The End of Decayed Gentility in the U.K.

On January 9, The Spectator wrote:

“After more than 200 years, a uniquely British taste is on the way out. Shabby chic has been vacuumed, whitewashed and dry-cleaned out of existence. Frayed shirt collars, egg-yolk on the tie, soup stain on the crotch, roses rambling out of control over the crumbling terrace flagstones, walls cluttered with pictures, tables covered with teetering piles of books.

“The quintessentially British air of decayed gentility has been destroyed by a combination of minimalism, modernism and nihilism. For the first time in history we live in a civilization where, the richer you are, the fewer things you have, and the newer, cleaner and more stripped-down those things must be. Shabby chic meant the opposite. The idea was that the richer you were, not only did you have more things, but also the things were older and more run-down. ‘I’ve got so much stuff, and it’s so old that of course it’s going to get dusty and battered,’ went the mantra, ‘but it’s so stylish that it’ll never go out of fashion.’”

• • • • • • •

In the New World the rich have never indulged in shabby chic and it was never a North American status symbol to own things that were run down.

True? Untrue?


9 responses to “The End of Decayed Gentility in the U.K.

  1. Desmond Smoth once assigned me to do a story on the cost of keeping up a stately home. I went to interview Lord Saye and Sele at Broughton Castle. I was dressed in an old sweater and jeans, and his lordship in a blazer. The camerman, Chris Callery, remarked that I was dressed as a lord and the lord was dressed as a journalist. Inside Broughton Castle was a picture of shabby gentility.

  2. Madeline Koch

    Untrue. North Americans spend a fortune on clothes that look old and used. Jeans with holes. Designer black t-shirts. Endless stores that sell brand-new stuff that looks like the stuff mum used to buy at Crippled Civilians.

    I had lunch the other day with one of Kirton’s star students, who turned out to be a thoughtful but uncertain-about-the-future card-carrying communist. In discussing whether the revolution remains possible, it occurred to me that the American dream is an antidote to communism. (I’m sure this isn’t an original thought.) Anyone can rise to the top from lowly circumstances by dint of hard work, viz. Clinton, Obama, Reagan — and, outside of the U.S., there’s Lula, who never finished high school.

    Hm. I guess this has nothing to do with shabby chic, though.

  3. Horace Krever

    In North America the business of selling expensive antiques is thriving and so is the auctioning of Old Masters and other old paintings, or so it seems to me.

  4. It is half true. I personally do not like things that are torn and stained. But what am I typical for? The Frankfurt Westend?

  5. I was exposed to this expression, “Shabby Chic”, for the first time when I saw it on a sign at an antique store just outside of Palm Beach last week. My wife would say I have exemplified the concept all my life, despite her efforts to throw out and replace. You have given me new respectability. Shabby Chic. I must remember this.
    “What a quaint desk. What style is it?”
    “Shabby Chic”

  6. A much better label than the one current in our household to justify keeping venerable items: PG (perfectly good). Over to SC!

  7. Don’t forget to credit EK