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A week ago, from across the pond, it finally arrived: My very own copy of The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook.

First published in 1982, this was England’s answer to America’s The Official Preppy Handbook. A book that sought to pinpoint “What Really Mattered” (WRM) to the English upper classes, outlining everything from the proper contents of a girl’s jewelry cases (lots of gold and pearls, easy on the costume stuff–like Art Nouveau) to the proper animal companion for fashionable London town houses and countryside manors (the Labrador). Diana, the then hot, young Princess of Wales, or PoWess in affectionate Sloane speak, clad in her high-ruffled collars and pearls, was the Platonic ideal for the hard-core Sloane.

Flipping through the pages, I am treated to black and white snap shots of crisp, English tailoring for the men and flouncing, floral ruffles for the ladies. The Sloane style in general is a bit too soft and demure for me–I look horrid in pastels–but, I’m drawn to a look called “Baby Legs,” popular with the younger set:

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From: The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, page 29.

The essence of “Baby Legs” is blending preppy wardrobe staples with a 1980s punk sensibility. A delightful example of how a young woman can take an old, accepted style of clothing and transform it with subtle, yet arty flair to suit herself. It’s rebellion with diamanté.

But, the real joy for me comes not from the pictures, but from the prose, which simpers and sparkles as it articulates WRM to its ignorant reader. A few of my favorite excerpts so far:

“Your clothes shouldn’t suggest what’s underneath them. Except for the generous official Sloane bosom at parties.”

“The Rangers’ favorite bit of the past is the English eighteenth century…The nineteenth century is when the Bad Things came in: industry, towns, new money and the wrong kind of legs on furniture.”

“She would not wear Art Nouveau jewels (too way out) or Art Deco Cartier, which might remind her of a Bolter in the family.”

Hysterical. Hysterical in an understatedly catty way that makes me think of Victorian diaries and Jane Austen-esque drawing rooms.

I have no doubt that The Sloane Ranger will be an excellent asset to my library. A book that I may read seriously one day and ironically, the next. I shall definitely draw fashion inspiration from “Baby Legs,” but I shall never see the harm in wearing Art Nouveau jewels.

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