The Nature of Appropriateness


Why is it that some items of clothing have transcended their originators or original purposes and others haven’t – or rather, why are we more squeamish about using them? When does adopting some item of kit become a matter of ‘all the gear, no idea’, or merely an acceptable appreciation of an aesthetic? And at what point does an item of clothing cease to belong to one particular group?

Since my post on Smart Turnout‘s upcoming range of clothing it’s one I’ve been wrestling with. Though not the original purpose, the commentary to that article quickly degenerated into an argument about the appropriateness of using heritage and military colours when one wasn’t a member of said groups. One comment suggested that such behaviour was ungentlemanly. I should point out that the founder of the company was himself a former Army Officer.

This is not a new argument. In 1919 when the Duke of Windsor, then Prince of Wales, toured America he sported a regimental tie. This was soon adopted by the populous on mass and as the Duke himself remarked, “It is still popular among Americans, who like to wear British regimental and old school ties, blissfully regardless of any right to do so”.

In the case of ties Americans get around this by having the stripes slant left to right as opposed to right to left. But does that make it alright? Does the regiment own the colours or the colours in a specific combination? What if the exact same colours are incorporated vertically for example? And is ignorance a defence? Are you still a despicable cad if you know no better, and those whose company you keep are none the wiser?

If you take a hard-line view in answer to these questions then there is always a danger of being found a hypocrite if you fail to apply them with the same rigour to other items of clothing.

The beef role loafer or ‘Weejun’, for example, were originally peasant shoes created by Norwegian fisherman. Do you have any right to sport them if you’re not versed in hauling in a net of herrings?

So many of the wardrobe staples we take for granted belong to one group or another. Indeed, it is their heritage that gives them anchorage and longevity. That summer stable the deck shoe was the creation of Paul Sperry, specifically to provide yachtsmen with traction on wet and dry decks. As a sailor should I feel aggrieved by lily livered land lovers wearing them about town? But then I happily wear Polo shirts and have never played Polo. Do you have to have had the calling before you can sport monk strap shoes, and can only the equine inclined, or jackasses, wear centre vents on their suit jackets?

Interesting questions and I’m not sure I have answers as yet.


  1. Jake said:

    Very interesting post. Clothes develop and change beyond their original purpose, so holding them entirely to an outdated standard is pointless. However, for me, the line is drawn at the point where someone might genuinely mistake you for something you’re not.

    If I wear a polo shirt, it’s unlikely that anyone will assume from this that I am a polo player, nor feel deceived that I am not. If, on the other hand, I wear a regimental tie then most people (at least here in London) would assume I am a member of that regiment. Furthermore, when they found out otherwise, they would almost certainly feel that I was being dishonest in some way. The difference, I suppose, is that a polo shirt (or weejuns, or deck shoes) is merely a practical bit of clothing – it does not have, and never has had, any purpose of identifying you as a polo player (or fisherman, or sailor). A regimental tie, on the other hand, has one main purpose, which is that you can be proudly identified as a member of that regiment.

    I think there is a big difference, isn’t there?

    March 2, 2010
  2. seth said:

    I find it curious to even consider whether certain items of clothing “belong” to anyone. Perhaps if one lives in GB, one might want to consider dressing so that one doesn’t offend soldiers or public school alumni (or the Duke, of course: he was such a great man), but everywhere else in the world, it shouldn’t matter at all.

    March 2, 2010
  3. E said:

    Excellent post, my compliments. It gets one thinking. Jake’s reply holds truth in it also, but on the other hand, isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

    March 2, 2010
  4. David V said:

    How did regiments or schools come to “own” the colors that are associated with them?

    Here in the states I own that tie by virtue of the cash I laid down for it.

    March 2, 2010
  5. Percy Chatsworth said:

    If appropriateness for men’s clothing was an issue, men would be left with no other option other than to brave the outdoors naked…almost all men’s clothing come from other purposes.

    March 2, 2010
  6. Kurt N said:

    Now, come on, David V. I need only cash to own, say, a complete military uniform, or an academic gown with PhD stripes. Doesn’t mean I own the right to wear it in public.

    March 3, 2010
  7. Jake said:

    E – it depends on the purpose of the imitation. Someone wearing a regimental tie to show their support for that regiment is indistiguishable from someone who’s trying to pretend that they were a member of the regiment in order to gain the respect/admiration/prestige that comes with it.

    There are enough sad people out their deliberately lying about military service that, I think, wearing anything that could be remotely interpreted as regiment-specific is something I will continue to steer well clear of.

    David V – you may own the tie, and you may be right that noone ‘owns’ the colours. The point is, as I said in my first comment, that if you wear a tie with the exact same colours and pattern as a regimental tie, then people will assume you are a member of that regiment. If you’re ok with that, then fine, but there’s no point trying to pretend it won’t happen.

    March 3, 2010
  8. j. said:

    >Do you have to have had the calling >before you can sport monk strap shoes?
    Shaky point, that. I guess no direct relationship between monkstraps and monasteries may be inferred. But if you prance about dressed in a Franciscan habit (because you like the fabric, or the cut), people are likely to think you ARE a Franciscan monk; and likely to feel miffed when they find out you are not. The same is bound to happen with regimental colours, I think.
    And as to “the cash I laid down for it”: we are talking propriety, not spending power. They are different things, you see.

    March 3, 2010
  9. Max said:


    My earlier comments have stimulated an interesting debate. I presume the unconvincing comparison between those who affect polo shirts and do not play polo with lifelong civilians wearing regimental insignia is ironic. Of course you can wear what you wish but rather like the sad man who took part in a Remembrance Sunday parade wearing an SAS beret you risk ridicule ( In the UK, you also risk a criminal record if you wear unearned decorations.
    The current British affection for the military is touching but to show support wear a wrist band or run a 1/2M for Help for Heroes. Better still go to Wooton Bassett and bow your head. So, avoid wearing a Guards’ tie. You will feel very small when a whiskery old Colonel politely enquires as to which Regiment!
    Finally, is it not odd to see so many alumni of Franklin and Marshall college on buses serving our sink estates?

    March 3, 2010
  10. Adam L. said:

    There will never be a perfect set of rules for this; if done subtly or discreetly, determining “acceptable” use of items like military colors, insignia, or cuts must always rely to a certain extent on the intentions of the wearer and the environment in which he’ll wear it.

    For example, I own a vintage “Ike” jacket from 1944, complete with a unit patch on it. I’m a member of the American military, but am neither a member of the service branch or unit from whence the jacket came. However, the patch is not blatant, like those on Sears’ “Big Red One” line (simply a clover-leaf, not easily recognizable). It’s also hard to believe anyone could mistake me for someone who could have earned that jacket by virtue of my service, due to its age. It’s a vintage item and pays some homage, but I’m not impersonating anyone (and it’s certainly more attractive than baggy camouflage!).

    On the other hand, I would place the inappropriate wearing of awards or rank insignia firmly in the realm of disrespect. Rappers wearing disheveled uniform items covered in insignia and combat awards, aside from being tacky and impractical, is grossly inappropriate.

    I’m not up on the culture of regimental colors, so I don’t know exactly where that would fall in my approach; somewhere, I imagine, inbetween the two examples above. However, at minimum I agree that one should be mindful of wearing the colors among those who will attach propriety to their meaning and take offense. I might similarly be careful about wandering into a VFW or American Legion post wearing my Ike jacket.

    March 3, 2010
  11. Michael said:

    Interesting article and discussion.
    However, the comment attributed to the Duke of Windsor was right in 1919 and is still correct.Wearing regimental ties or other insignia by anyone who has not been a member of that regiment is disrespectful and offensive, no matter how much cash you throw on the shop counter.

    March 3, 2010
  12. Ol. said:

    Yep, and don’t forget peacoat, duffels, ties (do I have to be a Croatian hussar?), khaki (do I have to be a second Boer War combatant?), a-2 leather jacket (I don’t have pilot license), cargo pants, beret (damn, I’m not French), and please stay away from wearing any tie with yellow on red (Soviet flag) or yellow on blue (hey! that’s Russian paratroopers), we can go on and on… The whole idea is soo dumb! If I would wear say a 9th/12th Royal Lancers tie that would be either of a total ignorance or of a total respect but not because I would want someone to think I was a memeber once, besides, do they still carry lances?

    March 3, 2010
  13. Jake said:

    Ol – as I’ve said at least twice before, making the connection between other types of clothing with military (or any other) heritage is not a valid argument because those items were never intended to be an identifying badge in the way that regimental ties very clearly are.
    We’re also not saying stay away from wearing ‘any’ tie with yellow on red just because of the soviet flag – I don’t think anyone has argued that, or anything close to that. What I am saying is that regiments have very specific colour combinations and stripe patterns on their ties, and wearing one of those WILL (whether you like it or not) mean people assume you belong to that regiment. As a result, regardless of your intention, most people will believe you are wearing it because you want them to think you were a member once. That’s not a great way to start a conversation.

    In addition, as I have argued on my own blog post on this subject, if lots of people start wearing regimental ties as a fashion statement, or even out of ‘respect’ for that regiment, then they are taking away real soldiers ability to identify themselves through their regimental colours.

    March 3, 2010
  14. E said:

    I think Jake is right by emphasizing the identifying aspect of clothing. As soon as one appears something one is not, a line has been crossed. Whether or not that is excusable is another matter.
    Most items of menswear are indeed derived from clothing with a specific function (as put forward by Percy and Adam), be it military or equestrian – for instance, my tailor recently told me that in his opinion, the vest was created for horseriding. He himself being an avid rider, pointed to the fact that one hasn’t got a lot of space to take things with oneself. The vest, according to him, had a dual purpose: to stay warm and to keep one’s money to one’s chest – especially important in recent history, when traders would be riding by horse with large amounts of money. But does this mean I should refrain from wearing a three piece suit? Not likely, as Jake eloquently put forward.

    March 4, 2010
  15. Peter said:

    To elaborate on both Jake and E, there’s a difference between adopting dress which has practical origins and that which is symbolic. We’re not talking total prohibition of certain colours from an entire wardrobe, just in the specific context of a diagonally striped tie!

    Ol – If one were to wear a regimental tie of the 9th/12th Lancers (Prince of Wales’s) don’t purport to be doing it as a show of solidarity or respect. Service personnel don’t share solidarity with sympathisers. What’s inane is purporting the idea that wearing the tie is done out of respect (thus’ validating regimental colours, contrary to your post) even though you know it’ll cause offence but it’s okay because “the whole idea is dumb” as far as you’re concerned taking us back to the issue of respect. Also if you must know British lancer regiments do still carry lances as arms when on certain parades (i.e. when granted Freedom of a City).

    March 4, 2010
  16. Ol. said:

    I actually liked the colors when I was choosing an example. And yes, on a second thought, I remembered that many horse regiments still carry lances – this actually looks damn great on parade!

    March 4, 2010

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