Lifestyle revolution

How taste changed class in late 20th-century Britain

Ben Highmore
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In postwar Britain, journalists and politicians prophesised that the class system would not survive a consumer culture where everyone had TVs and washing machines, and where more and more people owned their own homes. They were to be proved wrong: the class system did survive but was also significantly transformed. Lifestyle revolution charts how class culture, rather than being destroyed by mass consumption, was remade using flat-pack furniture, Mediterranean cuisine, and lifestyle magazines. Novelists, cartoonists, and playwrights satirised the tastes of the emerging middle classes, and sociologists claimed that an entire population was suffering from status anxiety. But underneath it all, a world was being constructed out of duvets, quiches and mayonnaise, easy chairs from Habitat, white emulsion paint and ubiquitous well-scrubbed, second-hand pine kitchen tables. This was less a world of symbolic goods and more an intimate environment alive with new feelings and attitudes. Using a large variety of sources, this book focuses on the 1960s and 1970s to show how new tastes and new levels of affluence changed pre-war class identities. The modernising of class was often confused and never amounted to a new, agreed language of class (phrases such as ‘technician class’ were never fully adopted), but this confusion was itself a sign that the old certainties of class were giving way. The new tastes sought to escape rigid class identities by embracing a more cosmopolitan and informal world of culture, a world where ‘controlled casualness’ named both an interior style and a way of living.

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