Last December, I saw MTC’s production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. It has always been one of my favourite plays, ever since I saw the 1952 version of the film as a child. This time I was much struck by one of Lady Bracknell’s lines – I found it exquisitely humorous.
She instructs Cecily Cardew to raise her chin, for chins are being worn high nowadays, and her daughter Gwendolyn Fairfax obligingly demonstrates the correct angle.
Here, in the inimitable Oscar Wilde’s words:
Lady Bracknell: [Glares at Jack for a few moments. Then bends, with a practised smile, to Cecily.] Kindly turn round, sweet child. [Cecily turns completely round.] No, the side view is what I want. [Cecily presents her profile.] Yes, quite as I expected. There are distinct social possibilities in your profile. The two weak points in our age are its want of principle and its want of profile. The chin a little higher, dear. Style largely depends on the way the chin is worn. They are worn very high, just at present.
Further research discovered another amusing influence on the height of chins. Earnest was written in August 1894, but just 25 or so years later, chins were once more being worn high – brought back into fashion along with the cloche hat:
[The cloche], fashionable from 1908 to 1933, was one of the most extreme forms of millinery ever, with an appearance that resembled a helmet. It was the iconic hat of the twenties decade and will ever be associated with the flappers of the era. It was responsible for the period stance we associate with the era. To wear one correctly the hat had to be all but pulled over the eyes, making the wearer have to lift up the head, whilst peering snootily down the nose. (From Fashion Era.)
How wonderful! I have a couple of cloches among my repertoire and hereby resolve to practice the stance.
Making the Picture
I had a lot of fun dressing up for this picture. To evoke the look of the era, I pulled out my oldest hat, from 1910, navy wool felt trimmed with a baby blue ostrich feather; a vintage bandeau/collar/sleep mask (the Etsy seller from whom I bought it was undecided as to its original purpose); a newish royal purple blouse by Cue that would set off the collar to admiration; a pair of 70s lace gloves with frilled cuffs; and finally a pair of amazonite oblong earrings. A low camera angle helps to achieve the correct degree of snootiness.
The background image is an amazing Art Nouveau door I photographed in Barcelona, situated on the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes. It’s carved from beautiful golden wood and inset with stained glass.