150 years of style on the Tube

Today is the 150th anniversary of the London Underground!


I hardly ever travel on the Underground. I’m lucky enough to be able to cycle to work, and I live in Hackney which is a tube station desert.

But when I do venture down, my favourite thing to do is people-watching. You have to be sneaky about this (making eye-contact is a huge faux pas), but the entertainment factor is high. I’ve spotted many amazing outfits deep below London.

So in honour of the occasion, here are some stylish tube-dwellers of the past for your enjoyment.

Firstly, she may not actually be on a train, but I love this image of an Underground station painter during WW1, from the London Transport Museum website. Check out the boots, the painting smock, and the guy attempting to photo-bomb in the bottom right.


I can’t work out if this shot from Life was modelled or not – just look how perfect the outfit and hair are on the woman in the front. If you click to view the large version you can see lots of men in uniform joking around (they are definitely not all standing on the right to let people pass, tut tut), and a woman on the left who seems to be hiding her face from the camera.


Everything about this picture is perfect, from the huge plaid coat (home-sewn or bought? The checks don’t quite match up) to the sensible court shoes, neatly rolled umbrella and seamed stockings. Plus the huge surreal hands reaching towards her on the ad poster.


This image is from the Guardian’s gallery of Underground images. Two uncomfortable looking men surrounded by a bevy of mini-skirted ladies. Actually it’s not even a real tube, but a mock-up of the brand new Victoria line at the Design Centre in 1968. You can tell by how clean it is.

Victoria Line Exhibition, 1968

Punks on the tube, back when you could smoke in the Underground (it wasn’t banned until 1984!). I think this hair should come back. We have the technology to make it happen. If you read England’s Dreaming you’ll discover that Sid Vicious made his hair stick up by smearing on Vaseline and lying with his head in the oven. Now we have John Frieda.

punks on the tube

I saved my favourite one until last – it’s the Queen on the tube! Wearing an excellent matching hat/dress combo, and a huge fur coat which is probably stuck deep at the back of a Palace wardrobe nowadays. She looks unamused.


Happy birthday tube! Long may you continue, as long as I never have to travel on the Northern Line at rush hour.


8 thoughts on “150 years of style on the Tube

  1. Cecilia April 14, 2013 / 8:46 PM

    Hi there, I too launched a blog, and while I was looking at stuff to write about the 150th anniversary of the tube, I came up with your blog…. and I really like it! So, well done!!! I also really love fashion, and sometimes I knit for myself, but I’d love to learn to do more.
    Anyway, where did you find the amazing old pictures of the underground? I’d like to use one too….
    I’d appreciate if you can take a look at my blog and give me your opinion. I’m still new of this huge world…
    Bye now, Cecilia

  2. gingermakes January 10, 2013 / 9:52 PM

    Wow, cool photos! It’s so fun to see people all dressed up on the tube. I love people-watching on the subway– there’s always such a diverse mix of people (and always a couple of nutjobs in the mix)!

  3. Sew Little Time January 10, 2013 / 1:29 PM

    ace – i love the 1960s one. i think i am going to have to track down some of those shoes – so cute!

  4. theperfectnose January 10, 2013 / 2:41 AM

    Is that Stephen Fry’s dad next to the Queen? XD Oh how I amuse myself..=P These are cool-thanks for putting this together.

  5. Debi January 9, 2013 / 10:58 PM

    What fantastic photos!! I love them!

  6. Helen Made January 9, 2013 / 9:05 PM

    These are such fantastic photos! Love them.

  7. didyoumakethat January 9, 2013 / 4:20 PM

    Brilliant! I recently had someone light up a ciggie on the tube next to me!!! I was so shocked that I told him straight away he had to put it out – before I realised that he was way, way, way beyond listening to me, far too high for that. He tried to be aggressive with me, but his heart wasn’t really in it. I agree that the tube is perfect for people watching and that you see some fabulous fashion.

    • yesilikethat January 9, 2013 / 4:25 PM

      My mum remembers smoking on the tube, must have been pretty awful (I remember smoking on trains but at least there’s a bit more room in the carriage).

      I always thought they banned it after the King’s Cross fire, but according to Wiki many people ignored the ban and lit up on the escalators on their way out. They found 8 other fires that had burnt themselves out when they were investigating the cause of the KC one! It seems so mad now that people were allowed to carry around what are basically small fires underground.

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