Friday, September 28, 2012

Ashley Sterne Unclad Legs for Lawn Tennis

Yesterday I spent hours scouring the Internet for more Ashley Sterne articles. All that I gained for my efforts was the following article from 1929, as republished in a Jamaican newspaper.  It is a workman-like effort, pleasant but not hilarious.

Unclad Legs For Lawn Tennis

(London Opinion of 20 July 1929)
(republished in Kingston Gleaner, 22 July 1929)

By Ashley Sterne

The Great Stocking Controversy is now a thing of the past and though I see nothing offensive in bare legs (unless they're attached to a centipede) I feel bound to pass the personal opinion that the practice of doffing garments for public occasions, just as and when it may individually be deemed convenient so to do, should be sternly discouraged.  There has been far too much of this sort of thing in the past and the danger of the practice lies not in what it has already done but to what it may eventually lead.

It has been pointed out by more than one profound thinker, including Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Shakespeare, Herbert Spencer, and (in this instance only) myself, that great results arise from trifling causes.  For a girl to play lawn tennis with bare legs is a trifling matter.  It is doubtful whether a bare leg would, at ordinary gazing distance, be discernible as such.  It would certainly be wholly indistinguishable from an authentically clad leg if its owner first had it whitewashed.

But in the course of years to come what may happen?  Encouraged by such extra freedom of action and lightness of limb as the disuse of stockings may have engendered, garments may conceivably be discarded regardless of consequences, and the astonishing spectacle ultimately be offered of a coating of woad [a blue dye used by the ancient Celts] and a wrist watch vieing for the Singles Championship against a couple of slave bangles and a corn plaster.

This is no mere idle speculation on my part as will be readily conceded when the reader comes to consider the cases of subtle and gradual relinquishment of various articles of clothing which has been taking place for many years past in all ranks of life.  The bricklayer long ago discovered how greatly the wearing of a collar and tie hampered his movements in laying his daily brace of bricks.  He promptly took the matter into his own hands and regardless of the social proprieties discarded them, an action which the fact that he performs much of his daily task in obscurity behind a screen of scaffolding does little to excuse.


The road mender, too, has not only followed the bricklayer's example, but has gone one better (or, rather, worse).  The croquet hoop stance which the nature of his work forces him to adopt has proved to be unduly galling to his shoulders with the results that he has abandoned in addition to restrictive neckwear, his braces too.  True, he has substituted a belt therefor, but not so much as to make some concession to less conveniences as to provide a convenient repository wherein to park his pipe when the exigence of his labour renders the act of smoking prohibitive.

The chimney sweep, again for the more expeditious manipulation of the tools of his craft has doffed collar, tie, braces, and hat – yet another step towards achieving that convenient state of primordial nudity which, however, apposite for performing one's daily dig in the Garden of Eden, is not exactly the correct costume for cleansing the flues of Edenbridge (or anywhere else, for that matter.)

Thus it may clearly be seen how the labouring classes have taken it upon themselves to decide in what raiment their activities may be most felicitously pursued, while simultaneously ignoring many cherished canons of social decorum.  But they are by no means the only sinners in this respect.  To cite but one example of the many others, there are the clergy.  They, for some obscure and unfathomable reason, have been suffered to reject the necktie as a useless encumbrance to their calling.  They do not even wear one tied at the nape of the neck to conceal the protrusive stud retaining their reversed collar.

The higher dignitaries in the ecclesiastical ranks have likewise abandoned trousers in favour of the more scanty knickerbockers, and it only needs a cleric with something of the indomitable spirit and initiative of a Savonarola or a Luther to curtail these crural [pertaining to the leg] brevities still further in episcopal "shorts" – a lamentable example of "unfrocking" for which even the wearing of several bootlaces attached to the hat can scarcely be said to make adequate compensation.


I suppose that in very warm weather it is only reasonable to lend a certain amount of tacit sanction to the unauthorized abandonment of apparel which is found irksome and intolerable in the prosecution of one's duties.  But here again it is a little difficult to determine where the line may be decorously drawn, and equally hard to define to which sections of the community it may or may not be intended to apply.  As matters rest at present, the City merchant may without offence to customer or colleague doff his waistcoat and his spats during a heat wave, the better to enable him to pursue his arduous labours afflicted with a minimum of bodily discomfort.

But if this unwritten law applied all round we should possibly have the entire regiment of Scots Guards hurling their busbies and rifles into St. James's Park which would never do, much as those of us, who in our Army days experienced the privilege of doing pack drill under a flaming July sun and an even more inflamed corporal, would show our ready and cordial sympathy with the deed.

But I have doubtless by now said enough to support my contention that the arbitrary and surreptitious reduction of what I may call the standard limit of clothing is certainly a measure standing in no need of encouragement; for, although there is no immediate cause for panic at the public display of a bare limb per se, it cannot be said that, from the aesthetic point of view, it contributes any added beauty to the general landscape.  I would even go so far as to maintain that a bare limb is not nearly so picturesque or inspiring a spectacle as a nattily and daintily clad one.

On the other hand, our scenery would possibly be greatly improved if, instead of denuding something usually kept clad, we occasionally covered up something normally permitted to go unclad.  I will say nothing more directly personal in this connection until I have consulted my solicitor.  But I may perhaps add, in closing, that there must be many who have attended some public function or other, and have been struck by the fact that the facial appearance of the assembly would be greatly improved if the wearing of motor masks [driving googles] and yasmaks [Turkish veils] in public were made compulsory by law.

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