The Style Column

Jeremy Langmead

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What do you mean you don’t “outfit”? You will now, and it’ll change the way you travel forever. 

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If you’ve been watching Downton Abbey, you might have noticed how exhausting it was to spend the weekend with friends — what with them being posh enough to have servants and all that. Packing must have been a nightmare, too: selecting the right clothes to shoot in, lunch in, dine in, shag in, etc.

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In fact, getting dressed for these weekends was so complex that no one — male or female — was capable of doing it themselves. The ladies would have their maids help with hair and jewels and zips; the men would have valets to aid with cuff links, bow ties and sliding into jackets.

Alan Hollinghurst’s latest novel, The Stranger’s Child, also dwells on the social pitfalls of staying in grand houses at the beginning of the last century — most of all, the unpleasant fact that you didn’t get to unpack your own suitcase. You would see it taken up to your bedroom in the knowledge that a complete stranger would soon be rifling through your underwear.

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Even today, these practices still exist in some of the country’s grander houses. A friend of mine occasionally goes to stay with the Duke of Westminster and his family. The Grosvenors are, by all accounts, charming and hospitable, but he has to endure the stress of not only being dressed correctly at various times of the day, but making sure he always has the right cash to tip the servants at the end of his stay.

Hosting guests at the turn of the 20th century wasn’t easy, either — especially if you happened to have Queen Mary, the current Queen’s late grandmother, round for tea. Queen Mary was fond of shiny things and, on seeing something she liked, would exclaim: “I’m caressing it with my eyes.” As a result, prior to her visits, her hosts would hide any possessions of great value — not because Mary would steal them, but if she told you she liked something, it meant she expected you to gift it to her.

Fortunately, most of us don’t have to worry about such social conundrums today, but this is the time of year when we are likely to spend a few days with relatives or friends. This will involve the need to dig out something suitable to wear for the X Factor final (joke), Christmas Day lunch, Boxing Day stroll, coffee morning with people who still go to church and, if you’re unlucky enough to be stuck there for the whole festive period, a New Year’s Eve party.

Like me, you probably loathe packing and leave it all to the last minute, and then bung a whole load of stuff into your bag hoping that 70 per cent of it will be appropriate, 50 per cent of it clean. Well, you need to approach things a little differently; you need to do something that is referred to in Fashionland as “outfitting”. You can butch it up and call it something else if that helps, but outfitting is when you work out, and lay out, each outfit you’re going to wear for every occasion you will face on your trip before packing it. Yes, it’s like doing homework, but it’s truly the best way to ensure that you have everything you need, that you don’t overpack, and that, once you’re there, you don’t need to waste any time at all deciding what to wear.

A certain fashion editor at this very magazine — Gareth Scourfield, since you ask — always spends hours outfitting before he travels to the biannual fashion shows in Milan and Paris. Last time I saw him, he had outfitted so obsessively the night before he flew out of London, laying each extravagant ensemble carefully out on his marital bed, that he failed to notice that it was 2am and his heavily pregnant wife was standing patiently by the door hoping to get a little shut-eye before their three-year-old woke.

So next time you’re off on your travels, think of Gareth and get outfitting with the same single-minded dedication. Either that or hire a valet. But if you have been watching Downton Abbey, most of those seem more trouble than they’re worth.

Jeremy Langmead is the editor-in-chief of mrporter.com

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