plunder-than-sense look. The finishing touch was a sword from Escapade in Camden.

I met up with Anna K and we made our way to the party. I think the outfit was pretty successful, it was reacted to favourably at the event. It also seemed to make the hobo outside Colliers Wood Tube Station quite angry, but I don’t speak derelict so I couldn’t tell you why. On the way back I had a number of drunks shouting “Captain Jack Sparrow!” which would be quite witty, only I actually was deliberately dressed as a pirate, so not really.

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Filed under 18th century, Bloomsbury, Booze, Camden, Clubbing, Current events, Fashion and trends, Film and TV, History, Literature, London, Markets, Shopping, Soho, The City, Weird shops, West End

A League of their own

Now, get any group of comic book fans together and ask them which comic creator still living has had the greatest influence on the medium, and you’ll get a lot of different answers. My own answer would be Alan Moore. The only creator I can think of who’s had a comparable influence would be Stan Lee, but there’s a certain amount of dispute over the extent to which he “created” many of the characters credited to him.

Alan Moore, basically, has changed the face of comics. You may not know the name, but he was responsible for writing (among many other things) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta, From Hell and – most famously of all – Watchmen. The latter, along with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, took the superhero genre in a darker, more adult direction from which it has never returned – although none of the imitators has had quite the same success as those two.

My personal favourite of his works is The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,  which is rather more fun than some of the works for which he’s best known. The basic concept is that every character within the fictional universe of this comic is from a pre-existing work of fiction. In the first volume, for instance, Mina Murray (from Dracula), Allan Quartermain (from King Solomon’s Mines), Dr Jekyll, Captain Nemo and the Invisible Man form a team under the supervision of James Bond’s grandfather and foil a gang war between Fu Manchu and Professor Moriarty. In the second, they participate in the events of War of the Worlds with the assistance of Dr Moreau and the father of the Wolf of Kabul. You get the idea. The number of works alluded to is immense, and much of the fun of the series comes from looking through to see how many allusions you can spot. Many of these come from artist Kevin O’Neill, whose manic and highly-detailed panels overflow with incidental characters and background references.

So you may imagine my excitement when I heard that the newest volume was due to be published and, not only that, but Moore and O’Neill were doing a signing in London at Gosh! Comics. Gosh! is, to my mind, about the best comic shop in London. It emphasises unusual and indie stuff,  and judging by the calibre of some of the creators they’ve had in to do signings (Gilbert Shelton and Dave McKean among them), it seems to be pretty well-respected. It’s based in Bloomsbury, but is about to up sticks to Berwick Street in Soho.

Yesterday, Succubusface, Izzi and I went up to indulge our inner geek at the signing. As you might imagine, if you know anything about comics culture, the event was huge. Succubusface nobly arrived an hour early and bagged us a spot – even so, we were queued right around the building. The line snaked considerably further than that, and God only knows how long the last fans in the queue were waiting. We were in line for several hours, in fact. We’re just that cool.

Eventually we got in. Now, you read interviews with Alan Moore, he comes across as a very grumpy man. He’s had public fall-outs with movie studios and comics publishers alike and is not afraid to express his feelings – combined with the often eclectic and obscure nature of his comics, the impression one gets is that he’d be this huge intimidating monster who’d have you thrown out for saying that you’d even seen the movie of V for Vendetta. And Kevin O’Neill’s scratchy, intense style leads one (well, me at least) to expect some sort of insane, wide-eyed boho who talks only in a stream of consciousness and reserves the right to bite you at any time.

This is Alan Moore.

Actually, they were both lovely. Very obliging, very willing to chat – Succubusface had a brief discussion with O’Neill about researching his artwork. The overall impression I got was that while Moore has his disputes with a lot of the men-in-suits, he has plenty of time for his genuine fans. Which is awesome. We left thoroughly pleased with our signed purchases.

The volume I was there to get was Century: 1969. Century is, officially, the third volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, although in practical terms it’s actually the fourth (Black Dossier, basically a series of supplemental material for the League universe framed by a shortish story, was published before Century but is not counted). It’s being published in three parts and is, as the title implies, a story spanning the twentieth century. In the first part, 1910, the League – now consisting of Mina, Allan, Raffles the Gentleman Thief, Carnacki the Ghost-Finder and Virginia Woolf’s Orlando – attempts to foil an occult scheme by Aleister Crowley-analogue Oliver Haddo (of W. Somerset Maugham’s The Magician) and find themselves caught up in the events of The Threepenny Opera. In 1969, Haddo’s scheme resurfaces in Swinging London, where he has enlisted the help of Turner (from Performance) and Tom Riddle. Organised crime, the hippie movement, pop music and the occult clash, with the remains of the League and Jack Carter investigating the murder of Molesworth’s Fotherington-Tomas.

It’s been a long wait for this second part, but again, I feel it was worth it. Following Century, which often felt obscure to the point of self-indulgence in Yr. Humble Chronicler’s opinion, Century is a return to the kind of storytelling that made the first two volumes so enjoyable. While it’s not essential that you know that, e.g., this character is from The Long Firm or that character is from Round the Horne in order to understand the story, it adds immensely to your enjoyment if you do. Cameos abound, with such diverse personalities as the Second Doctor, Andy Capp and Dame Edna Everage all putting in background appearances.

The characters, particularly Mina, are developed and expanded in Moore’s usual thoughtful fashion – the implications of the characters’ extended lifespans (long story if you’ve not read the previous volumes) are considered in some detail, but without the irritating navel-gazing that bedevils many comics that try to be mature. There are lots of callbacks to previous episodes and, knowing Moore, plenty of elements that will become significant in the next.

The art, too, is up to Kevin O’Neill’s usual high standards. As I mentioned, his style is very weird, so much so that the Comics Code Authority banned it simply because they found it too freaky. 1969, which contains many psychedelic and generally bizarre sequences which allow him to unleash his full freakiness. I don’t think there’s another artist who could have done this quite as much justice as he.

Overall, it’s a worthy addition to the League canon, and I look forward to 2009 eagerly.

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Filed under Arts, Bloomsbury, Current events, Literature, London, Occult, Shopping, Soho, Weird shops

Why I Am Not A Motorist

 

It goes without saying that this never happens.

A question I get asked a lot is why I don’t drive. This seems like a bit of an odd thing to ask me, as even the most casual acquaintance knows the obvious answer to be “because I’m a drunken psychopath reprobate.” At this point, the person laughs and asks what the real reason is. Then I stab them up good for suggesting that I’m a liar. Well, I did warn them.

But anyway, because the truth hurts (literally), I’ve come up with some more “believable” reasons for why I, as someone who lives in London, do not drive.

1. Public transport is actually pretty good

I’ll admit that I have been known to complain about public transport now and again. But the fact is that if you live in London, you are very fortunate in terms of getting around. As you may already know, I live in Colliers Wood. I’m on the Northern Line. Within half an hour’s walk are Wimbledon, Haydons Road, South Wimbledon, Tooting Broadway, Tooting Bec and Tooting stations. I’m also within walking distance of the Tramlink and there are several buses passing through. There are night and 24-hour buses, and I’m just off the main road, so I am never ever stranded as long as I’m in London (although there are also 24-hour services to Oxford and St Albans, other familiar haunts of mine). Everywhere I need to go on a regular basis, I can get to without a car.

2. Money

I have an Oyster Travelcard which costs me just over £150 a month. Now, that’s quite a lot, but as I work in Central London it works out cheaper than paying a fare every time I use public transport. And as it’s a work expense, what that means is that everything time I use that other than for work, I’m effectively getting free travel.

If I had a car, I’d have to pay for petrol, maintenance, road tax, parking and the Congestion Charge. That’s before the start-up costs of learning to drive and buying the damn car in the first place. This leads me on to…

3. Even if I did get a car, I’d have to use public transport anyway.

This man would totally drink and drive.

As regular readers will be aware, I like to party. Quite often, when I go out, booze is involved. As a responsible adult (har har), I could not possibly drive after such libation, so I would have to either not take my car out or not drink. Few things are more tiresome than being the one sober individual at a wild party, so I’d have to use public transport anyway.

That’s before we’ve got on to the fact that in Central London, traffic and parking are bastards anyway. Coupled with the congestion charge, it would be a rare occasion when driving into London would actually be easier than taking the Tube. I know an awful lot of people who have cars but commute by public transport anyway. So if I’m going to shell out for the Oyster, might as well save my money on a car I won’t use.

4. Walking is awesome

I love to walk. I walk all over the place. Often with no plan or end goal, just walking around the city, seeing what I can see. I’ll take random and illogical routes. I’ll explore places that are probably best left unexplored. When I set out on my own, I rarely know exactly where I’m going to end up. This is an experience that you can’t replicate in a car. You just don’t have that flexibility, and if you’re going slowly enough to appreciate the backstreets you’ll probably get done for kerb crawling.

And walking is a great way to stay in shape, too. I find exercise boring as all hell, so if I can maintain my shape doing something I love, then so much the better. If I over-indulge one night, well, the next day I’ll take the long route home instead to compensate.

5. Everything is nearby

Even if I didn’t have excellent public transport, Colliers Wood is not badly located for shops. As I mentioned, I’m within walking distance of Wimbledon and Tooting Broadway, which are excellent places to shop. Everything I actually need, I can get from there. What’s more, there is a massive, massive Sainsbury’s and a similarly huge Marks and Spencer about five minutes from me.

“But Tom, you handsome bastard,” I hear you cry, “isn’t it a hassle when you’re doing your weekly shop, having to carry all those bags? I mean, even ten minutes on foot with heavy shopping can be a Herculean task.” Firstly, it’s a bit weird that you all used those exact same words, but secondly I should point out that I’m a bachelor with no need to plan ahead shopping-wise. I don’t really do a “weekly shop” per se. More a “today and possibly tomorrow if there’s anything left over, and oh damn I’ve forgotten something, well, let’s stop at the Tesco petrol station on the way back” shop.

6. Think about the environment!

Actually, I don’t, but the fact that I don’t drive a car does make me a bit more environmentally friendly now you come to mention it. Smug!

To conclude

I don’t drive because I don’t need to. I appreciate this doesn’t apply to everyone, and that there are perfectly sound reasons for owning a car if you’re not in my circumstances. I also admit that there are circumstances where even I would find a car useful, but these arise so rarely as to not be worth worrying about.

Plus I’ve seen that film Cars, set in a post-apocalyptic world where vehicles have risen up and slaughtered their human masters in a bid to create an automobiles-only society. Let’s not let that come to pass.

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Filed under Environment, London, Shopping, Suburbia, Transport

Good Friday? I’ll say!

Happy Easter, chums. I hope the weekend finds you well. I am fine. At the time of writing, it’s Good Friday and I’ve just come back from a rather unexpectedly pleasant day out which was, I feel, in the true spirit of psychogeography.

I mean, it was a lovely sunny day outside, and as it was a four-day weekend, I was feeling rather chipper. I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted to do, so I thought I’d explore the canals around Limehouse a bit more. Alas, when I got to Bank, I discovered that the Docklands Light Railway wasn’t running. Yes, I know, I know, could have seen that when I started the journey, but that’s not how I roll.

So, vaguely at a loss, I decided to just go for a wander. I broke the surface (not literally) and wandered vaguely North-East through Leadenhall Market. This place, pictured right, is an absolutely gorgeous Victorian shopping arcade. During the week it houses a food market, but at weekends is rather peaceful – I have yet to sample the weekday wares, alas. You may know it from the film of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in which it appeared as the area around Diagon Alley. I got the impression Chris Columbus was going for the Bridget Jones’ Diary school of London film making, in which London is a magical place that hasn’t quite moved out of the Victorian era.

Heading out beyond Liverpool Street, I came upon Petticoat Lane market. I’ve never been here before, and I must admit that I’d never really thought about going there before. I’d heard of it, but had no especial desire to visit. It’s not one of the top tourist destinations, and as such doesn’t cater to tourists. It’s primarily a clothing market, which is great if you are me. However, I do have to say that there’s a lot of duplication between stalls – if you’ve seen one selection of shirts, you’ve seen them all. The market has historically been a place of dubious legality, only becoming official in 1936, but despite this and the lack of tourism, it remains a firm local institution. While I wouldn’t go out of my way for it personally, it’s worth a look if, like me, you get stupidly excited about clothes.

Speaking of places where one can get stupidly excited about clothes, Brick Lane is very nearby, and so I made a beeline that way. With it being a bank holiday and thus less crowded than usual, and with the sun out, it was an utterly delightful experience. Sadly, at present, I find myself having to hold the purse strings – I’m moving house shortly, you see. And so it makes perfect sense that the universe should choose this point to taunt me with an incredible stripy blazer in black, red and grey (which I could totally pull off, I’m telling you) and a pair of Chelsea boots in exactly the style I’ve been looking for. Sadly, I could afford neither of these. Not even in the “can but shouldn’t” way. Instead, I consoled myself with a bagel, and now my fingers smell indelibly of chopped herring.

It was at this point that a teenager told me to get a haircut. I have thus out-fabuloused both the teens and the Shoreditch kids, which I believe is what is termed “bi-winning.”

This being done, I decided to finish my journey by walking up City Road to Islington. Wandering around Camden Passage, I came across one of the most amazing canes I have ever seen. It had a silver skull-shaped handle with a jawbone that doubled as a cigar cutter. But sadly it was £150, which I really, really, really cannot afford. Finally, I know the pain of unrequited love.

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Filed under Current events, East End and Docklands, Fashion and trends, Geography, Islington, London, Markets, Photos, Psychogeography, Shopping, Shoreditch, The City, tourism, Weird shops

Sweet Charity

So often in life, our ambitions far outweigh our ability to achieve them, as anyone who has attended an orgy can confirm. In my case, I’m a chap on the kind of income that allows me to live comfortably with a few little luxuries to keep life bearable. However, that’s not to say that I’m exactly rich, particularly if you work for the Inland Revenue.

What I’m saying is, I can’t splash out quite as much as I’d like to. Therefore, as someone who likes to dress up and who reads a lot, I’ve become something of a devotee of charity shops.

The first charity shop in Britain opened in 1941 on Old Bond Street, and was owned by the Red Cross. There are estimated to be over 9,000 charity shops in the UK and Republic of Ireland, which is quite significant if you follow Internet memes.

They are a fine place to find vintage clothes at bargain prices – I’ve obtained some superb items for really very little money. The only thing is that charity shops these days have wised up to the vintage movement, and in many cases have raised their prices accordingly. Not that they are as expensive as your average high street vintage shop, but jaw-dropping bargains are harder to find in some stores than they used to be.

They’re not so great if you’re looking for something specific, but on the other hand you’re far more likely to be surprised. I’ve been introduced to some of my favourite authors purely by having found their books in charity shops. I’m not too inclined to gamble a lot of money on an author who I’m not familiar with and who comes without recommendations, but a couple of quid for a book isn’t exactly going to ruin me if I don’t like it.

These days, your average charity shop comes in three flavours:

1. The Specialist

Certain chains of charity shop have begun to organise their shops into categories. For instance, a number of them have stores that specialise only in books, or only in furniture. The great advantage is that, if you’re looking for something specific, you’re more likely to find it there than in a “general” charity shop. Unfortunately, they tend to be quite rare, and damned if I can work out how they decide on locations.

The New Sort

Charity shops have spruced up their image these days, and particularly in the case of the larger chains (e.g. Oxfam, Cancer Research) they’re much more inviting than they used to be. The specialist shops would appear to have sprung out of this revamp. A few of them, notably Oxfam, have branched out into selling new goods as well as secondhand. The aforementioned Oxfam does a rather tasty line of fair trade goods, for instance.

The Old School

It’s not so long ago that all charity shops used to be like this. They tend to be gloomy and disorganised and staffed by slightly odd individuals. I was hunting through one of these in Camden once, and was rather taken aback by the elderly lady also rifling through the clothes and muttering, “I’ll spend what I like – not just a pound here and there, not like he would have wanted.” At that point I remembered I had an urgent mumblemumble in the rffrrnmnrr and had to leave.

These shops are a relative rarity in London, but tend to be located on the less prestigious high streets, owned by the smaller charities.

Tips

  • Consider the area. Somewhere like Kensington tends to chuck out a higher quality of goods than somewhere like, say, Tooting. A bookish place like Bloomsbury is an excellent place to find books. However, note also that more expensive areas tend to charge higher prices. They’re cunning like that.
  • Vintage clothing shops get a lot if not all of their stock from charity shops. This was brought home to me when I saw a couple of waistcoats for sale in Wimbledon, only to see them a week later in a Covent Garden vintage shop for four times the price. Ergo, the optimum place to find a bargain is a fairly well-off place without a vintage scene.
  • Not that I’d normally advocate leaving the city, but when you get out of town you’re more likely to find places that meet the well-off/no vintage scene criteria. However, you’re more likely to find shops of the old school in these places.

And, of course, it’s all for a good cause. A much better way of raising funds than the use of chuggers, and you’re getting something out of it yourself. It’s ethical, environmentally friendly and money-saving. Give yourself a pat on the back.

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Filed under Fashion and trends, London, Shopping, Weird shops

What’s wrong with hipsters?

You see a lot of them in London. Shoreditch and Hoxton are where they’re most prevalent, but Hackney, Soho, Camden, Islington and Fitzrovia can all boast plenty. Even dear old Wandsworth has been invaded. Find anywhere with an art school and you’ll find a few of them hanging around. If you haven’t guessed, I’m talking about hipsters.

Now, hipsters get a lot of stick these days. As subcultures go, they’re more reviled than goths, geeks and hippies combined. But what exactly is a hipster? This is where people seem to run into trouble.

A hipster, it seems, is someone who takes pride in being different from the crowd. Nothing wrong with that, surely? I mean, who wouldn’t want to be seen as an individual? Ah, hold on, looks like I missed the point. The point is that the hipster is someone who takes pride in the difference itself – difference is what they cultivate. The problem arises from the fact that the difference manifests itself in the same clothing , hair and affectations as every other hipster, resulting in a kind of uniform. And the pride manifests itself in smugness.

The ire towards hipsters is not derived from the fact that they are eclectic and different, so much as that they think they are eclectic and different. Ironically, if someone genuinely was eclectic and different, they probably wouldn’t be classed as a hipster.

The look is fairly easy to identify – NHS glasses, lumberjack shirt, skinny jeans, keffiyeh, maybe some sort of woolly hat. And stupid hair. Basically, if you see a haircut and think, “That looks stupid,” you’ve probably found yourself a hipster. There may be a scraggly beard attached, if scraggly is even a word (I don’t think it is). If you trawl Topman, you can probably catch several.

Interestingly, the reputation of the hipster as less “trend setter/social rebel” and more “rich, middle-class, self-important, unoriginal snob in uniform” means that now, about the most insulting thing you can say to a hipster is that they are, in fact, a hipster. By labelling them a hipster, you effectively call them exactly the opposite of what a hipster desires to be. Some commentators have even gone so far as to suggest that by their very existence, hipsters have destroyed the meaning of cool.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, but I do think the hipsters may be an interesting (although it goes against the hipster way to admit to being interested in anything) by-product of globalisation. With minor variations, hipsters may be found all over the world (as the Independent article above notes). As so many of the major clothing stores are multinational if not worldwide, there’s no need to hipsters to mix and match to achieve a look – they can buy the whole thing down their local high street. Head into Top Shop or Uni Qlo or – if you’re poor – Primark or H&M.

Primark. I think my image researcher may have made a mistake.

Basically, Westfield should see you alright. Interesting fact: Uni Qlo is a Japanese term derived from the English “eunuch clothes.” [NOTE FROM LAWYERS: No it is not]

So what’s the solution? Well, if you want to be unique and different, try actually being unique and different. Try enjoying what you like, rather than what the Internet and adverts tell you you should like. Wear clothes that suit you that you picked out yourself – instead of going for a charity shop look, try going to an actual charity shop. Listen to music you’ve found that you like, and if it goes mainstream, well, that’s just a sign of your good taste.
Also, stop wearing those plastic glasses, you look ridiculous.

Further Viewing
Being a dickhead’s cool, apparently. Thanks to Sazzi for alerting me to this.

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Filed under Arts, Camden, Fashion and trends, Hackney, Islington, London, Music, Only loosely about London, Shopping, Shoreditch, West End