The Rowing English Gentleman

In a message regarding a previous entry on my blog, Tim Koch of Auriol Kensington RC in London has some entertaining comments: “Your recent posting, ‘An Oarsman’s Dress Code’, included two of my interests: rowing history and classic men’s clothes. The archive at Auriol Kensington nicely illustrates how men’s formal dress changed during the Twentieth Century. The splendid picture ‘Wingfield Sculls of the Thames’ [above] shows a dinner given by the Earl of Iveagh (Rupert Guinness) held at his house, 11 St James’s Square, on 11th December 1930 for past winners of the Wingfield Sculls (The English Amateur Sculling Championship). Those present, to commemorate the centenary of this race, were Iveagh, Guy Nickalls, Rev. W.S. Unwin, F.I. Pitman, Vivian Nickalls, J.L. Tann, T.D.A. Collet, H.D. Blackstaffe, D.Guye, J.C. Gardner, J. Beresford [Jr.], Rev. A.C. Dicker, C.W. Wise, and W.D. Kinnear. All are resplendent in ‘white tie’, which is a tailcoat, white waistcoat (vest) and dress shirt with a stiff bib front, high-standing wing collar and white bow tie. Even Kinnear and Blackstaffe, men much lower on the social scale than the rest of the group, are in the correct dress. They are all wearing their Wingfield Medals, each with a bar on the ribbon denoting the year(s) in which they won.” [Have a look on the right at the stylish Jack Beresford, Jr., and his seven bars for his Wingfields’ victories between 1920-1926].

On this fascinating topic Tim continues, “Though taken in 1930, the picture is more illustrative of a formal gathering before the 1914-1918 War. The picture ‘KRC Dinner 1933’ [above] shows the mixture of ‘white tie’ and ‘black tie’ (a.k.a. ‘dinner jacket’ or ‘dinner suit’ or ‘tuxedo’) that would have been common in the inter war years. The dinner jacket had been invented in the 1870s by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII, 1901-1910) for informal dining at home. Its essence was a tailless jacket and soft shirt with a turned down collar and black bow tie. By the 1930s the Duke of Windsor (briefly King Edward VIII) and his set were wearing the more comfortable outfit in public and it began to replace the tailcoat. (‘DOW’ in ‘DJ’ on the right.) Since the 1939-1945 War, white tie is only seen on the most formal of state occasions. In the 1960s and 1970s it looked as though black tie would also drift into oblivion but, by the time I started to attend rowing club dinners in the mid 1980s, the ‘DJ’ was back and is now worn by the vast majority of men at formal evening functions. I do mean ‘evening’, only Americans and waiters wear black tie during the day. At Auriol Kensington, those of us with regatta blazers sometimes follow the Oxford and Cambridge custom of wearing them in place of the traditional jacket with our dinner suits. On the left is a picture of me in such a rig,” Tim concludes.

Tim, this was very entertaining. Thank you! Maybe time for you to start a blog on well-dressed oarsmen and oarswomen?

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