Belfast Telegraph

Gail Walker: Why wearing the poppy is not a fashion statement

The nights are drawing in. The pitter patter of rain upon the windows beats its constant tattoo. And you feel like climbing into your PJs as soon as you crawl home from work.

So, what better pick-me-up than a Swarovski limited edition brooch designed by Kleshna. A snip at £84.99. As worn by Dannii Minogue, Simon Cowell and The Saturdays? Or, if that stretches funds a bit too far, then what about a limited edition gold-plated Buckley brooch at £9.99?

The only problem is that the brooches are actually Remembrance Day poppies.

I know that all the money goes to British Legion and its wonderful work in looking after the veterans, but aren't we in danger of ruining the beautiful and moving simplicity of this most potent of symbols, cheapening it and making it only a little better than the latest Manolo Blahniks?

Surely we can put aside our obsessions with celebrity, in-your-face individualism and, yes, fashion for just one day.

Limited edition? Isn’t the point that the slaughter of two world wars and various other conflicts wasn't at all limited and the original poppies of Flanders Fields didn't need tarted up with a wee bit of crystal and given significance and relevance by some hot young designer?

And don't Swarovski tie pins, cufflinks and poppy scarves just run counter to the traditions of reverence and remembrance? This isn't like a memento from Lady Gaga’s tour — it's meant to be something more serious, more profound.

The irony, of course, is that how we remembered the fallen was one of the very few things we seemed to have gotten right. From Sir Edwin Lutyen's Cenotaph in Whitehall with its undecorated stone save for a carved wreath on each end and the words ‘The Glorious Dead' to the war graves — uniform, simple, unadorned — and the cemetries, with the Remembrance Stone and the Cross of Sacrifice, we were reminded of the commonality of death, the undiscriminating nature of war and that our remembrance of each and every one of the fallen was equal, unchanging and universal.

Now we're in danger of drawing attention to those doing the remembering, rather than what is supposed to being remembered.

For the record, I don't think Dannii, Simon, Cheryl et al are being shallow and showing off. I do not doubt their sincerity. It’s just that it jars ...

Perhaps we've become too demanding, too indiscriminate, in making sure that anyone on the box dons a poppy or else faces the wrath of an angry public. No wonder celebs and would-be celebs take no chances and wear one — regardless of the inappropriateness. Much easier to play safe.

Hence, Pamela Stephenson’s heaving, cantilevered cleavage is adorned with a poppy on Strictly while X Factor’s wannabes pin them to their jeans while they bump and grind.

The paper poppy is a symbol that's powerful, easily understood and, most importantly, democratic. Why introduce elements of a selfish, materialist bling culture to something that should be universal for all ages and backgrounds?

If it's a mere matter of money I'm sure most of us would try to give a larger donation for a traditional poppy. If celebs want to give more, why not hand over £85 — or £85K if so inclined — for a simple paper one? After all, the truth is you cannot put a price on a poppy, even one made of machine cut paper, with a plastic stem.

Why turn an act of solemn remembrance into something involving collector's items and baubles and, in time, silly novelty nostalgia items? (“Yes, this is a poppy dating from about 2010 made from crystal It was all the rage after being worn by Cheryl Cole. Of course, few remember her now but ...”)

The poppy — and what the poppy means — is deserving of dignity and respect. It will never be so last season or in need of a makeover. Nor does it need to be pimped.

Belfast Telegraph


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