She’s Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina’s: The cultural nuances of Ray Davies

I have spent the past five weeks tucked away in the surprisingly sunny wilds of South West Ireland and so have had pretty limited access to fashion, art, exhibitions, the internet and basically anything on which to base a relevant Beyond the Threads blogpost…Or so I though until I was trawling through my Dad’s extensive vinyl collection and I came across something which I felt I just had to write about. The Kinks (or more specifically Ray Davies) wrote the album Arthur, Or The Rise and Fall Of The British Empire in 1969. Originally intended to be the soundtrack to a TV film, the album traces the fortunes of its eponymous hero and the struggles of British society from the end of the Victorian era up until the post-war 1950s. I could wax lyrical about what a quiet masterpiece this album is but I shall get straight to the point as I can hear you all asking “what has this got to do with fashion?” The penultimate track on Arthur is called ‘She’s Bought  A Hat Like Princess Marina’s’.   It tells the very simple story of two people trying (and,it would seem, succeeding) to escape the drudgery of their hard, working-class lives through fashion and celebrity:

She’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
To wear at all her social affairs
She wears it when she’s cleaning the windows
She wears it when she’s scrubbing the stairs
But you will never see her at Ascot
She can’t afford the time or the fare
But she’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
So she don’t care

He’s bought a hat like Anthony Eden’s
Because it makes him feel like a Lord
But he can’t afford a Rolls or a Bentley
He has to buy a second-hand Ford
He tries to feed his wife and his family
And buy them clothes and shoes they can wear
But he’s bought a hat like Anthony Eden’s
So he don t care

Buddy can you spare me a dime
My wife is getting hungry
And the kids are crying
This poverty is hurting my pride
Buddy can you spare me, buddy can you spare me a dime

She’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
And her neighbours think it suits her a treat
But she hasn’t any food in the larder
Nor has anybody else in the street
But to look at her you’d think she was wealthy
‘Cos she smiles just like a real millionaire
‘Cos she’s bought a hat like Princess Marina’s
So she don’t care, she don’t care, she don’t care, she don’t care.

The poverty and deprivation portrayed in the song is typical of the post-WW2 era but Davies’ two characters, although battling great hardship (“she hasn’t any food in the larder”…”this poverty is hurting my pride”) manage to rise above their troubles through the escapism of fashion.  If looked at alongside Davies scathing attack on the Mod culture of the 1960s ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, ‘She’s Bought A Hat Like Princess Marina’s’ could be seen as a lampoon of those who believe in the magic and joy of fashion but to me it is the opposite. With its dream-like harpsichord and simple melody, the song evokes the ability of fashion to transport someone from their real life into a fantasy land where they can be someone else entirely.  One of the mains reasons why I love fashion is that you can construct characters and alternative personas for yourself simply by donning a sequinned dress or a pair of lace gloves (or a hat like Princess Marina’s) and Davies captures that possibility both lyrically and melodically. Yes, these hats are a denial of reality and the song certainly does not suggest that a new hat will sweep away all of ones worries (look at the ‘Buddy can you spare me a dime?’ verse were reality appears to defeat the realms of fantasy) but Davies has identified the ability of fashion to comfort people during a time of great hardship for Britain.

It is also significant that Davies is not gender biased in his story; the escapism of fashion is open to all in equal measure. I think this song is unique in its treatment of the power of fashion and offers an insightful glimpse of the lives of the British working classes. The Kinks should be no longer be considered a superficial pop band but recognised as purveyors of serious social commentary.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DdlUJTycKo

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