A UNIFORM FOR LIVING By Susie Boyt.
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.