A UNI­FORM FOR LIV­ING By Susie Boyt.

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - The Culture -

As a child, I lo­cated strong moral qual­i­ties in neat­ness. Ev­ery­thing ship­shape and not a hair out of place, that was the thing. If you looked im­mac­u­late, it might fol­low on that you were blame­less; a short hop from this took you to out­fits that de­clared: any­thing that might have gone wrong in my life, none of it was my fault!

I dreamed of a match­ing jersey and a skirt shaped like a child’s crude draw­ing of one, in navy or char­coal grey or bot­tle green. Wouldn’t that be some­thing? Uni­form has an al­most trans­gres­sive ap­peal when you’re not meant to wear one. It be­comes for­bid­den fruit, ex­otic and dar­ing.

For this rea­son, I’ve al­ways been drawn to one gar­ment in par­tic­u­lar – the A-line skirt that sits bang on the knee. A lit­tle bit school­girl, part li­brar­ian, with a touch of St John’s Am­bu­lance tent for good mea­sure, it is dig­ni­fied, book­ish, fem­i­nine, and low-key. It’s flat­ter­ing and plain and a lit­tle bit mys­te­ri­ous be­cause what it says is hard to read. It is also about three per­cent re­gal, which thick­ens the plot.

It may not be the most ex­cit­ing gar­ment. It won’t stop traf­fic like your gold lace dress with scal­loped hem. Yet, I like the way these skirts look con­sci­en­tious and pro­fes­sional. I like the way they sug­gest no job is too big or small. They are good for writ­ing in too, some­thing that can­not be said of pen­cil skirts, which cer­tainly re­strict the flow of thoughts ...

It is true that when I board a train, peo­ple fre­quently give me their rub­bish. It’s true that I some­times ac­cept it too. (Where’s the harm?) In depart­ment stores, women oc­ca­sional hand me dresses and say: “I’ll take these, please,” and I just trans­fer them to a nearby as­sis­tant if I can. At the Madrid Ritz, I was once asked for a late check­out, but I didn’t mind, was flat­tered even. I like to look as though I be­long.

I some­times pair a grey wool A-line skirt with a short-sleeve grey jersey and high shoes in the early evening and feel jaunty and crisp. I may look as though I have my own bus route, if not my own de­pot, but I feel in­ter­est­ing, a hero­ine in my ser­vice-in­dus­try chic. Last night, I wore an ivory silk crepe longsleeve blouse with a tomato and sky-blue hound­stooth-check skirt and felt in­trepid in a 1950s gold­e­nage-of-travel-cabin-crew way. I have a Black Watch tar­tan A-line kilt that is nice with a green and black stripe jumper and al­most makes me feel like go­ing for a walk. These are re­li­able out­fits, se­ri­ous and play­ful, in which you can do or be any­thing you choose. Stride up a hill, hold your own at the school gates or mas­ter the Dewey Dec­i­mal sys­tem? Not a prob­lem. I’ve never had much gym life but when I do, a white cot­ton piqué A-line ten­nis skirt takes the squalor out of ex­er­cis­ing.

A-line skirts also buck fash­ion’s tyran­ni­cal ob­ses­sion with nar­row­ness. We mustn’t ac­cept the pre­vail­ing view that the smaller women are, the more value they pos­sess ...

I tried on a navy tweed A-line skirt with my daugh­ter last week­end. “It’s nice, Mum, but it’s very ‘All Aboard the Eurostar’,” she said. What can you do? Tick­ets please!

Silk, wool, and leather skirt, Fendi.

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