When I was about 15 someone gave me a cravat, a thing of great loveliness, rich in swirled Paisley arabesques in custard yellow and strawberry jam red. I adored it and wore it on every possible occasion, at one time getting into trouble for attempting to subvert the school uniform. School uniform - it pains me to type this ghastly admission - included a straw boater and a dashing green waistcoat with brass buttons, if you were a member of a select society called the Zetountes, which is Greek for 'seekers'. To my mind all that it needed to proclaim the ultra-fashionable Zetounte*-about-town was a brilliant yellow cravat. Others thought differently.
In any case not long afterwards the cravat became associated with those of a certain sexual orientation and my cravat never left its drawer. "Why don't you wear your cravat any more?" my mother asked once. "It suits you so well. I rely on you to wear it on Sunday, please. Denby Williamson is coming. He is just the man to appreciate it."
Denby Williamson, a man of perfumed middle age, was gay. His father had been curator or keeper of the last Tsar's Fabergé collection. Denby Williamson had inherited several Fabergé pieces, on which my mother had cast envious eyes. But my cravat stayed in its drawer.
Living in France many years later I rediscovered it. Other significances, never current in France, had long since died out, I imagined. I dared it once more, and found my earlier fashion fire rekindled. Passing a tailors and outfitters in Essex during a recent visit to the UK I went in, on the offchance that they might have some dusty tissue-wrapped relics in some distant stock-room. I was surprised to find several in prominent display. Could it be that they're now back in fashion? Could they still have those old connotations?
Well, who would care in France? I came out the richer by three gorgeous silken beauties, and the poorer by - but I'm ashamed to tell you. I'm now obsessed with wearing cravats, especially in winter, tucked confortably into open-necked polo shirts.
Denby Williamson died twenty years and more ago. No Fabergé came our way.
* I KNOW the singular of 'Zetountes' should be 'Zetous'. And the word 'cravat' comes from Hrvatska, which is what the Croats call their country.