London Diary: Stiff suits give way to smart and comfortable casualwear

A British judge sentences an accused to read Shakespeare and return to the court for a test. New research shows that a clear female voice over the phone is associated instinctively to pretty women

London Diary: Stiff suits give way to smart and comfortable casualwear

Hasan Suroor

Suited-booted, no more

The good old suit, once considered a mark of sobriety and civility though also often derided as a symbol of elitism (‘suit boot ki sarkar’), is no longer in demand even in the land of its invention with more and more Brits shedding it in favour of so-called “smartwear” -- easy to wear, stylish clothing that can be worn in lots of different ways.

The demand for suits has fallen so steeply that Marks and Spencer, that doughty symbol of British traditions, has stopped selling them in many of its stores. It blamed the decline in demand on Covid lockdowns which forced people to stay indoors obviating the need for formal dress. While the trend towards more casual wear had already started, Covid “hit fast forward on the trend”, its director Wes Taylor, said.

According to the BBC, sale of suits in the UK have fallen by 2.3 million over five years. Instead, people have been spending more on “shorts and joggers”. Sale of women’s suits have also fallen, but the number has been less drastic. Apparently, fashion experts had predicted a post-Covid “comfortable clothing” revolution. And, so, there we are. M&S and revolution? Interesting thought.

Book-ish justice

A British judge has made legal history after he invoked the reforming power of classical English literature while sparing a white supremacist a jail term and instead directing him to read Shakespeare and Dickens.

“Have you read Dickens? Austen? Start with Pride And Prejudice and Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Think about Hardy. Think about Trollope,” Judge Timothy Spencer told Ben John who was convicted of terror-related charges by a jury.

Handing him a suspended sentence, he ordered him to return to court every four months to be tested on his reading.

“On 4 January you will tell me what you have read and I will test you on it. I will test you and if I think you are [lying to] me you will suffer.”

The judge then told John’s barrister that his client had avoided imprisonment “by the skin of his teeth” because of his young age.

Not everyone is amused and a rights group has urged the Attorney General’s Office to review the “unduly lenient sentence” for a terrorism offence.

“This sentence is sending a message that violent right-wing extremists may be treated leniently by the courts,” said the “Hope Not Hate’s” chief executive Nick Lowles.

Voice & gender bias

Next time you hear a recorded public announcement, try and imagine the face behind the voice. The chances, according to new research, is that if it’s a female voice with a clear, easy-to-understand delivery, you would instinctively think that it’s a “pretty” face. Conversely, an imperfect enunciation would invoke a less flattering image of the speaker.

But here’s the thing: a man can get away with the worst kind of voice or delivery without being judged, but a woman can’t. Research, published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, found that speaking slowly with well-formed vowels made a speaker sound more appealing — but only if they were female, The Times reported.

“Women are considered more attractive when they speak clearly... while men can get away with mumbling,” it said.

‘Jhola’ lovers, beware

Remember the humble and often reviled “jhola” of the 1970s preferred by kurta-clad Left-wing activists and so-called “JNU types”?

Fast forward, and while Indians have traded it for more modish stuff, it’s making waves in Britain with reusable tote bags now seen as a must-have “cool” accessory, especially for the environmentally “woke” Brits. Businesses have been quick to monetise the “tote wave” with everyone from booksellers and newspaper publishers to universities and grocery stores churning out tote bags in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colours emblazoned with their business logos.

But just when they were being touted as the ultimate gift to environmentalists—a perfect foil to the polluting plastic bags —questions are being asked about their climate-friendly credentials.

Critics claim that far from being environmental-friendly, cotton totes are creating new problems anew. Most bags, unless made of organically-produced cotton, can’t be recycled and have a high chemical footprint detrimental to the environment.

Campaigners point to a study according to which a single cotton tote would need to be used every day for 54 years to offset its own production.

“You have to be as vigilant about cotton tote bags now as you used to be about plastic ones,” argued environmental writer Lucy Siegle in TheNew York Times.

But such is the pull of its marketing potential for big business that the “jhola” doesn’t look like going anywhere soon.


And, lastly, the good old humble doorbell has given way to the “smart” bell that alerts you as soon as a visitor approaches the front door and even before they have pressed it. Except that it often confuses anyone in the vicinity of its sensors as a visitor triggering a false alarm.

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