Manners & Misdemeanors

What Is a Sloane? And What Makes Princess Diana a 'Supersloane'?

Princess Diana made a certain kind of posh Londoner internationally famous.
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We spoke to co-author Peter York about The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook's runaway success—and whether Sloanes still exist today.

In 1982, The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook, an era-defining little work of humorous social anthropology, became an unlikely chart-topping success. The guide was the brainchild of Ann Barr and Peter York, the features editor and a writer (respectively) for London’s Harpers & Queens magazine. For several years they and their colleagues had been documenting a new breed of upper-middle class Londoner they dubbed the Sloane Ranger.

The most famous Sloane of all was Diana, Princess of Wales, who graced the book’s front cover and was awarded the title of "supersloane" in the book:


The Sloane Ranger handbook

Sloane Rangers typically lived in the Chelsea area of London, near Sloane Square, (hence the name). They weren't aristocrats exactly (though some of them had Earls and Dukes for fathers and uncles), but they belonged to certain families, had been educated at certain schools, had certain jobs, drove certain cars, had country houses decorated just so, and wore a uniform that made them easy to spot.

“There are a number of routes to Sloanedom,” York told Town & Country recently. “There would need to be, by implication, a bit of toff or posh.”


Sloane Square, London

Although Sloanes typically came from money, evident by their private school education and their weekend country houses, the book maintains that Sloanes weren't flashy or ostentatious. 

The Sloane uniform consisted of a number of trademark items including Gucci shoes and Hermes scarves—quiet luxury is still luxury after all. In the book, a navy gilet or waistcoat, pearl necklace, shirt and long pleated skirt also made up the rest of the uniform.

While the Sloane poster child was Princess Diana, men could be Sloanes too. When a male Sloane was not in a suit he could be seen wearing corduroy trousers—or khaki ones in the summer—and a big tweed coat or sheepskin jacket (most likely from Burberry or Barbour). As for shoes, a Sloane would either wear leather brogues or Hunter wellies, depending on if they were strolling through the city or spending a weekend walking in the countryside.

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Princess Diana and Prince Charles on their honeymoon in Scotland in 1981

If a Sloane sounds a bit like a preppy—or a preppy sounds a bit like a Sloane—that's probably not an accident. The Official Preppy Handbook had come out in 1980, and did its own job of identifying the schools, jobs, northeastern suburbs, Jeep Wranglers, Upper East Side watering holes, and uniforms of a certain group of monied, East Coast Wasps.

Preppies and Sloanes became icons around the same moment. Both books demonstrated in satirical—if loving—terms, that while status was something with which you were born, the trappings and wardrobe of a certain kind of social elite could be practiced and adopted. Who needs a country estate in Surrey or Kennebunkport when you have a handbook and the J.Crew catalog? Exclusion became aspiration.

“The time we’re looking at, Britain was coming out of the terribleness of the late 1970s and an enormous [economic] depression," says York. "It was a combination of escapism and aspiration.”

When the book was published 35 years ago, the main demographic of readers were Sloanes themselves and their mothers, York says. But soon came the “wannabees” and, thanks to Princess Diana's exploding fame, those who were simply fascinated by how the other half lived.


Princess Diana in 1982, the year the handbook was published

Though York had noticed the Sloane emerging for years, he is very clear that the concept was worthy of a book because of Princess Diana’s popularity. The handbook was published in 1982, one year after she married the heir to the throne, Prince Charles, in the wedding of the year.

“Suddenly, a Sloane—as we saw her—was the most interesting and publicized person in the world,” York says. “It did click with me that if we could expand the taxonomy of the breed and make it funny but with illustrations, we would clean up.”

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Princess Diana and Prince Charles in 1981

The writers acknowledged their debt to the Princess at the time, writing: “When Diana Spencer began to appear in newspapers in the summer of 1980, the Sloane Ranger style started its gallop down to the high streets.”

York is evidently proud of the fact that more and more copies of the book kept having to be produced to cope with demand. However, they didn’t sell “nearly as many” copies as he was expecting in the US, which he attributes to the “competing breed” at the time, the preppy.

Nowadays, Sloanes still exist in some forms (Kate Middleton might be one, York says, but Pippa not so much). York attempted to revisit the emergence of a modern Sloane ten years ago in the book Cooler, Faster, More Expensive: The Return of the Sloane Ranger, but he believes there are a number of factors which make it more difficult to be a Sloane in 2017. Number one? It is very difficult to pursue the full Sloane life in central London because it's just too expensive, even for posh types.

“The shared flat can’t be in South Ken anymore,” he says. A quick Google search confirms that the price of a one-bedroom flat in the south Kensington area of London is typically between £3.5 and £5 million.

York also thinks many people now try to conceal their Sloanery by adopting mock Cockney accents (mockney) and hanging out in seemingly cooler places like Shoreditch in east London in order “not to be seen as a walking joke."

However, if you wait till the weekends, York says, when they drive off to their place in the country. “They can be Sloane when they get there,” he notes, laughing.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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