Help! I’m becoming a Sloane Ranger
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“This is the handbook of the Sloane’s style… an invaluable reference for a lifetime of decisions about What Really Matters in Life.” So declares The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, a pithy lifestyle manual published 40 years ago, co-authored by Ann Barr and Peter York, who set out to poke fun at “a certain kind of Britain”.
I stumbled across a copy in a secondhand bookshop last year, forking out £65, up from its 1982 price of £4.95. It was worth it: quite apart from being an entertaining read, there was something about the languid, shabby-chic “Sloane Ranger look” that appealed to me. The same goes for the other great 1980s stereotype, the Yuppie, with his striped suit, red braces, Filofax and exaggerated “yah, for sure”. Despite the Yuppie’s showiness and the Ranger’s tweediness, at a moment when ’80s style is making a comeback, I’ve found myself – a part-Serbian state-school boy from Hertfordshire – drawn to the uniform of upward mobility. Lately, I too have been wanting to social climb.
I started with a big, boxy camel coat, and then an oversized beige trench coat. A collection of conspicuously hairy tweed jackets arrived – “must be real tweed, never in a fashion cut”, says the Handbook – along with baggy stonewash jeans and a navy blazer with brass buttons. I even have a vintage Barbour “Solway Zipper” jacket. Meanwhile, the Cuban heels I had been thrashing for the past few years were swapped out for horsebit loafers and loud socks.
According to the Handbook, Sloanes were upper-middle-class west Londoners who idolised Princess Diana, the Tory party and old English country life. They were the only social clique who understood “the form”. It’s a wardrobe in which one can become well versed in by watching seasons three and four of The Crown while scoffing chicken Marbella by the plateful. In many ways, every feature of the Sloane Ranger is obnoxious and faintly snobby; but it’s a calling I’ve been powerless to resist.
A quick conversation with Handbook co-author Peter York, however, proves that – despite the wardrobe – I would fail any serious Sloane Ranger test. In a telephone call marked by York’s intimidatingly plummy accent (“Sloane Square” pronounced “Sloane Squarr”), he makes clear how far below the bar I fall. York lives in the upper-middle-class bastion of Pimlico; my pokey flat in deepest, darkest north-east London elicits a cool “how very modern” from York, which is, of course, Sloane speak for “that sounds grim”.
It may seem strange that a millennial living in the people’s republic of Hackney should want to dress like Yes Minister’s Baron Hacker MP. Yet, as York says: “There’s nothing wrong in wanting to channel a bit of ’80s style – just don’t aspire to be a Hooray Henry.” Politically, York isn’t insistent that a modern Sloane or Yuppie needs to be a Tory. “Does it mean you support Boris? Do you approve of Trump? Do you wear red trousers? No? You’re off the hook.”
What’s the best way to incorporate 1980s style cues into your wardrobe without going too Roger Moore? “I think it’s important to subtly reference the look, rather than go full head-to-toe,” says MatchesFashion’s head of menswear, Damien Paul. “Denim is a great category to experiment with, as are ’80s-style bomber jackets. A double-breasted suit is also an easy way to incorporate the trend.”
Jeremy Hackett, another expert on ’80s style, has a similar take. He founded his eponymous menswear brand in 1983 on the King’s Road in Chelsea, and made his name by selling secondhand tailoring before vintage dealing was a mainstream concern. “That first shop was full of Sloanes, including the staff,” he recalls. “Sloane Rangers became our core customer base because they’d rather buy a secondhand Savile Row suit than shop the Next Directory. They liked stuff that wore in, rather than wore out. Tweed jackets, double-breasted suits, brogues, khaki trousers – we had the lot. Most of what we sold then would still look good today, because young guys preferred clothes that were well made, but not too trendy.”
Maybe that’s why Sloane style is once again in the ascendant. “It’s coming back around because this kind of trad English look is just very easy to wear,” Hackett says. “A lot of guys who aren’t too fussed about following fashion can look sharp by investing in good, well-made stuff. Put on a nice jacket and you can go out without feeling like you’re making a big statement.” It’s an argument that is echoed in the Handbook: “Sloane Ranger clothes are… conservative and reassuring. They are made to last, both in style and in material.”
My own personal rule is “one piece of tailoring per outfit”, so if I’m wearing a blazer or sports coat (pieces by Parisian tailor Husbands are a favourite), I’ll stick to light- or mid-blue jeans and an easy button-down shirt underneath, forgoing dressier cords or trousers. Or I’ll wear a navy club blazer with a faded denim shirt and white jeans to give the jacket an edge – often with a popped collar for good measure. The beige trench coat works come rain or shine, and horsebit loafers go with everything. Guccis are the authentic ’80s choice, but I also love those made by London-based indie brand Horatio.
So, have I settled into my newfound ’80s wardrobe? Chatting to York, Paul and Hackett has helped, as has the realisation that it’s OK to be into ’80s style without also embodying that era’s social outlook. The fun in the Sloane-meets-Yuppie aesthetic lies in shaking up the codes of the English upper classes – and in this, at least, I’m not alone. British designers such as Steven Stokey-Daley and Grace Wales Bonner are also subverting these traditional aesthetics by taking classic tailoring and punching it up with sportswear to create a more youthful look. Both are playing with traditional menswear to offer a counterpoint to the establishment’s stuffier codes.
To both Hackett and York, Sloane Rangers and Yuppies are alive and well, though not perhaps so polished as they once were. “You can still spot them, although they’re now wearing tech bro gilets and crewnecks,” says Hackett, “but they still have that languorous air.” York agrees: “These days, you’ll find Sloanes anywhere, but they tend to hide under the guise of grooviness in edgy parts of town.”
Edgy parts of town, you say? Maybe Hackney’s not so bad after all.
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