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Dress code ideal a bit the worse for wear.

Byline: PETER THOMAS

THE problem with dress codes is that they make the flawed assumption that everybody looks the part in the regulation attire.

Because a 6ft 4in straight-backed toff can carry off a top hat and tails, so the logic runs, there's no reason why a stubby little prole with a beer belly the size of Birkenhead shouldn't be able to do the same.

Well, we've all seen the consequences, haven't we? Spindly aristos with prize-winning jug ears that spend the afternoon holding up the topper left by grandfather in his will; blubbery men who failed to attend the fitting for their hire suit on account of being unavoidably detained in the saloon bar of the Ferret and Sack by the Hunslet versus Dewsbury game; none of it reflects well on anybody involved.

All of which makes me hope that the Earl of March, guardian of the Goodwood tradition, was simply showing off the old March sense of playful irony when he called last week for a more stringent sartorial code at his course's undeniably glorious August meeting. Because if he was in earnest when he called for women to favour "nice traditional English summer frocks" and men to plump for linen suits and Panamas, then he is surely as mad as the hare from which he is presumably descended.

It's possible, of course, that the Earl was given a box-set of PG Wodehouse books for his seventh birthday and has remained in their thrall ever since, or that there really is still an England in which the privileged classes spend their summer afternoons interrupting croquet matches for tea and cucumber sandwiches, taking great care not to spill anything on their flannels. But it's far more likely he is simply hankering after a golden age that was brought to a rude end some time after the Great War.

Don't get me wrong, some men look top-hole in the Goodwood garb and some women were born to be demure and floaty, but a Panama in the wrong hands will make the wearer look as if he's just been dragged out of the canal, and even full-throttle Laura Ashley can't take the rough edges off a pair of white stilettos and a West Ham United ankle tattoo.

And then you've got the problem of what to do with young Archie. Do you shoe-horn him into clothes from the traditional children's outfitters Dads R Us? Or is there truly a breed of youth that wakes up in the morning and says: "What shall I wear today? The Spitting Incubus tour T-shirt and the trousers that show off half my bum crack? No, I think I'll go for the blazer that father bought me for Christmas and the rather fetching beige slacks, just like the ones he wears to Rotary Club meetings."

The March ideal is set out for all to see in the racecard advert for the course's Family Fun Day this month, in which a perfectly normal-looking young chap is pictured wearing an absurd straw hat, an ill-fitting stiff-collared shirt and one of Dad's old work ties. In some countries, the parents would be given community service; over here, we try to make it compulsory.

This year, in deference to the good Earl, I wore a Panama, stylishly wide-brimmed and at what I considered to be a rather rakish angle. I was told I looked like I was auditioning for a bit part in Brideshead Revisited. But I shall persist.

For the rest of you, there is a question you must ask yourselves. Which is worse, chav or duct? Council house-associated vermin or dreadful upper-class twit. For me, it seems apt at Goodwood to follow the maxim 'horses for courses'. Live and let live. Force an oik into a linen suit and you don't get a toff, you get an oik in a linen suit, which is no good to anyone.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 6, 2007
Words:650
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