RetroProgressive – A step back in style?

My old school celebrated a special anniversary recently, which I dutifully attended. Stepping back to my days as a rather plump school librarian, I fondly recalled the privilege of precious moments spent huddled up in a cosy, heated corner ‘reading’ French and German fashion magazines. Said corner has since acquired comfy-cushioned chairs and a selection of rather less than inviting travel guides.

Back in the day when the library was loaded full of literary and reference works for study, there was usually a good selection of mildly popular stuff too. One of the more inspiring books was Puffin’s Pleasure, which somehow managed to transform mundane activity into alluring pastime. Take walking:

“The cheapest, most challenging and rewarding form of exercise”, according to Jane Nissen, who predicted that “We may be on the edge of a walking revolution…Many city centres are banning cars and walkers are recapturing the streets. City walking is fascinating just because of the details and differences of the streets. Try a zigzag walk.”

Each child reading this miscellany of well thought out, invigorating material was encouraged to “be an adventurer, to travel light and be self-sufficient, to enter a world of freedom, excitement and discovery… by walking.” What’s more, walkers were presented as heroes in the form of men in space and on the moon, great explorers, soldiers in Roman legions, Olympic walkers, wandering poets and so on. Added to which, in 1976, the layered look of two pairs of socks was, apparently, ‘high fashion’ for walkers.

And there was plenty of even more fascinating stuff: “In 1972 after a plane crash 13 year old Juliana Koepcke staggered for ten and a half days through the impenetrable Peruvian jungle. She had a broken collar bone and a bad foot and she was only wearing sandals. Luckily she knew about the hazards of the jungle – poisonous snakes, tree spiders and fire ants.”

Fast forward a few decades and almost 30 percent of British children are overweight or obese – and around 40 percent of boys and 60 percent of girls come nowhere near the hour-a-day exercise levels recommended by doctors. In the summer of 2009, there was even a government funded pilot scheme in Barrow-in-Furness to get more children walking – only deemed possible by the lure of themes, masks, games and treasure hunts. The Ramblers, also involved in the scheme, felt it necessary to list their ‘top tips for getting kids walking.’ No mention of Peruvian jungle reenactments though.

A couple of years ago the British Medical Journal reported “a culture of car use, fed by a fear and dislike of local environments and parental responses that emphasised children’s safety at the expense of developing their independence, despite children expressing responsible attitudes towards transport choices.”  But, whilst cycling on roads may present real dangers (yet to be acknowledged by Mayor Boris), walking is seen as much less fun. It’s interesting to note that recently published Michelin I-Spy books include I Spy on a Car Journey, I Spy Cars, I Spy On the Motorway, I Spy Car Badges and I Spy At the Airport.

On the flip side, an overreaction to lack of exercise has resulted in a spate of children’s gym openings in more upmarket neighbourhoods. There’s even an 8 week ‘running school’ programme, to assuage anxious mothers, who fret that their child “may lean forward when running, putting too much stress on the back. Or might strike too hard with the heels, juddering their frame. They may fail to use their arms properly, causing the body to twist.” Learning to run properly is “a discipline that will go on into life.”

Of course, kids can always take the Wii Fit walking test to see how putting one foot in front of the other should be correctly done..

.. before progressing on to the ‘beginners’ tightrope walk’.

Or they can sit down and read the X Factor Annual – probably the most curious new addition to my former school’s library. But, far from being a backwards step, will this actually will do any harm?  If there’s one thing to be learned from celebrities it’s how to stand upright, walk tall, get plenty of exercise –  perhaps even take up The Alexander Technique… and, of course, to walk with style – be it on the catwalk, the stage, or heaven forbid, in order to make a grand entrance at a book signing.

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About Author Profile: Susan Muncey

Trend consultant Susan Muncey, is Editor of Visuology Magazine. In 2008, she founded online curiosity shop, She writes on style and trends for several blogs, including, and The Dabbler. She previously owned cult West London boutique, Fashion Gallery, one of the first concept stores in the world. Susan graduated in geography from Cambridge University and is also an Associate Member of the CFA Institute. She lives in London with her husband.

7 thoughts on “RetroProgressive – A step back in style?

    October 23, 2010 at 11:46

    Ah Susan, gone are the days when among the list of achievements of the Victrix Ludorum were the 100 yards, cross country and horse vaulting. Replaced by media studies, instruction in good citizenship and socially responsible birth control. Love the blend of Ercol and Dexter’s grille in your snug.
    Caution should be observed when encouraging the little darlings into dangerous sport, such as skipping, the no-winee-no-fee mob may pounce.

    Still smiling at the Ovaltine reference.

    October 23, 2010 at 17:50

    A local charity shop has had the same four or five books in its front window for months. These are 1950s annuals (at a guess) and among them is Collins Girls’ Annual (an outdoorsy gal carrying skis); the Robin Hood Annual (Maid Marion dressed for the hunt and woe betide the stag); the Modern Book for Girls (a gang with a camera, sharing photographs); and the Adventure Book for Girls (wild times on a bobsleigh). They aren’t just outdoor, sporty activities but group activities. It’s all social.

    Fast forward to today when most of what defines our era also divides us one from another – mobiles, TV, pods, pads and PCs, with their ever-present earphones and solitary aura of “the lights are on, but no one appears to be at home”. A world of endless distraction but in which nothing ever seems to happen. How lucky some of us were to grow up either before all this or without it anyway.

    A difficulty with celebrities, I suspect, is that they just are and what they are is an impossible dream. Whereas good role models are very different: they’re out there in the world and meeting its challenges; like Robin Hood or bobsleigh racers, they do stuff. It’s the doing that’s the inspiration, not the being.

    October 23, 2010 at 19:35

    Very amusing, Malty. Even us girls had to contend with the dreaded horse – yes, gone are the days of bruised legs and big gym knickers. Ercol seems to be making a comeback though, which I find very curious. Glad to hear you liked the comment. Yours are much appreciated too!

    Mark, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head – but aren’t we all anti-social these days? It’s not just kids. Look at us communicating via this blog. We probably don’t have the time to sit down in the local pub putting the world to right, as we’re too busy writitng and reading blogs and doing zillions of other virtual and virtually meaningless stuff. Also, I guess some celebs are more effective in the real world (whatever that is) than others. Anyway, just off to watch the X-Factor!

    October 23, 2010 at 21:41

    Well I loved this post so much I couldn’t think of a darned thing to say about it, expect that I wish I’d written it myself – but I never went to a girls’ school, more’s the pity…

    October 23, 2010 at 23:55

    Aw, that’s so sweet Nige (said in Cheryl Cole accent). Top marks for guessing it was a girls’ school. And shame you couldn’t be there Nige …I’m sure you would have enjoyed dabbling around in the library..

  6. Worm
    October 24, 2010 at 19:55

    …ahhh, brings back happy memories of hours spent getting tangled up in the broken rubber bands in the backs of my own school library’s ercol chairs, whilst listening to the enormous clanking radiators gurgle and whirr as they strained to reach a temperature somewhat on a par to the centre of the sun…

  7. Brit
    October 24, 2010 at 20:47

    We had those radiators Will. In my primary school library there were no seats so we arranged ourselves in particular, jealously-guarded spots on the floor. There were territorial battles. I used to climb underneath a metal bookshelf and read Jennings, nostalgic stories about an lost, more adventurous world…

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