Cultural norms and regional differences

I’m loathe to admit it, but in all probability I am most definitely a softy-southerner. (I used to use six months living in Leeds aged 1 as proof that I had a little bit of northern in me, but it really doesn’t wash.)

As I mentioned yesterday, I made some amazing (well, possibly not so amazing) discoveries while in the north-east at the weekend, the final of which was that women didn’t seem to be able to get tights up there – or at least, I presume they can’t, given as no one was wearing any despite the chilly late September temperature. It’s well known that northern women are far hardier than their southern sisters – shunning tights and coats throughout the cold winter nights.

On Saturday night I stuck out like a sore thumb. Not only was I wearing tights, they were of an obvious, black-opaque variety. I left my coat at home but still had a cardi to protect my arms – I must have looked like a total wuss. Plus, I appeared not to have received the ‘when going out in Durham on a Saturday really push the boat out with your outfit’ memo….

I was distinctly over-dressed in my (smart) shorts over tights and a (low cut) shirt combo – an outfit that in London would be quite acceptable in most contexts. Don’t think of me as a snob – it’s not so much a class thing as a regional difference. My host (Morven, of Greenbelt video ‘fame’) has grown used to the expectations of local society and gently suggested I borrow a pair of her heels and some bling to dress my outfit up a bit. It’s not like I don’t enjoy dressing up – I just hadn’t thought that dinner & drinks in Durham would be such a big deal. Besides, even if I had planned ahead, I’m more inclined towards 1950’s tea-dresses than skin-tight creations, so would still have looked a bit wrong.

What really amused me was how out of place I managed to make myself feel owing to my clothing in two separate contexts, in the space of 12 hours. On Saturday night I clearly appeared to be making a poor effort and was pretty much invisible to local men. On Sunday morning, wearing a similar outfit (well, the shorts & opaque tights combo) to church, I felt distinctly sluttish.

Those that know me will know (surely?!) that I don’t really do sluttish. The odd low-cut top – yes (and purely accidental bra flashing), but outright whore? Not so much. It simply comes down to cultural norms and regional differences:

In the north-east, the cultural norm is to dress up for a night out on the ‘Toon’.
In London, the regional difference is that ‘dressing up’ could (and does) mean a wide variety of things.

At the church I visited on Sunday morning, the cultural norm is to dress in hoodies and jeans and generally not be too bothered with one’s appearance. [Incidentally, that is not intended as a slight on anyone!]
At my church, the regional difference (or cultural norm) is to dress up. There’s a huge amount of pressure to fit in with the creatives and fashionistas.

On Sunday morning I had the most leg showing of any member of the (300 strong) congregation – I kept my coat on. Six hours later and safely ensconced in a pew of my central London church, no one batted an eyelid and I felt slightly overdressed thanks to my jumper.

Why is so important to fit in? To wear the right clothes and in the right contexts? Should it matter as long as we feel comfortable? I felt fine on Saturday night and was reasonably confident on Sunday (getting the legs out – albeit in the safety of black tights – is still a bit of a novelty), but comparing oneself to others, it’s easy to get a complex.

What are the morals of this tale?
1. If you’re up north of a weekend and fancy a couple of drinks, take a very short dress & some heels with you – leaving your tights and jacket at home. [Men, I believe, have different rules – you can wear trousers I hear.]
2. If you’re at church and it’s not your usual trendy evangelical congregation in London, err on the side of demure rather than slut.
3. Most of all, ignore conventions, society and the glances of others and just wear what feels comfortable and makes you happy…

Northern discoveries

I made a couple of amazing discoveries up north this weekend.

1. You can buy simply gorgeous cocktails for under £5. [Truly a revelation for a London resident where such beauties are easily £10+.] In fact, another discovery (though not an amazing one) is that I can actually tire of drinking cocktails – only managing three before I longed for a Diet Coke to cleanse my pallet.

An elderflower mojito, something containing Earl Grey tea & tequila and my utterly delicious Bourbon Cookie with an actual bourbon biscuit on top…

2. Pubs, restaurants and other such establishments have slightly odd facilities in their ladies’ toilets. [Actually, they might have them in the men’s toilets, but I didn’t check.] Witness:

Yes, those are hair straighteners…in a toilet…in a venue where people drink. Any possible health and safety issues there?

Oh, and just in case you think I’m generalising, here’s another – so at least two separate establishments had them:

Clearly having poker-straight hair is of immense importance to ladies in the north-east – I wonder if it’ll catch on down here?

3. You can’t buy black opaque tights there, or any tights in fact. At least, it would appear that one can’t, given that I saw no one wearing any while out on Saturday night. But I think I’m going to return to that topic tomorrow…