In defence of red trousers | Henry Conway

As toff casualwear, RTs are everything the public loathe at the moment, but their history is illustrious and they don't half feel soft

The oracle that is YouGov has taken it upon itself to out the widespread hatred towards red trouser-wearing Great Britons. According to a poll conducted by the research company, a staggering 46% of us can't stand men sporting burgundy legwear, four times more than the opposing 12% who adore them (not forgetting the 43% who really don't give a fig).

Red trouser-wearing is a somewhat peculiarly British upper-middle class cult, a badge of the toff, or pseudo-toffish aspirant. For the older generation, RTs (as they are known) are beloved of the aristocracy, generally paired with brass button blazers and £600 loafers, and come in a delightful spectrum of rouge, from blood red to pinky salmon. "Cherry pickers", at the lighter end of the scale, are favoured by such luminaries as King Gustaf of Sweden, and remain identified as red due to the inability of the hunting fraternity to distinguish between hues – anyone who has seen hunting pinks will know that they really are not very pink at all. So where did this gentle badge of privilege go so badly wrong?

The great and the good of London's royal boroughs have long-admired the blog Look At My Fucking Red Trousers, which is a brazen celebration of RTs of every sort. A quick browse and perhaps the hatred of the YouGov pollsters becomes clear. The young RT wearer tends to be the kind of wannabe brayer that gallivants around Henley pouring jugs of Pimms on errant serfs' heads, whilst hoping that his friends won't tweet incriminating pictures that may later spoil his chances of becoming a Tory councillor. They have all the markings of what the public loathe at the moment: the pillaging banker, the cosy hedge-funder or worse, the Chelsea Foxtons estate agent.

It wasn't always this way; red trousers have an illustrious history. A jazzy alternative to buff in the 15th century, scarlet breeches were a male sign of taste and status, remaining thus right through to Dr Johnson's London demimonde in the 18th century. Johnson noted in his diaries the "fashion to wear scarlet breeches", as opposed to women wearing red, which up to the 20th century suggested prostitution. On the continent, red trousers were the mainstay of the Napoleonic army, distinguishing them in battle and worn right up until world war one. They were also favoured by the Austro-Hungarian army, so even though we are all friends now, perhaps the negative association runs deep in the British DNA.

Culturally, red trousers are very much British toff casual wear. The Euro contingent favours bright legwear of all colours – but only if it is Ralph Lauren, yellow, mint, cobalt or peach, teamed with espadrilles or monogrammed velvet carpet slippers (don't get me started on those). The closest America got to embracing them was Michael Jackson's spindly red legs in Thriller, but this may have been their stumbling block. The American Preppy – their Sloane equivalent – has instead endorsed pink shorts, which have been creeping slowly into toff wardrobes up and down our sceptred isle.

Even the next generation is being conditioned to hate red trousers. Mr Jasper Jones, the landowner from CBeebies' Little Red Tractor, is resplendent in burgundy, and described as "selfish, materialistic … socially inept and smug". Worse still were the pictures of Jonathan Ross setting off on holiday with his family earlier this month in Gucci loafers, blue blazer and a pair of red slacks. Could this be their final blow?

I have to admit, I have a delicious pair in bold blood by Vicomte A, the French label with a store on the Kings Road founded by Vicomte Arthur de Soultrait, party friend of Pippa Middleton. I know they make me look like a total rah, but they are soft and beautiful and befitting of my Queen Sloane status. If I'm feeling daring I might try them the next time I venture to London's east end to visit friends in Dalston, then you'll know soon enough whether YouGov's poll was accurate or not.


Henry Conway

The GuardianTramp

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