Mulberry contributor (and frequent traveller) Henrietta Thompson comments on style and the ‘Golden Age’ of travel.
I often ponder, usually as I join yet another queue, what it must have been like to travel in ‘the Golden Age’. When trains and planes were considered glamorous affairs. When the journey itself was something to be celebrated rather than a necessary hassle punctuated only with endless waits and vases of caffeinated water. During the first half of the last century, getting from A to B was itself something to experience in its own right. Crucially, it was an experience worth dressing up for.
Like going to the theatre or opera, the art of dressing for a journey is one we’ve largely forgotten, preferring instead to dress for comfort and survival. What the journeyman of the Golden Age realised of course, was that comfort and class are not mutually exclusive. The panama hat, the pressed pyjamas and an immaculate luggage set were all accessories to a pre-planned look that made every queue an opportunity to pose, and every plane corridor a catwalk.
The British traveller, once upon a time, was widely considered the best at this. Though today the reputation of the Brit abroad has changed somewhat, he was once considered the archetype of elegance as he went about his ‘grand tour’, his business, or simply conducted his international affairs. The journey might have taken longer than today, but as it was as much a part of the traveling experience as the grand hotel or residence the gentleman would have eventually arrived at, sartorial consideration was equally as important.
So what has changed? Why has the action of traveling lost its allure, the focus now being almost entirely on the destination instead of the journey itself? And is there anything that we could do to change things?
In the majority the blame tends to shift towards the rise of budget travel, as well as the time-poor commuter. As proper cutlery and crockery have been phased out along with railway porters, so too have passenger standards slipped. But we can’t just blame a decline in the glamour of the airport lounge; as passengers we also need to take some responsibility.
It’s time for a rethink. Life is a journey, they say, not a destination. And that is never more true that when traveling for business, when the journeying part of any trip is likely to take up about 75 per cent of your entire time away. It would make sense to make the most of it.
So where to start? A good tip is always to begin with the bags, of course. A considered set of luggage will elevate any outfit and of course traveling is really the only time when it’s possible to put it on show. A strong suit of cases will make any journey an instant special occasion. From thereon, layers are the key. A comfortable outfit in an uncrumpable fabric, should be seasoned with leather accessories and a liberal dose of super soft cashmere.
For inspiration, turn to the cinema. If you want to meet a stranger on a train you’ll want to look your best. Hitchcock’s current revival provides a back catalogue of wonderful looks, while the Titanic and the Talented Mr Ripley are also worth studying. Then there are British classics such as a Room With A View, Brideshead Revisited and of course, James Bond.
And if you feel you need to test out your look before you board? If it will see you to tea at Claridge’s or a cocktail at the Connaught, then you’re well on the way already.
Image from the Mulberry archives.