Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Silk Stockings Not Fine and Dandy with All Elite British Men ; Britain's New Parliament Speaker Balks at Knee Breeches and Other Traditional Regalia

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Silk Stockings Not Fine and Dandy with All Elite British Men ; Britain's New Parliament Speaker Balks at Knee Breeches and Other Traditional Regalia

Article excerpt

Michel Martin doesn't mind getting dressed up, but he draws the line at a traditional full-bottomed wig, ceremonial gown, knee breeches, black silk stockings, and silver-buckled shoes.

And we're not talking about Halloween night.

Elected last week as Speaker of the House of Commons, Britain's lower house of Parliament, Mr. Martin has been turning up in an ordinary flannel jacket and trousers instead of the customary attire that Speaker's have donned for the past 250 years. That's an almost revolutionary stance in tradition-strapped Britain, but one that nevertheless appears to be catching on.

In a further blow to convention, Lord Woolf, the nation's top judge, has said that he is of a mind to dispense justice bare- headed in the future. He says he is fed up with the ceremonial horsehair wig that goes with the job, weighs more than a pound, and is hot in summer.

He has even hinted that he wouldn't be unhappy if all judges decided to do likewise.

"I know there is a great affection for the traditions that we have," he told London's Daily Telegraph newspaper. "But, equally, I know that wearing wigs, especially if they are spaniel-type wigs, enables us to be portrayed as out of touch, anachronistic dinosaurs."

Martin and Lord Chief Justice Woolf are both following in the footsteps of Lord Chancellor Irvine, who presides in the House of Lords, Britain's upper chamber. Two years ago, he, too, jettisoned the wig, declaring, "It weighs a ton."

In an even more radical departure from centuries of tradition, Lord Irvine said that he was tired of having to walk backward in the presence of the queen when she opens sessions of Parliament with pomp and ceremony.

Previous lord chancellors have always slipped into reverse when withdrawing from the throne, as a posterior view was considered disrespectful. But such moves to abandon hallowed modes of dress and conduct have not passed without comment. Tradition still counts for a lot, especially among older Britons. …

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