Janet Street-Porter: Prada shoes and pointless dress codes

The notion that you can judge people by their clothes in modern Britain is ludicrous
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The Independent Online

I was idly reading a review of this establishment's excellent food when the sentence about the perverse dress code really enraged me. In Margate? OK, I know the rundown resort is to be the home of an extremely good piece of modern architecture, when the Turner centre is finally built on the seafront, but honestly, have you taken a trip to Margate recently? It's not exactly Southwold, Whitstable or Brighton, a place the middle classes flock to at weekends and in which all the locals moan about the house prices while profiting hugely from the influx of affluence.

Margate is still a work in progress. The last time I went, a section of the seafront was burning down - sadly not the really horrible bit with the amusement arcades.

No matter what Tracey Emin may say about it, Margate is undoubtedly not the place for pretentious chefs to start insisting on jackets and ties if they want to have any customers to cook for. This fellow must be another Gordon Ramsay in the making - so even though we've got a cottage down the road we definitely won't be making a reservation in case my legwear is considered too casual to go with the cassoulet and I suffer the public humiliation of being ejected, Joan Collins-style.

The notion that you can judge people by their clothes in modern Britain is ludicrous. Lynne Truss might have just written a bible on contemporary etiquette (Talk to the Hand), but even the high priestess of social dos and don'ts would not be so brave as to start issuing diktats about what to wear out to dinner.

But that chef in Margate is part of a large number of people who still erroneously think that what you wear reflects your wealth, your intelligence, your social status, and your spending power.

For some time now, pub and club owners in towns all over the country have been sticking up notices banning certain items of clothing from their premises in the hope that this will subsequently stop loutish behaviour. I suppose that having the IQ of Einstein doesn't mean you'll choose to run a bar in a city centre, but even so, it's obvious that drunken customers who may vomit all over the seating can wear skirts rather than jeans and trainers. These are the same establishments that now plan to start serving alcohol at 9am when the new 24-hour licensing laws come into force - and I predict that as long as you're wearing a suit and tie or a shapely skirt and skimpy top you won't have a problem buying drinks all day long.

The other day a Money Programme entitled Burberry versus the Chavs "investigated" how this once-classy brand name had been hijacked by a certain social class more familiar with caravan parks, track suits and bingo halls than Michelin-starred restaurants, five-star hotels and red carpets. Of course, Julie Burchill authored a documentary on the same subject nine months ago for Sky One, but the Money Programme is not exactly cutting edge journalism.

It is true that once cheap copies of the famous Burberry check started appearing on market stalls from Bermondsey to Birmingham, the company did rethink its strategy. The picture of Daniella Westbrook and baby clad from head to toe in the stuff didn't help either. Burberry hired a talented designer whose latest collections have received rave reviews, and ran a brilliant advertising campaign using Kate Moss.

Although profits dipped, Burberry is still a very strong brand, which managed to reconnect its label with the middle classes. But wear a cheap copy of those demonised checks and you probably won't be able to get past the doorman at many places where alcohol is served. Wear a Burberry frock, just like Sienna Miller, and you won't have a problem.

Now nightclubs in Manchester have added Prada footwear to the list of clothing so evil it must be banished from the premises in the name of safety. A place called The Sugar Lounge has sent members a letter about a new dress code, which states "no sportswear, hooded tops, Prada shoes, scruffy jeans or shoes. Jewellery must be discreet".

Prada is the new Burberry, chosen by young men because it instantly places them in a certain social caste. But is a group of 25-year-olds wearing these trainers more likely to sell drugs in the toilets, pick fights and cause mayhem, than another group of 25-year-olds wearing Paul Smithor Helmut Lang?

When the owners of Bluewater shopping mall banned hoodies, I just laughed. But up and down the land, other shopping centres followed suit. Suddenly, the hoodie was synonymous with uncontrollable youths, antisocial behaviour, everything our dear PM is so keen to stamp out with Asbos, tags, and probably, when all the jails in Britain are full, leg irons and stocks in public places. The top that I wear hiking had suddenly become a lethal weapon in its own right. Thank goodness I wouldn't be seen dead in places like Bluewater.

In spite of all the evidence that clothing sends out confusing and contradictory messages, we still try and interpret it, often with hilarious results. Victoria Beckham sticks on a barely-there Roberto Cavalli frock, and commentators assure us she's making a profound statement about her marriage. When the Duchess of Cornwall looks slightly nervous in New York, it's not because she's anxious about her schedule ­ it's because every aspect of her appearance is being analysed by the media. She's wearing a uniform, with the unwritten order to promote British Design at all costs. She's probably even got a Burberry, for all I know. Like Cherie Blair, Camilla knows her clothes may be found wanting, no matter what she chooses. Their wardrobes are nothing to do with personal taste, but all about sending the right signals concerning your husband's role in life.

It's not surprising that the clothing that pubs, clubs and restaurants want to ban are all those worn specifically by young men in spite of evidence that bad behaviour is also a female shortcoming, and that groups of young women in packs have subjected other young women to horrible bullying. Some of us might find the sight of young women sporting rolls of flab pulsating over low-slung jeans visually repellent, but they are not going to be turned away at a pub. Women can wander around in the tiniest of skirts with bra tops in the middle of the night ­ and will still be able to buy buckets of booze.

The reason young men want to wear Prada is because they are desperate for a bit of identity, to register themselves as being in a club and to express their separateness from the rest of us. It's a pathetically low-key form of rebellion compared to the glory days of punk, and rather than considering them threatening we should be lamenting the fact that young men today have such a lack of imagination.