At school I was never much good at history (as I think long-suffering correspondents may know) but I think it was Harold Macmillan who coined the phrase “You’ve never had it so good”. Of course it was easy for him to say. Most of his audience had recent memory of being battered in at least one world war. Formica was abundant as the “new wood” and crap like novelty mobile ring tones had yet to be invented. It was an AIDS free world in which stockings were plentiful, unlike branches of Burger King (no bad thing) and everybody seemed to have at least one job.
I’m inspired, you see, by the “dark side of the golden age” story on the front page at the moment. By certain standards Harold had a point. But would you swap current levels of healthcare (and specifically the fact that you can now go to a dentist and escape relatively pain free) for those of such a “golden” age? I suspect not.
When I was a lot younger I stayed behind after school for one of those club things you go to because all your friends do and because there’s sod all worth watching on the telly. I remember one of the teachers asking one of the others how he was feeling, and he said “I’ve never felt better.” At the time I thought “I wish I could say that but I’ve got a bit of a headache” and from that day forward I’ve been perpetually troubled by at least one permanent ailment. I’m not a hypochondriac and I don’t mean big things although occasionally, like a shafted appendix, they have occurred. I’m just always aware that there’s always something not utterly 100% right. It can be as minor as a split fingernail or a scratch, as irritating as a sensitive tooth or dry eyes. I’m just eternally frustrated by the fact that I can never say “I’ve never felt better” because I know I’m not, ever, 100%. But while I know that today (bit sneezey if you must know and an aching ankle after too long wearing the wrong shoes) I don’t feel any better than yesterday. By extension, if I can’t think of a day when I’ve “never felt better” there must have been one day, back in my innocent youth, when I did actually feel okay, all day. Every day since has, by definition, been worse. I just wish I could remember it.
Extracting a meaning from all of this means that my philosophy on life is “we are where we are” and it’s not actually much good looking back to the past because for every memory of a golden, care-free summer day there was almost certainly a long-forgotten insect bite that at the time rather eroded the gloss. The human mind tends to remember the good bits and blank out the others.
It’s easy, as a stockings enthusiast, to cast back envious eyes at eras gone by, perhaps before we were even born. It is easy to get lost in thoughts of how wonderful it must have been when all women wore stockings as a matter of course, tights hadn’t been invented, and bare legs were just unthinkable. But were they really that good? If everyone wore stockings, did stockings really have so much appeal? If lipstick becomes a rarity will there be a web site in 30 years time called Lipstick HQ in which we remember the golden days of Maybelline and Boots Number 7? It’s my theory that in the so-called “golden age” stockings were taken for granted and it’s only with the benefit of hindsight and the current paucity that earlier eras have taken on a mystique and elegance they didn’t have at the time.
Then there’s the products themselves. Take, for example, the current upsurge in popularity of fully fashioned stockings. Back when they were plentiful was there such a sense of pride of ownership that the current buyer of Gio, Gerbe or Cervin enjoys? Forty years ago there was an enormous choice but was it really much greater than it is today? For certain there were lots of fully fashioned manufacturers, but for me a world without modern classics like the Gerbe Soyance would be too high a price to pay. With new yarns and manufacturing techniques we have a diversity now never seen before, from the traditional to the ultra modern.
My complaint, if I have one, is that mainstream stockings have lost some of their personality. A decade ago you knew you were wearing Pretty Polly lace tops because the PP logo was all too evident in the lace. The same applied to Aristoc. Now you’d be hard pushed by sight alone to tell apart products from all most of the mainstream manufacturers like Aristoc, PP, Charnos, Levante, and others. And yet despite this there seems to a much bigger choice than ever before.
Maybe stockings aren’t as common as they used to be, but maybe that just adds to their appeal. Maybe it’s harder to find fully fashioned stockings in the shops, but they’re still abundant on the Internet – alongside a vast and complementary selection of new products that offer much higher quality and durability than those from decades ago. Maybe this, actually, is the golden age, and maybe now we’ve never had it so good. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up, get dressed in Falke’s finest and think “you know, I genuinely have never felt better”. I doubt it’ll ever come to that, but we’re lucky, today, to live in an age of choice and prosperity and that’s something I wouldn’t swap for all the Harmony Points in the world.