Sarah Sands: Threadbare is the classiest look of all

The PM's shabby socks signal his fine lineage

Share
Related Topics

The hole in the ankle of David Cameron's sock was the most memorable aspect of his pre-conference television interview, for it was the clearest statement of social politics.

A foreigner might mistake worn-out socks for a sign of financial struggle. But we immediately recognise it as abundant social grandeur. Cameron is only trumped by the Queen, who was photographed last month at the Highland Games sporting a gaping hole in the sole of her black court shoe.

Similarly, one understands the economic inversion of Cameron's recent boastful chuckle that his new daughter Florence was still sleeping in a cardboard box, decorated by her older sister.

It is a little bit common to spend money on certain things. Items that are transient, such as baby gear or Christmas presents; or superfluous comfort, such as heated gloves, or Juicy Couture tracksuits or an official driver.

The posh priorities are houses, gardens and excellent cuts of meat from the butcher. It is telling that the parliamentary expenses David Cameron could not resist were those for wisteria.

Sartorial shabbiness is a code of honour among Etonians. Their collars are frayed, their tweed jackets darned, their shoes scuffed. They tend to stoop, as if afraid their height might give away their social origins. They flinch, as did Douglas Hurd, a former Conservative leadership contender, from the accusation that they might be posh and wealthy.

Hurd protested to journalists that he was not a toff, but a mere tenant farmer. David Cameron tried to pass off his wife and himself as the sharp- elbowed middle class. It is interesting that his unreconciled rival David Davis is presenting a Radio 4 series on working-class Tories. His tanks are on Cameron's rolling acres.

The shying away from the brand new is rooted in a sense that anything worthwhile is inherited. The accusation by Alan Clark that Michael Heseltine was the sort of man who had to buy his own furniture has a social resonance. But even David Cameron must concede that socks do not age well.

The second, more contentious sublimated message from the down-at-heel interview, is that this is a man with a working wife. Boris Johnson, a fellow Etonian who takes an even greater pride in his scruffy appearance, once fell out with his former Spectator publisher Kimberly Quinn by grumbling that he would like a wife who sorted out his socks.

Somehow, his high-flying lawyer wife Marina, mother of his four children, had fallen short on the socks front. Women rose up against Boris in Harmanesque equality outrage, men secretly sympathised.

If cuts lead to some social unrest, it is wise of the well-heeled to show some suffering. No one wants to look like a banker now.

But the upper classes must not think they are fooling anyone. A dear friend of mine who is a fragrant descendant of the Bloomsbury set makes a point of hiding her good fortune in corduroy. I have always made a noisy point to her of contrasting this look with my designer labels and hair expenditure.

The idea of putting on the glitz is mortifying to the aristocracy. This is mirrored in Hollywood, where the first rank slink around in torn jeans, scarves and dark glasses. Only soap opera actresses go for thigh-splitting sequins.

It would be a mistake to confuse surface modesty for internal humility. David Cameron, who carelessly announced he would take a shot at the leadership, was not noted for energetic political ambition at school or university. Of course not. Disguised ruthlessness is the mark of an Etonian. If you see a Conservative politician with holes in his socks, you should be very afraid.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Larry Fink, the boss of fund manager BlackRock , is among those sounding the alarm  

Not all discounts are welcome: Beware the myopia of company bosses

Ben Chu
Cilla Black lived her life in front of the lens, whether on television or her earlier pop career  

Cilla Black dead: A sad farewell to the singer who gave us a 'lorra, lorra laughs'

Gerard Gilbert
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen