5 - Uniforms and Uniformity: Virginia Woolf
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 January 2018
On Monday, 9 October 1936 Sir Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), attended a luncheon organised by a group of local businessmen at the Grand Hotel in Birmingham. According to the Report of the Birmingham City Police Investigation Department, Sir Oswald rose to his feet after the meal to address the assembled crowd. This time, he said, it was ‘not his intention to give a generalised speech on such subjects as foreign affairs or the broad policy of the British Union of Fascists’. Instead, the BUF leader used the occasion to discuss new government legislation passed earlier in the same year: the Public Order Act that aimed to curb the spread of extremist political parties and movements by banning the public wearing of uniforms during rallies and meetings. ‘As usual’, Sir Oswald contended confidently in response to this governmental attempt to dissolve his party, ‘our opponents were two years too late with their legislation.’ In his view, ‘the banning of the blackshirts at this stage would not make the slightest difference to the organisation’ because a ‘flame had been lit which would not be quenched by such legislation…. The time to have attacked the blackshirt uniform’, he concluded, ‘was two years ago, but now the uniform had achieved its object’ (KV2/884). If Mosley was to be believed, the rise of the fascist world order could, in 1936, no longer be prevented. The black uniform had played its part in organising the movement in its infancy but had become obsolete precisely at the time when the BUF had turned into a recognisable feature of Britain's political landscape.
Although its expendability was publicly announced by the BUF leader in 1936, it must be said that the blackshirt uniform had, during its short history as the party's official garb, obtained a significant reputation. While the party's official publications aped Mosley in stressing the uniform's significance in attempts to unite a disparate party base, it had also become synonymous – in the public imagination – with scenes of organised violence and brutal brawls, finding the most extreme expression in the aftermath of the notorious Olympia rally in 1934. The ban of the black uniform, it was hoped by many, would put an end to such politically motivated mass scuffles and riots.
- Modernism, Fashion and Interwar Women Writers , pp. 181 - 216Publisher: Edinburgh University PressPrint publication year: 2017