Visitors to Long Lartin Prison, home to a number of tough cookies, has introduced a strict dress code for visitors. Relatives of Ben Geen, the nurse who was very possibly wrongly convicted on the basis of misunderstood statistical evidence, have reported visitors being turned away for wearing open-toed sandals.
In fact, the Category A establishment bans any footwear which is not “enclosed at the heel and toe.” It turns out that the prison, which houses some of Britain’s worst murderers, enforces a sartorial code for visitors, updated at the end of last month, which makes dressing for the Royal Enclosure at Ascot seem straightforward by comparison.
Indeed, Long Lartin and the Royal Enclosure share a number of similarities, although the Ascot rules have little to say about shoes, except that gentlemen’s shoes must be black. Unlike Long Lartin, Ascot imposes no specific ban on “slippers” possibly because racegoers, unlike prison visitors, simply aren’t tempted to wear them.
Both establishments are very tough on short skirts, Long Lartin, befitting its name, insisting on longer skirts than Ascot. Ascot allows at least a glimpse of lower thigh, requiring ladies’ dresses and skirts to be
“of modest length defined as falling just above the knee or longer.”
Long Lartin, like a convent-school Mother Superior, insists that
“Shorts, dresses and skirts must be knee length.”
Talking of thighs, Long Lartin has a curiously impenetrable rule about them and the showing of bare flesh. It bans:
All clothing that does not cover the thigh area showing bare flesh.
I have read and re-read this provision but I am still not quite sure what they are getting at. At first sight it seems directed at those artfully torn kneecap-revealing jeans which seem to be everywhere this year; but the actual wording seems to imply that clothing that does cover the thighs may show bare flesh; so are thigh-height – as opposed to knee-height – slashes in clothing acceptable? Clearly they are not: Long Lartin has another specific, and very stern ban on “any clothing with rips or tears.” The words “that does not cover the thigh area” seem to be mere surplusage. Or possibly “showing bare flesh” is surplusage. It seems to be a very useful prison rule that covers whatever the jobsworth on the door wants it to cover. Except perhaps the thigh area. Frankly, my head is spinning.
Long Lartin is very sensitive about “midriffs” with a complete prohibition on
“short/cropped tops that reveal a naked midriff.” It also bans “low cut tops or shirts that are unbuttoned to reveal cleavage or bare chest.”
Ascot is generally more relaxed about bare flesh, certainly with nothing specifically aimed at slashed clothing, although like Long Lartin it addresses the midriff problem head-on, with the simple injunction: Midriffs must be covered.
Cleavages, on the other hand, are permitted even in the Royal Enclosure, no doubt for many they are as much part of the appeal as the horses, although bare male chests are certainly not: gentlemen must wear “black or grey morning dress which must include a waistcoat and tie (no cravats).” The Long Lartin rules are silent on the acceptability of morning dress – it is not commonly worn by prison visitors, when it is I think black would be more appropriate than grey – but they do have a ban on “scarves” which would probably be construed in a purposive way to include cravats (which are, even more than bow ties, a sure sign of a bounder). Gentlemen should wear ties, although anyone tempted to follow Debrett’s advice to adorn their morning dress with a tie-pin “to add an extra touch of dandyism” would be ill-advised, as the Long Lartin rules ban “excessive jewellery.” Long Lartin does not welcome tie-pin sporting dandies, and it explicitly bans clothing equipped with “large buckles, chains and excessive amounts [surely “numbers”?] of zips.”
The prison does not encourage imaginative accessorisation. As well as buckles, chains and zips it also bans (unaccountably, perhaps just because it can) watches, and “piercings which cannot be easily shown to searching staff,” begging the question of how they would know about intimate piercings anyway; or if they did know about them, why they would have to be shown to searching officers.
Ascot is again rather more liberal in that respect. The Royal Enclosure rules don’t touch on piercings, intimate or otherwise – and didn’t Zara Phillips once have a pierced nose? – but it does give guidance on other accessories. Watches are of course encouraged, especially a £4,190.00 model by Longines. For ladies, “pashminas may be worn” as long as the dress underneath complies with the dress code. You could not, for example, wear a pashmina to conceal “a strapless, off the shoulder, halter neck or spaghetti strapped” dress, or even a dress with straps less than an inch wide, all of which are forbidden at Ascot. If you wear a pashmina to visit your boyfriend in Long Lartin, good luck with trying to persuade the authorities that it’s not a scarf, or indeed a handkerchief, another accessory which is strictly banned.
One might have thought that the prison rules were about security, but this does not seem to be the case. A surprising prohibition for Long Lartin visitors is on “all types of see-through clothing.” Presumably, unlike morning dress, see-through clothing is something prison visitors have been prone to wear in the past. You would have thought that many security conscious screws would be simultaneously delighted and reassured by a visitor turning up in see-through clothing, but here, as with displays of mid-riff and cleavage, considerations of decency trump those of security. You can see why the Ministry of Justice was tempted into selling its prison expertise to the Saudi Arabians. The Ascot rules, perhaps unsurprisingly, don’t address the issue of see-through clothing at all.
It is in the rules about headgear that the differences are most stark. At Ascot hats are required. The rules for men are simple, they must wear grey or black top hats. Ladies are expected to wear hats, but(in the Royal Enclosure at least)
“fascinators are not permitted; neither are headpieces which do not have a solid base covering a sufficient area of the head (4 inches/10cm).”
Long Lartin avoids any argument about when does a hat become a fascinator by a blanket ban on all headgear, except when worn “for religious purposes.”
Those arriving at Long Lartin improperly dressed are apparently directed to a nearby Tesco which does a good line in cheap shoes enclosed at the heel and toe, and in zipless dresses of a modest length.
Ascot racegoers, by contrast are directed to Top Hats by Oliver Brown at 75 Lower Sloane Street, where prices for a top hat range from £3000,00 for antique silk – “Made from a unique silk plush with a long nap” (whatever that might mean) – to £95.00 for an ex-rental felt model. If you have the wrong sort of shoes, they have any number of suggestions starting at around £500.00.