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Monday, 25 June, 2001, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Pashmina politics: Beating the wrap

pashmina politics n, a set of policies which attempt to tap into public sentiment, only to find that the mood has moved on

ATTRIBUTION: Iain Duncan Smith, contender for Conservative leadership: "My concern would be we launch off on 'pashmina politics' where we end up adopting the fad just about to go out of fashion."

cf. Outgoing leader William Hague made the Tory attitude to fashion crystal clear in October 2000 saying: "Nothing is more unfashionable than a fashion that's out of fashion."

ORIGINS: the pashmina - a shawl made of wool from the soft underbelly of a Himalayan goat much favoured by millions of western women in late 1990s. Officially went out of fashion in August 1999, Vogue magazine decreed, but examples are still plentiful. Taught many people the difference between cashmere and Kashmir.

EARLY EXAMPLE: in 1996, a pashmina-wearer justified the high cost (up to 500 in those days) by saying: "You can't compare them to woollen scarfs. That's like comparing purest silk to a pair of cotton underpants at Marks & Spencer." (Independent, 20 Dec 1996)

ALTERNATIVES: if not pashminas, then what garment does embody appropriate values? Presumably the desired attributes are Britishness, traditional, not likely to go out of fashion, not too flashy, something sturdy...how about a pair of cotton underpants from Marks & Spencer?

PARALLEL: a link between the retailer and the Tory Party, and the Church of England, was recently made by the Sun. "It used to be said that the Church was the Tory party at prayer - these days they're both on their knees... Like the C of E and M&S before it, the grand old Conservative Party has simply lost its flock - AND it may now lose everything by trying to be all things to all people."

DILEMMA: fashion writer Stefanie Marsh looked back on the summer of 99, when pashminas were in their heyday: "Then came the bad news. Marks & Spencer had found out about the trend and was due to start stocking them come autumn. This was a catastrophe. M&S, as every fashionista knew, was a more accurate arbiter of trends than Vogue - anything it sold instantly lost its cachet. Pashminas became pariahs, spared only rarely to be turned into cushion covers."

Any ideas on textile messages can be sent to the E-cyclopedia by clicking here.

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