Dungarees

Posted by Jeni in Ad Infinitum | 19 June 2020

Whitney wore 'em, Ms Garland wore 'em, even Sir Elton of the John wore 'em, and me well I not only wore em' I helped name a theatre group after them.

It all began back in 16something or other when a 'cheap coarse, thick, cotton cloth - often coloured blue' - was created in Dongri, a dockside region in good old Bombay. The Hindi name for this cloth was Dungri. Anybody who wasn't anybody wore it, in fact anyone who needed clothes for hard labour embraced the fashion. Then along came the industrious British entrepreneurs who, with their finger on their noses, tapped knowingly into the smell of profit, and before you could say Mahatma Ghandolph they brought a load of Dungri over to Blighty where the impoverished sewed cheap clothes for the impoverished. Why even over in The ol US of A, braves, naves and slaves began wearing this utilitarian garment which we Englishers had now renamed 'dungaree'.

I came across my first pair of dungarees in a hardware shop in Whitechapel. Always the preferred choice of outfit, since they required only one other item of clothing a t-shirt, ideal clobber for shlepping in a stage set, setting up a stage set, performing on the stage set, taking down the stage set, travelling to the next gig putting up the same stage set, performing to an audience of howling miners, ship builders, dockers or steel workers, then taking down the set, loading the set into the van and off to the Watford Gap. To be fair the fellers did most of the lifting I just hung around in my dungarees, puffing on a Gaulois and looking moody.

One drunken night ( why do they always have to be drunken nights, because my friends, light bulb ideas never happen on sober nights ) in 'The Lord Palmerston Pub' in Tufnel Park, (remember pubs....ah! them's were the days...) four of us, three men and me, decided on calling our latest touring band of vagabonds 'BELT AND BRACES'. I was indeed wearing the very emblem of our enterprise.

So I've worn dungarees since 1973. I purchased them from hardware shops for 9.99p. Then in 'Baldock's in Tunbridge Wells for 19 pounds and 99p. Now I buy them from 'Screwfix', or 'Dirty Harry's' in Brighton - where they cost a whopping 30 quid. Sometimes I buy them off the internet, in fact I've just bought two pairs for a tenner each that make me look like Luby Loo, I also have a brown Dungri, with a square neck that I'm told is just my colour.

I've had several run-ins over my choice of outerwear. From TV-am to ITV, from the BBC to UK TV Food. I was told they weren't sexy, appropriate, girly or classy enough. I was told by an engaging male boss at ITV that the men who watched my gardening programme didn't find me sexy. My agent, at the time, attended the meeting, offered to come shopping with me, I told the bosses that the men who didn't fancy me couldn't get it up, and whilst walking to Waterloo East Station I sacked my agent. The dungarees stayed, as did I, for a second series.

When I wore a leather jacket over my fancy dungarees on TV-am I was told that it was redolent of an attitude of arrogance and defiance, they promptly sacked me, I sued and won. The dungarees lived on.

Then whilst filming at 'The Inn in Little Washington', dungarees came into their own. A double five star establishment with food to die for and dungarees to dye for I fell in love with their kitchen attire. 'The Inn' rescued Dalmatians. The head chef wore dungarees with a dalmation pattern. The sous chef, the front of house, the washer-uppers all wore the same black and white belt and braces, I bought two pairs from the onsite shop.

I still wear them even though they are twenty odd years old. I've never walked a road without somebody shouting 'Oy Jen, love your dungarees, where didya get 'em'. I point to the label on the thigh which says 'The Inn at Little Washington' and if I can be bothered I tell them the story of the male Dalmatian who sits in the entrance hall to the right-hand-side of the door. The dog wears a bow tie. The bitch sits to the left of the door, and she wears a pearl necklace. Their personal walker, to the best of my knowledge, also has a pair of these wonderfully chic dungars.

So June, in answer to your question where do I get my dungarees from, anywhere I can. The cheaper the better. The more pockets the better. The bigger the better. Shakeel, my wonderful dressmaking friend has made me a pair in fancy smoky grey material with chains, and a blue velvet pair with jewelled straps, I look like a builder in drag.

I have white ones, blue ones, denim ones, calico ones and now two Andy Pandy pairs with stripes. I go out wearing nothing but my trainers, a t-shirt and my chosen Dungars. Mobile phone and cheque card in the front pocket and that's your lot, you could say a woman of power with no dress sense, or you could say an independent woman who doesn't give a shit.

I have a photograph on the piano of me and the old git. He's wearing a leather jacket and sporting dark glasses and long hair and me, scowling, wearing a striped t-shirt and my trusty dungarees, it was taken in Brighton in 1978. I managed to find an identical pair in Bury St. Edmunds years later. I've worn them for so long they are now distressed. The straps fraying and the colour totally faded but I still get stopped regularly by young hipsters who went to know where I bought them.

I've remained constant to my dungarees for over fifty years. Fashions come and fashions go and now in 2020, when know one can see me and I couldn't care less if they did, I am considered the height of fashion.

Oh dungarees my dungarees

I love you more than gold

I wear you when its sweltering

And I wear you when its cold.

I wear you in the country

I wear you on the block

AndeventhoughtheoldgitthinksIlooklikeanoldbagandwishesIwouldwearsomethingage appropriate

I think you're still shit hot.

Jeni Barnett tells of her scrumptious time at Good Food Live in her first audiobook! Download NOW from iTunes

Comments

1. At June 19, 2020 6:52 AM June wrote:

Iím breathless!
I never expected that!!
As always Jeni great writing, and the way you write it is just like you are drinking coffee sitting at my kitchen table. Itís the same when youíre broadcasting.
So thank you for your dungarees related history.
Here you still are despite all that crap thrown at you.
Always ď No SurrenderĒ darling girl.
Iím off to buy a pair!
Much love
June xx

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