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.
The introduction establishes some of the main elements of the book, through personal reminiscences about growing up in a new housing development in a village in Essex and as a paperboy noting the growing size of the weekend newspapers and monthly magazines. The introduction goes on to explain its main claim about the role of taste in generating new feelings about class. To pursue this, it explains how the book understands the idea of class and taste, and how the rise of popular sociology was important for the way that taste was experienced in the postwar period.
This chapter argues that taste needs to be thought of as a mix of period styles, social differences, and personal preferences and judgements. Starting with the work of the Scottish philosopher David Hume, the chapter argues that Hume recognised the way that sentiment is an important aspect of taste to be found alongside but sometimes in conflict with judgement. To negotiate this conflict Hume promoted the role of critics as arbiters of taste. The chapter argues that while Hume was writing at a very early stage of consumerism his arguments have guided how taste has operated in the postwar period, except that the role of tastemakers has been considerably enlarged. The chapter ends by looking at Jenny Diski’s memoir of the 1960s and its description of the role of consumption in producing a complex sense of being modern.
This chapter tells the story of how Terence Conran’s Habitat shops promoted a range of goods that were eclectic in style but were all part of a taste for informal living and often included rustic furnishings and utensils. Starting in 1964 Habitat quickly moved from being a boutique furnishing shop to being a mainstay of the British high street, taking a role equivalent in furniture and domestic goods to that represented by Sainsbury’s in groceries. The chapter looks at the importance of the merger with Lupton Morton and the use of catalogues to promote a lifestyle of Habitat living. The chapter details the kinds of displays that the shop became famous for and how Terence Conran described the role of the shop in promoting what he called ‘solid citizen’ furniture. The chapter ends by looking at the way the novelist Angela Carter described the shop in New Society.
The chapter begins with Juliet Gardiner’s memoir of married life in a Span house and how the various homeowners in the estate all decorated in the same way, bringing together a loose mid-century modern style with bits of Victoriana. It continues by examining Terence Conran’s The House Book, as a guide to eclectic interior design and its emphasis on junk shop ‘finds’. The chapter then looks at examples of informal lifestyle culture in cooking and food (for example the growing popularity of mayonnaise, and the emergence of PizzaExpress) and how the clothing shop Biba developed into a ‘must have’ look for young women. The range of what might constitute the ‘good life’ ends up by looking at the Mirror Dinghy and the attempt to make sailing a leisure pursuit affordable to all.
This chapter looks at the new colour supplements that many newspapers introduced in the 1960s. It shows how the mixture of advertising, social investigation, tourism, and lifestyle reporting produced a genre of magazine that promoted aspects of consumer culture. The supplements borrowed heavily from women’s magazines like Good Housekeeping as well as from photo news magazines such as Picture Post. The chapter also looks at how magazines like Nova and Spare Rib addressed changing attitudes around sexuality, femininity, and race.
This chapter looks at how the tastes exemplified by Habitat and The House Book coincided with a rise in homeownership and how this was related to the emergence of gentrification in many large cities. The taste for Victoriana and for rustic life fashioned a new enthusiasm for older properties that had previously been considered undesirable. While today gentrification is often considered to be the largescale encroachment of middle-class homeowners into previously working-class areas, the chapter argues that it is also a sign of more complex and confusing aspects of class realignment. The chapter also considers the way that urban areas took on some of the characteristics of a more rural way of living and how a fashion for Scandinavian architecture was symptomatic of the way that modern design was used to promote the home as a place of leisure and informality.
This chapter looks at the key role of popular sociology in the 1960s and 1970s and how important this was for consolidating the connections between taste and class, and for generating a self-consciousness about this connection. This popular sociology was at the forefront of trying to map a new world of class that was emerging at a time of postwar affluence, relatively high wages for manual workers, and new educational opportunities. The new universities that were built in the 1960s were part of this changing world of taste and class and were often the most enthusiastic institutions in embracing sociology. Magazines such as New Society were crucial in popularising the social sciences. The chapter ends by looking at how social scientists were satirised within popular culture and how the satire was often aimed at the tastes that they embodied.
Continuing with the theme of satirising social scientists, this chapter begins with J. B. Priestley’s novel The Image Men to explore the phenomena of associating taste primarily with status seeking and status anxiety. It goes on to show that status anxiety was often the preeminent way that popular sociology was trying to understand modern consumer society and to changes in the experience of class. The image of the aspirational and anxious new middle classes is at the heart of Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party. A more generous representation of changing class experiences and the tastes that go with them is provided by the comedy Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? In both examples it is women who are seen as being the most susceptible to consumerism. The chapter finishes by looking at the phenomenon of the TV chef by focusing on Delia Smith and Keith Floyd.
This chapter starts out by looking at the complexity of how people situate themselves within a stratum of class differences, including the example of a woman who believed that there are 28 class categories. Class studies were a bedrock of popular sociology in the 1960s and 1970s, and much of this focused on working men and women who were unsure about what their class position was in this changing world. While many commentators believed that class was locked into types of employment, one commentator in particular took the feeling of class to be particularly important. The Jamaican-born intellectual Stuart Hall, who had been in Britain since 1951, observed that consumer society brought with it a feeling of classlessness for many. Hall saw the feeling of classlessness to be a symptom of both change and confusion. Hall took seriously the idea that being classless wasn’t an option in class society but that feelings of classlessness were part of the contradictory experience of modern life and something that left-wing politics had to face up to.