Can doffing change the world? Pádraig Reidy joins Civilise the City in its march against vulgarity
When's the last time 40 people doffed their hats to you? Unless you're the Queen (in which case, hope you're enjoying the issue so far, ma'am. Your subscription's due, by the way), it probably doesn't happen that often. But it may have happened if you were in the West End of London on October 16. You, along with millions of other shoppers and tourists, would have witnessed one of the oddest protests the city has seen for quite a while: The Chap magazine's 'Civilise the City' march.
The Chap magazine has become a cult among many young people today, who yearn for a more civilised, decent, dignified world. According to the chap manifesto, chappism and it's supporters aim to "take a stand against the vulgarity" of fast food corporations, dumbing down, and the general acceptance of mediocrity by "turning ancient rituals of courtesy and dress into revolutionary acts".
Today's march is an attempt to spread the word about the chap way of life, and offer Saturday shoppers an alternative to chain stores, polystyrene coffee cups and the grubby, illmannered tedium of so much of modern life.
"Chappism is about getting through hard times in style; dignity in penury," says Gustav Temple, editor of The Chap and coauthor of three books on the subject. Many of our readers are genuinely struggling to make ends meet, but will still make an effort. Chaps are the kind of people who would take their last five pounds and spend it on a martini."
Champagne, not martini, is the order of the day at Civilise the City. The march (or 'saunter'; 'march' being a terribly harsh term, according to Gustav) starts with a champagne toast among the 40 or so participants at London's Oscar Wilde memorial (Wilde being a bit of a hero to most chappists.). As we wave our placards, bearing slogans such as 'Make gloves not war' and 'All proper tea is best' for the attention of the world's media (well, Swiss TV to be precise), a couple of police officers look on, slightly bemused. It turns out they've been assigned to escort us on our protest, which was probably the cushiest job a Metropolitan Police officer could have landed that weekend.
We are led from the front by Gustav, who advises that doffing is mandatory. And so the group, dressed in a dazzling array of tweed, pinstripe, and even a Victorian vicar's outfit, makes its way north, raising our hats to passing ladies as we go, with an elegant 'Good afternoon'.
The reactions are quite mixed. Some young women giggle, the older ones smile delightedly and return our greeting, but an awful lot of people ignore us, or affect not to have noticed. Which, when you think about it, highlights the need for a march to civilise the city.
The group, with our police escort of two, makes its way to Oxford Circus, where we engage in some mass doffing, greeting people as they exit the Tube station.
At this point, Gustav and an extravagantly moustachioed 'chumrade' take to their megaphones, urging the throng to cast off their denim and learn of the joys of tweed, pipe smoking and decent leaf tea.
Of course, this all seems remarkably old fashioned, and it is.
"A lot of good things have been jettisoned in the rush for modernity" says Gustav. "Certainly, a lot of bad things went on in, say, the fifties, an era close to my heart; poor health, poverty, violence towards women, the acceptance of infidelity it's good that these things have declined. But, on the other hand, back then men would doff their hats to ladies, and people were more civil to each other in daily life we seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater."
It is worth bearing in mind that Gustav Temple was not even born in the 1950s; neither were any of the day's protesters, the vast majority of whom are in their twenties (there is even one fifteenyear old marcher).
As we leave Oxford Circus, it becomes apparent that the police escort has doubled, and, a little alarmingly, we are being filmed by an officer with a digital camera. What exactly they think might happen to warrant surveillance is unclear, but most of the marchers do take great care to doff their hats and smile amiably at the camera.
The policemen, the Swiss TV people, and a few photographers follow us to Piccadilly Circus, where 'brogue camp' commences. Passersby are offered tea in proper china cups and saucers, made with proper loose leaf tea in a proper teapot. Young men in baseball caps and trainers are offered lessons in the wearing of trilbys and fedoras, and many people volunteer for 'hat doffing' classes, led by the splendidly monikered, and splendidly bearded, Torquil Arbuthnot. Meanwhile, a steady stream of tourists question the participants, and are enthralled and delighted at the aims of the march.
As the day's events draw to a close, the chaps drift back to the sink estates and snooker halls of everyday life, bringing with them refreshed fervour for the gospel of civility, decency, and correct headwear.
Find out more at www.thechapmagazine.com