Have you got style?

alice pollock, grace coddington, ossie clark, petticoat magazine, quorum, twiggy

One of my favourite quotes (“If you have style, you have to have it right down to your knickers”) comes from this article, also in the May 1969 Petticoat, so I thought I would share the entire piece with you all. It teams a quiz about whether you have style with a rare Alice Pollock interview. Delish!

Alice Pollock: She’s got style.

Wearing a loose-fitting black trouser suit, Alice Pollock curled up on a black leather sofa in a black-walled room, over her Chelsea boutique Quorum and grinned elf-like through her black lipstick.

She was so obviously stylish that it was almost embarrassing to ask her to define the word “style”. It was like asking her to explain away her entire personality.

Looking very serious, she said: “You know that old saying about wearing nice underwear in case you get involved in a road accident? Well, to me, that is a very stylish cliche. If you have style, you have to have it right down to your knickers. And to be really stylish, you have to have a clean, healthy body and clean hair to go with all your smart clothes.”

She clasped her long, brown hands behind her undoubtedly clean, short hair and added thoughtfully: “Clothes alone don’t make a person stylish–but they do help. I think that if you’ve got style and you’re really together, you couldn’t walk around looking like a complete un-thought about mess. The two things go hand in hand. A stylish person uses clothes to express their style–but it’s just as important that they have clean hands and nails and tidy handbag.”

Warming to the subject she added: “Of course, the whole style thing goes a lot deeper than this. It is accepting yourself, and before you can do that, you have to find out what you are and this is one of the most difficult things in the world to do. Finding out what you are is using your experiences (and this means the band ones as well as the good ones) and trying to apply the lessons you learn from them to the next thing you do.

“For example, if you find that at the end of something, you have made twenty new enemies and lost ten friends, you have to decide firstly, whether you were positively right and honest in the action you took and secondly, whether it is better for your personal and professional satisfaction to have twenty enemies, or whether it was better before when you had ten friends. In other words, learn something from it. This is the way to find out about yourself and develop a style.”

Alice said she thoguht there were a few lucky people born with style, but that most of us had to work at it:

“To work out a style for yourself is very difficult as you must be very careful that it is natural and not acquired as a facade. It’s got to be what you really want–what you really dig–and it’s got to end up by being what you feel. When you have sorted out your style, it is a good idea to involve as many of the right people as possible, so that the whole thing ends up as one enormous style. We live in a society and what we do must reflect society to be of any value.

“A thing which doesn’t reflect society may be very beautiful but have no style.”

She thought for a moment and came up with an example:

“There’s a beautiful, enormous building at the end of Oxford Street and although it is lovely, it is just not practical because it was designed without calculation as to what might happen to the environment if it ever filled up. If that building was ever put to full use, there wouldn’t be any room for the workers to park their cars; there wouldn’t be enough buses or tube trains to bring them to work and there would be no room in the nearby restaurants during the lunch hours. Something like that which doesn’t work has no style.

“When I design clothes, I am very aware of the utility side of it. I know that a garment that feels uncomfortable can cramp style. As a designer, this is something which I can concern myself with but what I have no control over, is where and on what occasions the customers who buy our clothes, will wear them. This is very important because style is very much concerned with doing the right thing in the right place. If you go to a race meeting in your high heel shoes or out to the grocers in your chiffon dress, you probably won’t look very stylish. You have to adapt your style–and this means in every way, not just clothes. I mean, it’s no good putting on your Jimi Hendrix record and playing it to some business man who just wouldn’t appreciate it.”

She waved her arm at a rack full of Quorum clothes.

“Wear those to a really straight business lunch and no one will dig them. You’ll be wasting your time. Style is a matter of coming to the right decision. For instance, if you’re going out and you wonder whether you ought to put on a lot of make-up or a little. Confidence is very important. If you feel confident about your looks, you’ll be all right. Better to wear something you like and feel good in that something you think the latest fashion.”

Tucking up her knees, she pointed to her feet: “For instance, I love these old brown boots, although some people might say that they don’t go with what I am wearing. If you really love something, and you trust your own judgment; wear it.

“If you don’t trust your own judgment however, try copying the style of someone you admire. Combine the parts of her look which you like with what you look good in.”

I asked Alice whom she thought of, as having style and she came with the Burtons, Grace Coddington, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Twiggy, and her partner, Ossie Clark. For people with no style, Savundra and John Bloom.

“There’s nothing less stylish than making a big public goof involving hundreds of ordinary people. To have style, you must have faith in what you do. You must put your heart into it for it to come out saying ‘style’. It must be what you really, really believe in.”

I must say that while, for the most part, she does talk a lot of sense, I’m not quite sure I agree with her statement about not wearing a chiffon dress to the grocers. I think those kinds of big, bizarre statements can often indicate a very stylish person. Thinking for yourself and going against the grain of expectation and convention.

It’s certainly a vastly different outlook from the ones usually spouted by male designers (like Ossie himself or the fabulous John Bates), coming from the perspective of being a woman. But I think she sounds rather curiously conservative, actually, and I prefer a balance between her ideas and the more extravagant ‘wear what you want, surprise people!’ mentality of the male designer.

I’d be very interested to hear what you all think. Ultimately though, ‘style’ is totally indefinable and to ‘be stylish’ in most people’s eyes often seems rather dull to me.

7 thoughts on “Have you got style?

  1. Hmm interesting subject. I totally agree with the part where she says you have to be comfortable with yourself to have style, and have the confidence to wear whatever, wherever you like!

  2. Oh Alice, you disappoint me. It all sounds terribly bourgeois and sensible (be naice and clean, keep a tidy handbag, wear appropriate dress at all times)! And if you truly know yourself and develop your style to be true to that, surely you're not going to compromise it so you don't frighten the 'straights'?But then, I suppose her more practical and conservative attitude complemented Ossie's manic genius and helped him blossom. Thanks for transcribing this piece – its really enlightening!

  3. It's a fabulous article. Thanks so much for sharing it. I agree with her on so many points. Style is about being comfortable with yourself but if that means wearing a chiffon gown to the grocers, then so be it. 🙂

  4. Hmm. I do tend to think of style as a certain "suaveness"–there's something smooth and precise about it (even if it's a messy kind of style). In that sense, I can see fitting with one's environment as important. But I wouldn't want to say you can't stand out, either. I suppose it does come down to how the individual pulls it off. If they carry it well, i.e. if it seems right for them, congruity with the environment doesn't matter.I love her emphasis on knowing oneself (and one's relationship to the world), so that one's style organically grows out of that. I can't imagine reading something so philosophical in a contemporary mag.

  5. Sounds like Mme Pollock was nursing some grooming standards leftover from the passing Mod era. It's hard to believe Alice Pollock practiced exactly what she preache, what with how intriguing and slightly disheveled she herself always looked. Black lipstick is pretty much a kick in the pants of good grooming. Conversely, Ossie Clark seldom looked too turned out himself, save for the occasional sunglasses and snakeskin jacket foray. Often times female designers do fall into this wearability campaign in the press, and I think they do it to seem less threatening to women somehow. It's a pity, and it seems crankish and dull. A little practicality/fancy balance a'la Dame Westwood is better.

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