PBS Masterpiece Theater: I’m obsessed, and my current obsession is their new season of the decades old series “Upstairs Downstairs.”
The series is a tale of how the downstairs servant-class and the upstairs privileged-class each try to cope in their own way to the tumultuous political and social climate of 1930s Britain, hovering at the brink of World War II. What struck me the most in last night’s new episode though, was that the women, regardless of being upstairs or downstairs, always looked so nice. If you’re thinking…”of course they all looked lovely, all the time- its for television…and, they had servants…and, people to do their hair (that would be nice)…and, even the servants were paid to dress well in order to keep up appearances for the politically important man of the house, ‘Sir Hallam Holland,'” these are all excellent points, sure. But, my point is that, at that time, “looking nice” was just a matter of fact. 1930s casual was a whole different world from ours. Find a picture from this era, and most likely you’ll find everyday people, doing everyday things, yet still looking lovely.
Do the same for today, and you’ll probably discover a much different result.
In “Upstairs Downstairs,” the newest servant Beryl Ballard is horrified when Lady Agnes requests that the servants attend exercise classes for the “Women’s League of Health and Beauty,” because they must wear a pair of silk shorts in public. Beryl, though a servant, is not used to such casual-wear outside of the confines of perhaps her own bedroom, and is loathe to put them on.
Not very shocking, right? Not to us. Not to a modern audience whose seen it all, willingly or not, in every public place. Somehow, “dressing up” has gone from being a privilege, to being a problem.
In “Upstairs Downstairs,” Beryl sought to save money working as a servant so that she could attend beauty school and begin to gain her independence from the servant class. Dressing the part of a lady was essential in order to gain the status she desired.
Today? I guess “lady” is a status nobody desires.
Sweats are sure comfy. No, I’m not going to put my cigarette, Glen plaid pants on to dash off for a quick run to Target. I’m a hypocrite to be sure. Sometimes combing my hair sounds more difficult than calculus. And there has to be a pretty great reason for me to put makeup on on a Saturday. All I’m saying is, for your everyday, try a little 1930s casual. Sometimes all it takes is one piece: put a blazer on with your jeans; a pointy-toe flat instead of your rubber flip-flops, or a scarf with your plain button-down. In “Upstairs Downstairs,” the privileged and servant class was clearly defined by the position they held in the house. In public however, anyone could look like a lady, so why not do it?
– ❤ A.