And I’m disqualifying that team for an Americanish display of mutual congratulation – the High Five. Sirs, you should know better.’ – Judge, MC, and executioner.
The Chap Olympiad is a strange place to discover a revolution. It is also likely the only festival that you’ll hear the exclamation, ‘Syphilis? Marvelous!’ from a man wearing a dead bat as a broach.
Courtesy of some judicious fashion assistance from a well dressed friend, I was strolling into London’s beautifully shaded Bedford Square looking more like a fin de siècle paperboy than the red-and-white-striped boiled lollie in a bow tie, that I’d feared.
Instantly I felt like I’d stepped back in time by 100 years. Women in elegant dresses with impossibly perfect coiffures swanned between men in three-piece suits, sporting gravity defying moustaches and puffing contentedly on licentiously curled pipes.
On tables, 3-tiered tea sets had been carefully laden with triangular sandwiches; you could almost smell the sweet tang of G&Ts wafting over this most sophisticated of crowds.
The Age of Leisure didn’t die; it now just meets up once a year for Pimm’s and skittles.
For 15 years dapper gent, Gustav Temple has been the editor and co-founder of The Chap Magazine, the periodical of the discerning Modern Gentlemen. In its own words “The Chap believes that a society without courteous behaviour and proper headwear is a society on the brink of moral and sartorial collapse, and it seeks to reinstate such outmoded but indispensable gestures as hat doffing, giving up one’s seat to a lady and regularly using a trouser press”.
10 years ago, as a furtherance of this noble crusade, the Magazine founded the Chap Olympiad as a celebration of, as Gustav puts it, ‘sports for people who don’t like sports’.
I spoke with the man himself to find out what it takes to win the Golden Cravat.
One Small World: If the catch-cry of the Olympics is Faster,Higher, Stronger what would the guiding virtues be for the Chaps Olympiad?
Gustav Temple: Well it would probably be Slower, More Elegantly and with more Panache… You know when you’re in school and there were always the wimpy kids that didn’t get picked for the rugby team because they were too busy composing poetry and smoking fags and chasing girls. It’s the Olympics for them.
OSW: In the days of off-the-rack fashion and appalling grammar, what is the last bastion of the Chap, where can they be found?
G(&)T: We’re trying to get everywhere. Initially we were only to be found lurking in obscure little old fashioned pubs that still served real ale, and now it’s kind of cottoned on. As you can see today, there are 1500 people here. I don’t know how many of them always dress like this but I imagine quite a lot of them do.
I’ve personally seen the sartorial standards of our followers improve on an individual level. I’ve seen people who were dressed very badly to begin with, now dressed very well. And in general, as you’ve probably noticed, people are dressing slightly better than they did ten years ago. And I think that’s us.
OSW: Do you credit your example?
G&T: Yeah, without being pompous about it. We either created it or we predicted it but we certainly spoke about it in 1999, about people wearing tweed, wearing suits, smoking pipes, moustaches. And it’s all over Shoreditch now like a rash, which is a good thing.
OSW: How does one qualify to call oneself a Chap and do the clothes maketh the man?
G&T chuckles: I’m afraid that the clothes really do maketh the man. You really can’t be a Chap if you’re wearing trainers and a tracksuit and a baseball cap. The thing is anyone can be Chap, the minute you decide you’re a Chap and you make a half-baked effort to be a Chap and to discard something of your previous look, say your trainers and your hoodie, and you replace them with a pair of brogues or a suit, then you’re a Chap. It’s really as simple as that.
OSW: How has the idea of the modern gentleman had to evolve in modern times or is its strength in the fact that its always remained the same?
G&T: Well no, it’s the opposite. The idea of the modern gentleman doesn’t really make sense, because the gentleman was an exclusive, clubby domain that kept itself away from the masses. Whereas our idea is for the masses to become Chaps, so that Chaps end up popping up everywhere, almost like a disease. If it spreads then eventually everyone will catch it.
OSW: So what will the effect of that be?
G&T: It’s kind of a socialism in reverse. Instead of everyone pulled down to the lowest level, everyone’s brought up to the highest level. So we’re all gentlemen. And then you get rid of all the class division but you keep everyone on the top rather than everyone on the bottom. I may not really make sense but that’s the principle anyway.
OSW: What would you recommend as a training regime for an aspiring gentleman athlete?
G&T: Lie down in a dark room for an entire year, practice pipe-smoking techniques, practice wielding an umbrella, try and develop a paunch, don’t get fit, don’t raise as sweat, try and raise your tolerance to gin as high as possible, so that you can take a whole bottle of gin in one afternoon; you’ll fare much better here if you can handle it.
OSW: If you could take one aspect of the Gentlemen and apply it to the whole of society what would it be and why?
It’s easy to say the clothes, but I think it really would be the clothes. If everyone dressed well people would naturally behave slightly better. I think people do behave according to their dress. So if you’re wearing a dapper suit with a trilby you’re more likely to be polite and courteous to people than if you’re dressed like a thug. It’s obvious isn’t it?
Hear, hear, I say. Though the ideal of the Chap references an old-world gentility from the first half of the 20th century, this is by no means a stubbornly conservative movement. Given that we are within duckshot of England’s greatest monument to colonialism, The British Museum, its perhaps surprising that there are almost no old men gawuffing and hawhawing through their soup-strainer moustaches about the problem of the natives (or perhaps in modern Europe) the ‘non-natives’. Old work colonial superiority seems to have transformed into a fun counter-subversiveness; to undermine the new with the old.
In a manner that seems only to be possible within the British sense of humour, the Chap Olympiad lampoons the outrageousness of the Chappish ideal, without in anyway detracting from their seriousness and dedication to that very ideal. Only in a country that gave birth to Monty Python and The Office could this level of cognitive dissidence be cause for a drink.
Chaps and Chapettes (the modern gentleman is very much a cross-gender archetype these days) complete in a variety of sports throughout the day for a chance at winning the Bronze, Silver or Gold Cravat, judged on their apparent Chappish attributes.
Sports included Volleybowler (Volleyball using a red bowler hat), Umbrella Jousting (utilising London’s free Boris Bikes for maximum couth-carnage) and the Limp Handshake (where contestants have to catch rubber gloves filled with water).
Each of the contests lends itself to a swift descent into the bizarre and surreal. Not Playing Tennis for example, rewards points to the player most adept at not playing tennis, naturally. Tactics include making a cup of tea, employing someone else to play for you and pondering one’s existential angst. It is perhaps the only sport where leaving the field of play altogether is a game winning shot.
The Chap Olympiad is fabulously funny and head-scratchingly bizarre. Pull out your tweed vest, pack a picnic and practice annunciating your vowels, you’ll need them all.
Tickets for the Olympiad will sell out so keep an eye on the website.
What: The Chap Olympiad
When: July sometime (check the website)
Where: Bedford Square, London
How: Make sure you’re dressed in your Chappish best; people who don’t will be refused entry (in the most polite way possible)
How Much: ~£20 for a ticket, all events free.
Why: Dress like a gentlemen while being as bonkers as a syphilis suffering aristocrat!