Why does it seem such a big deal to dress bravely? As a teenager it can be difficult to break away from the crowd and go your own way – but I remember the confidence boost I had from bursting the ‘fitting in’ bubble and learning to experiment with clothes on my own terms. Later in life there are professional dress codes, life changes, body changes – all odds stacked against discovering the joy of finding, affording, fitting a garment that feels like a true expression of ourselves at that moment. Not to come over all ‘woe is me’ (honestly, I’m far too cheery) but does anyone else find themselves wondering what happened?
The honeymoon is over
And I am dry-mopping the floor
In a green Dacron dry-mopping outfit from Saks,
Wondering why I’m not dancing in the dark,
Or rejecting princes.
Judith Viorst, The Honeymoon is Over
Who’s being brave?
Despite the undeniable strides forward I’ve made in the course of doing something about my Style Crisis, I still puzzle over it all. Earlier this week I was giving the bone another gnaw on the way to swim training with my swim-buddy Hannah; a management accountant who brings new meaning to the word ‘blunt’. It’s a killer combination which means she can cut through most discussions like Adam Peaty slicing down the centre lane, leaving the rest of us mortals bobbing in her wake. She follows ClothSpot’s activities avidly, offering valuable insights at a business level but also as a potential customer.
Hannah recounted a recent work situation when a colleague pulled her to one side for a word. She assumed that her reputation for straight-talking had got her into hot water – but no. Her colleague simply wanted to pay a compliment. Hannah was wearing simple short cobalt blue dress – a bit like Tilly’s ‘Bettine’ Dress except in this instance from Tesco (what can you do…?) teamed with black tights and a black cardigan. It made her happy to see the colour, her colleague said. Now, granted this took place in the finance offices of a factory; not somewhere you’d expect to find Iris Apfel.
Nonetheless, it’s a perfect illustration of two things. First, how little is needed to lift our spirits and second, how rare but meaningful those moments are.
Of course one person’s ‘brave’ is another’s ‘run-of-the-mill’. I recall learning this back in the mid-nineties – a period when I could usually be found wearing my ‘Running a Department’ black suit. I pitched up at a launch event in a striped blue shirt that I’d picked up at Dottie P’s in an attempt to break out of my self-imposed corporate uniformity. A friend in our group noticed and complimented my foray into non-convention; I thanked her and explained how I felt a bit brave; rebellious, even. At which point another colleague looked me up and down and commented archly:
It was a genuinely funny moment (he knew me well enough to get away with it) but those two words said so much. Only a decade earlier I’d been one of a group of library staff hauled up in front of our supervisor.
“Please do not treat the Library counter as a catwalk.”
“Yes you are – I saw you pirouette on there last week.”
Of course it was quite true. In my case I’d graduated from parading down the middle of the Union Bar as a student decked out in my latest creation, to stalking up and down the library of a national museum with my like-minded exhibitionist colleagues. We were immersed in design inspiration and had a captive audience of researchers; these factors combined with low pay became the mothers of our creative invention. And yes, it had probably gone to our heads a little. The researchers probably didn’t give a hoot as long as we did our jobs but we enjoyed testing the tolerance of our line manager. Ten years on and the tables had turned.
Practicing being brave
Alyson Walsh points out in Know Your Style:
“We happily spend time preparing food and perfecting recipes, fine-tuning a yoga move or musical performance, but when it comes to clothes and putting outfits together, there is definitely a devil-may-care tendency to throw things on and hope for the best…. “[Style] involves taking time to think, plan, coordinate or contrast.”
I’m not a big one for spending too much time in the kitchen but I completely accept the principle here. It takes time to have fun and play with style and to do it successfully, even if success is defined simply by a sense of projecting a sense of yourself to those around you. Time is something we tend to have more of as teens and young adults; many of us used that time to express ourselves creatively. It felt like something that came naturally – but actually it wasn’t. We practiced hard at our style, without realising what we were doing. As life took over, the time available was stolen by other priorities. And as we practiced less, so we became less confident and in my case, took refuge in the suit department.
I know this isn’t the first time I’ve stopped to wonder where the fun went out of getting dressed. However, eighteen months into my Style Crisis meanderings, the penny is starting to drop.
If: I used to be brave (and in my head at least, more stylish) because I practiced hard even without knowing…
Then: Perhaps if I practiced being brave, I’d get braver? More stylish, even?
It’s nothing new I know – essentially my version of ‘fake it ’till you make it’. But worth a shot.
Faux fur for faux bravado
Cast your minds back to the beginning of the year. Winter had begun to bite hard. My warmest winter coat was a sturdy 3/4 length camel wool coat that’s done sterling service for over fifteen years and which still looks like new. What it doesn’t do, is inspire. I was determined to do something about this. The solution lay in 3.5m of animal-print fur that had lain in the ClothSpot store for two years. We’d purchased a roll to put online but a paltry 3.5m was all that arrived. I didn’t send it back; rather I stashed it away for personal use. Its time had come. I was determined to step out on a limb and be brave. I decided to throw caution to the wind, unlock my inner Bet Lynch…
and invite her to party with my inner Debbie Harry.
Quite simply, I adore it (although it needs a better scarf to do it justice – and probably a hat…)
Supremely practical due to length and warmth, it also makes me feel glamorous in the most mundane of circumstances. I know that faux fur coats are quite the thing this season but they were less so last winter and mine stood out even more. It’s something of a revelation in that I tend to forget I have it on until someone says something – or I catch sight of the garment in a shop window and realise “That’s me! In that amazing coat!”.
And WHAM!! Brave. Just like that. Without even trying.
I wore it to see friends in London; while waiting on Peterborough station I caught sight of a young woman, probably in her late teens. She was wearing a stunning jacket in a metallic ochre fabric which went wonderfully with her khaki cropped trousers. In that instant I recognised that her jacket that was doing for her, what I felt mine was doing for me.
In time the train arrived and I struggled through the crowded carriage to my seat. A few minutes later, someone sat down in the empty seat beside me and of course it was OchreJacketGirl. We sorted ourselves out for the journey; headphones, coffee, books, corralling our respective elbows, a process then reversed fifty minutes later as we rolled past the Emirates stadium down into Kings Cross. As she put her jacket back on and we caught each other’s eyes I couldn’t help myself:
I adore your jacket – what an amazing colour!
Her reply was not at all what I expected – and made me want to punch the air.
Oh, thanks very much. It’s actually my Mum’s
On so many levels, how brilliant was that? It surely shaded her compliment of my coat (obviously well brought-up, by a stylish woman to boot) and my day was made.
More practice planned
My sense of bravado and sheer love of my unnecessary fur coat resonate with the #sewfrosting challenge currently running on Instagram. This brainchild of pattern companies True x Bias and Closet Case Patterns, #sewfrosting celebrates the idea of creating a garment not for practical purposes, but simply to inspire yourself; to recapture the sense of liberation and creativity that lots of us will remember from when we first started to sew. As Kelli from True x Bias explains:
It can mean different things to different people, but remember that the idea is that you are inspired by what you are making. It should feel more like art and less like work
That certainly rings a bell or two for me; it summons the sense of fun and exuberance that led to my fur coat and I’m determined to give the whole idea another spin, this side of Christmas. A raspberry knit and a silver ribbed satin have just arrived and I can feel my fingers twitching….
I’d love to know if any of you have been tempted, either by the #sewfrosting hashtag or simply by the urge to create something totally unnecessary, for the sheer fun of it? Have you worn your creations – and if so – how did they make you feel? Did you recapture that sense of wide-eyed enthusiasm – and did you manage to create a garment that expressed something of your ‘true self? Did you feel brave? Do tell!
BTW that fur coat – the details…
The pattern is BurdaStyle’s Classic Lapel Coat 11/2016 #121, although I have to confess chickening out with the buttons and buttonholes. If I feel the urge I’ll put a big hook and eye on the front; for now I just like wrapping it around me.
When it came to the lining, I had the choice of going with something glitzy and eye-catching, or warmth. I went for the latter, on the basis that if this was a fur coat, it was only going to be worn when it was cold, so it had better do its job. Our Heaviest format black satin fabric came to the rescue and I can assure you that it stops even the keenest Fenland wind.
And yes, there was fluff all over the ClothSpot workroom for days. But damn, it was worth it…