Keeping it old school

Being a chap is all about fun and self-expression - and never wearing jeans

29th March 2019

“You have emos, you have punks and you have rock persons. I am a chap.”

Daniel Hutchinson, 33, is the epitome of a British gentleman or what you might call a “chap”.  By celebrating the English eccentric gent, chaps like Hutchinson are on a quest for good manners and are against the banality and homogenisation of popular culture. It is not only just a sense of fashion but an ethos.

As he strolls into the café, He is wearing a grey-herringbone tweed suit with a handkerchief in his left breast pocket, a black tie with white dots and sharply pressed trousers. He takes his hat off and neatly places it on a lamp revealing his combed-back hair. The grey homburg hat with its black band matches his suit.

His whole appearance is tailored as a stereotypical British gentleman. Dressing like this is just a part of Hutchinson’s lifestyle. The auctioneer and valuer at the Unique Auctions in Lincoln is a chap, and he has been one even before he knew that what a chap was.

Hutchinson cannot remember any particular reason why he dresses that way. “I have never liked jeans and I have never liked t-shirts, just as I don’t like Marmite.” This bespoke style naturally evolved over time.

When he came to Lincoln 15 years ago to read history and politics, it was the first time that he managed his own money. “At university, I could do my own thing. It was the first time ever I could go and buy clothes without having to get permission from my parents. Literally, it was about being myself without having to account myself to somebody else.”

As a skint student, he looked for cheap clothes in the charity shops and second-hand stores where he could buy four or five items of clothing for the same cost as one. “I just liked the clothes,” he says smiling.

The realisation that he was a chap came shortly after starting university. Hutchinson clearly recalls a situation when he was a volunteer director at the East Anglia Transport Museum in his hometown of Lowestoft and was on his way back to Lincoln from the monthly board meeting.

His train cancelled, Hutchinson had to get a coach. His fellow passengers stared at him in his refined clobber; one young woman managing to make Hutchinson feel uncomfortable with the intensity of her observation.

All of a sudden I could identify with a genre, a group of people that until then I had no idea existed

“When I got off the coach at Norwich, I could see she wanted to speak to me as I was getting off the coach. But I just wanted to get home, back to Lincoln. I picked up my case and then she said to me ‘Excuse me, are you a chap?’ I asked what it was. She explained to me about The Chap magazine.

“I looked it up and I thought ‘oh my God, that is what I am’. All of a sudden I could identify with a genre, a group of people that until then I had no idea existed.”

Chap sub-culture rose hand-in-hand with steampunk and Victoriana and is championed by The Chap magazine, which has aimed to entertain and celebrates the modern gentleman ever since 1999. It is known for its quirkiness, its satirical editorial stance and its tongue-in-cheek-humour.

A part of The Chap’s philosophy for men is impeccable grooming, donning brightly polished, quality handmade shoes, to doff their hats for a salute or to show gratitude and, obviously, to never wear jeans.

The magazine refers to jeans as Pantaloons de Nimes (trousers from the French city of Nimes, where denim was invented) and explains this self-mockingly in its manifesto, the Ten Commandments of chappism.

“When you have progressed beyond fondling girls in the back seats of cinemas, you can stop wearing jeans. Wear fabrics appropriate to your age, and, who knows, you might even get a quick fumble in your box at the opera.”

Gustav Temple, one of the founders of The Chap, describes the Chap movement as “anarcho-dandyism”. Hutchinson says that for him it “is about enjoying life. You don’t have to dress this way, to be a Chap. It is just our outlook, our being good-natured but having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously”.

At the end, a policeman came up to us saying ‘You are the politest and most well-mannered and elegantly dressed people I have ever had the pleasure to keep an eye on’

This chance encounter with the woman on the coach changed Hutchison’s life. “Suddenly I can now follow [being a chap], get involved and develop friendships. I was going that way down myself and then she told me about it and I jumped in with both feet.”

Hutchison found a group of like-minded people he could enjoy himself with. Like at gathering organised by The Chap eight years ago to protest the proposed opening of an Abercrombie and Fitch store on London’s famous Savile Row, regarded and respected for its traditional bespoke tailoring for men.

“[There] were about 50 chaps with banners saying ‘Give three-piece a chance’,” Hutchinson remembers.

“At the end, a policeman came up to us saying, ‘You are the politest and most well-mannered and elegantly dressed people I have ever had the pleasure to keep an eye on.’ To which we gave him three rousing cheers.”

Nowadays, the 33-year-old chap finds it more difficult to find clothes to match his style (and budget) as vintage clothing has become more mainstream and expensive. He usually buys one or two items a year from charity shops or high street stores like Marks & Spencer.

It’s not just men who are making up this retro movement, women are joining in too. Chaps and chapettes meet-up and socialise through The New Sheridan Club based in London or by the multiple events organised by The Chap magazine.

One of them is the annual Chap Olympiad in London in the Bedford Square Gardens where “all tribes of originality, purveyors of flamboyancy and those who just refuse to dance to the faded tune of modern day society” meet to celebrate an eccentric sports event. It includes a range of games from passing on a teapot while riding a bicycle to using a baguette to knock off cheese stuck on a pole, the point of the day being fun rather than physical prowess.

The Chap lifestyle even has its own music genre, chap-hop. It is an ironic and anachronistic take on rap, in which of course, no swearing is allowed. British chap-hop artists such as Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer or Professor Elemental rap politely about profound topics with waxed moustaches, smoking pipes and bowler hats.

“Crikey. Musically chap-hop is what would happen if George Formby, Noel Coward and Chuck D got drunk together in a gin palace and decided to form a band. It is the music of the dandy revolution. All are welcome,” explains Mr. B, whose birth name is Jim Burke. He has been “a part-time dandy since the 1990s” until he fully committed to the chap lifestyle “all alongside the birth of chap-hop”.

Chap-hop takes the fast and sometimes aggressive rhythms of rap and hip hop and combines it with chappism.

Chappism emphasises individuality over consumerism and conformity. The still young movement revels in being old fashioned. But by restoring a traditional fashion sense, habits and manners, chaps and chapettes fight in their very own way for a civilised and courteous society. Therefore, they encourage gentlemanly masculinity.

Hutchinson’s sense of style is his way of self-expression but, at the same time, he also wants to wake up people’s perceptions, to let them step back from their mobile phone screen and to embrace the moment. “I like to think, in just a small way, I help people to do that. Just to have a moment, where they just look around. Pausing and stopping. Just self-evaluate, take a step back out of life and just see, what’s going on.”

The chap finds that the modern world is too rushed. He prefers old films, but not because he likes them better, just because he does not like the pace and swearing in modern ones. “I am not against swearing, but swearing just for the sake of it is too much. People say when I am swearing, they are shocked and I think that is was swearing should be, it should cause a shock.”

That is the etiquette a chap requires according to The Chap. A modern gentleman could know how to curse like a sailor but should avoid swearing in front of women and avoid making it personal, he should not swear angrily in public or take himself too seriously.

For Hutchinson, being a gentleman is “just being an ordinary good-natured human, which is being courteous, polite, well-meaning and respectful.

“At the end of the day, we should all be ourselves, because everyone else is taken.”

29th March 2019