Laver’s Law, Victorian pubs and hazy beer

Indecent vs. Beautiful

You start with Victorian pubs and end up pondering hazy IPA and mild – that’s just how this game goes sometimes.

One of the things research­ing pubs has made us think about it is how cer­tain things come in and out of fash­ion.

It’s hard to believe now but that heavy Vic­to­ri­an look peo­ple expect in the Per­fect Pub – carved wood, cut glass, ornate mir­rors – was seri­ous­ly out of fash­ion for half a cen­tu­ry.

Look through any edi­tion of, say, The House of Whit­bread from the 1920s or 30s and you’ll find sto­ry after sto­ry of mod­erni­sa­tion. In prac­tice, that meant ‘vul­gar’ Vic­to­ri­ana was out; and a plain, clean, bright look was in.

The Greyhound, Balls Pond Road, before and after modernisation.
SOURCE: The House of Whit­bread, Octo­ber 1933.

Slow­ly, though, Vic­to­ri­an style became cool again. We’ve writ­ten about this before and won’t rehash it – Bet­je­man and Gra­didge are two key names – but did stum­ble upon a new expres­sion of the phe­nom­e­non this week, from 1954:

Thir­ty years ago the Albert Memo­r­i­al was only admired by the extreme­ly naïve and old-fash­ioned; today, it is only admired by the extreme­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed and up to date. Thir­ty years ago the late Arnold Ben­nett was thought eccen­tric, and even a lit­tle per­verse, to take an inter­est in papi­er-mâché fur­ni­ture with scenes of Bal­moral by moon­light in inlaid moth­er-of-pearl. Today tables and chairs of this kind com­mand high prices in the sale­room and are the prize pieces in cul­ti­vat­ed liv­ing-rooms. It is, in a word, once more ‘done’ to admire Vic­to­ri­ana. The slur of the old-fash­ioned is merg­ing into the pres­tige of the antique.

That’s from a fan­tas­tic book called Vic­to­ri­an Vista by James Laver who turns out to be an inter­est­ing char­ac­ter. A his­to­ri­an of cos­tume and of fash­ion more gen­er­al­ly, he is best known for invent­ing ‘Laver’s Law’ which sought to explain how things come in and go out of style:

Inde­cent | 10 years before its time
Shame­less | 5 years before its time
Out­ré (Dar­ing) | 1 year before its time
Smart | ‘Cur­rent Fash­ion’
Dowdy | 1 year after its time
Hideous | 10 years after its time
Ridicu­lous | 20 years after its time
Amus­ing | 30 years after its time
Quaint | 50 years after its time
Charm­ing | 70 years after its time
Roman­tic | 100 years after its time
Beau­ti­ful | 150 years after its time

This cer­tain­ly works to some degree for pubs: Vic­to­ri­an pubs were naff in 1914, charm­ing by 1950 and the best are now prac­ti­cal­ly nation­al mon­u­ments; inter-war pubs have recent­ly become roman­tic after years in the wilder­ness; and we’re just beg­ging to col­lec­tive­ly recog­nise the charm of the post-war.

Nat­u­ral­ly, though, with trends a con­stant top­ic, we could­n’t help test this on beer styles.

For exam­ple, does it map to the rise of hazy IPA? We def­i­nite­ly remem­ber it seem­ing inde­cent and think we can now dis­cern it’s decent into dowdi­ness.

Or 20th cen­tu­ry dark mild, maybe? We’ll, not so clear­ly, because it reigned for years, even decades. But we could adapt Laver’s com­men­tary on Vic­to­ri­ana:

Thir­ty years ago mild was only admired by the extreme­ly naïve and old-fash­ioned; today, it is only admired by the extreme­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed and up to date. Thir­ty years ago CAMRA was thought eccen­tric, and even a lit­tle per­verse, to take an inter­est in weak, sweet, dark beer. Today beers of this kind are the prize pieces in cul­ti­vat­ed tap­rooms.

Mild might be in the roman­tic or charm­ing phase, then.

This works best for spe­cif­ic sub-styles and trends, though. IPA? Too broad. West Coast IPA? Maybe.

And for beer, in 2019, Laver’s lan­guage isn’t quite right. Maybe this is bet­ter:

Ridicu­lous | 10 years before its time
Bold | 5 years before
Hyped | 1 year before
Hip | ‘Cur­rent Fash­ion’
Main­stream | 1 year after its time
Bor­ing | 10 years after
Inter­est­ing | 50 years after
Clas­sic | 70 years +

It does­n’t real­ly work, does it?

But it’s a been a fun prod.

3 thoughts on “Laver’s Law, Victorian pubs and hazy beer”

  1. that’s brought a smile to my face. I do believe the world’s atti­tude to Man­ches­ter Unit­ed falls into the scope of this rule too

  2. I once read some­where that build­ings are most at risk of demo­li­tion when they’re 60–70 years old, as this is when their style of archi­tec­ture is at its least fash­ion­able. If they can make it past 70 they’ll sur­vive and be cher­ished. So late Vic­to­ri­an stuff was being pulled down in the 50s and 60s and replaced with mod­ern stuff, which is being pulled down now, in the face of protest from the cognoscen­ti.

Comments are closed.