Mar­ian Keyes

on leav­ing fash­ion be­hind

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS - AWW

The Yo­hji Ya­mamoto pinafore had so much black, flappy fab­ric, I looked like an en­tire con­vent of nuns on the move.

there was, read­ing magazine, and in the fash­ion chart was an or­ange patent A-line skirt by the Dan­ish com­pany 2nd Day. My mouth went dry, be­cause I hap­pened to be on a plane. And that plane was en route to Copenhagen, land of the or­ange patent A-line skirt. My head started to race: I would get my mitts on this skirt in the place of its birth and swank around in it. When my work in Copenhagen was fin­ished, I was due to visit Lon­don for meet­ings with peo­ple I was afraid of, but my or­ange skirt of power would fi­nesse ev­ery­thing. The scary peo­ple would say: “Oh, my God! She’s wear­ing that or­ange skirt. How did she get it so quickly? We must re­spect her, be­cause clearly she’s in the know.”

The plane landed, and when I reached my ho­tel, I rushed to the check-in desk and said: “No need to show me the room, just mind my bag, thanks. I must go out right now and please will you help me?” With alacrity, the concierge stepped for­ward, ob­vi­ously think­ing he had a fa­natic of The Bridge [crime drama] on his hands, but I thrust the magazine at him and said: “I want this shop. I want this skirt.” Be­cause he is a ho­tel concierge, who is doubt­less asked for all kinds of un­usual stuff, he calmly un­folded a map and said: “This is where the flag­ship store is.”

“Flag­ship?” I yelped. “Yes! Good.”

I set off, walk­ing with manic speed, my hope so great, I thought I might faint. Into the shop I whirled, and moved with light­ning speed along the rails of clothes. “May I help?” asked one of the as­sis­tants. I thrust the magazine at her, jabbed at the skirt and cried: “This! This!”

“Over here.” And there it was. The ac­tual skirt. It was or­ange and patent and stiff and wide. Very wide. Ex­traor­di­nar­ily wide. Roads would have to be spe­cially widened to ac­com­mo­date me. The skirt was also very long – it was billed as a midi, but be­cause I’m a mere five feet tall, I’d look like a mo­bile teepee.

And with that, some­thing fi­nally clicked in my head: I would never be the woman who could suc­cess­fully wear this skirt. I sim­ply have too many lim­i­ta­tions (too short, too pear-shaped, too lack­ing in con­fi­dence).

There is a say­ing in the rooms of 12-step pro­grammes: we will keep be­ing given the les­son un­til we’ve learnt it. All my life, I’ve felt “wrong” and have des­per­ately wished to look “right”, and my first port of call to make my­self ap­pear ac­cept­able in the eyes of the world has been clothes: if I wear what “they” tell me to wear, surely I’ll pass my­self off as good enough?

I have a long, lean, grey­hound-y friend, the only per­son I know who has ever suc­cess­fully shoul­der-robed. I tried it once, but felt a) id­i­otic, and b) very tense, wait­ing for the coat to slide off – which it in­evitably did – and for the man walk­ing be­hind me to tram­ple it into the ground with his muddy boots. My long, lean friend can wear any­thing, and there’s no point in me copy­ing her be­cause it’s just not go­ing to work. God knows, I’ve tried.

I’ve been on the planet long enough to have lived through count­less fash­ion trends, al­most none of which has been right for me, and in that mo­ment in Copenhagen, ev­ery one of my fash­ion mis­takes flashed be­fore my eyes. The grue­some olive-green cord flares that added ex­tra heft to my al­ready hefty teenage thighs. The Yo­hji Ya­mamoto pinafore that, at the age of 24, I was per­suaded to, quite lit­er­ally, spend my life sav­ings on, which had so much black, flappy fab­ric, I looked like an en­tire con­vent of nuns on the move. (I bought it in Lon­don, and when I took it home to my non­plussed fam­ily in Ire­land, Mammy Keyes washed it on some bizarre set­ting, which shrank it to the size of a doll’s dress. In ret­ro­spect, I see it as a mercy killing.) The mint-green desert boots in 1990, which made my short legs even shorter (I am noth­ing without heels). The wafty boho-chic hand­ker­chief dress that I hoped would make me seem gamine, but which had peo­ple con­grat­u­lat­ing me on my preg­nancy. The five-inch Louboutins that I needed my dad’s walk­ing stick to stand up­right in. The

blingy Noughties ban­dage dress that turned me into a potato wrapped in pink plas­tic wrap.

The nau­sea-in­duc­ingly ex­pen­sive Ba­len­ci­aga gla­di­a­tors that made my shins look like gar­den gnomes. The red bro­cade gown I bought for an awards cer­e­mony that trans­formed me into an over­stuffed sofa…

When I re­turned home from Copenhagen, my in­sight didn’t dis­ap­pear, as in­sights tend to do, but be­came more real. I even made an ac­tual list of cloth­ing I must say good­bye to: dou­ble­breasted coats (too vo­lu­mi­nous); flat shoes (legs are too short); sleeve­less dresses (up­per arms are too cauliflow­ery); neu­tral colours (I look in­vis­i­ble); any­thing that dis­plays my knees and above (legs are too el­derly); straight-up-and­down tu­nic dresses (they make me ex­tra-pota­toey – I need some sem­blance of a waist), and knee­high boots (my peas­ant-like calves are too bulky).

I am now of­fi­cially post-fash­ion, and, I won’t lie to you, it feels like the end of a love af­fair. But it also feels like the truth. In fu­ture, when­ever I see some­thing beau­ti­ful in a magazine or a shop, I’m al­ways go­ing to feel that pang of long­ing, and my next thought – the one where I ac­knowl­edge that the gar­ment should never be mine – will hurt. That’s be­cause I’ve fi­nally learnt the les­son.

How­ever, I’m not shuf­fling off to fash­ion’s grave­yard just yet. No, in­deed – this old dog has de­cided to find her look and I’ve made a (brief) list of the things that ac­tu­ally do suit me: brightly coloured slubby T-shirts, cropped jeans (which was un­ex­pected), Vic­to­rian gov­erness-style dresses and, a de­light­ful sur­prise, leather jack­ets. Not to men­tion the oc­ca­sional out­lier – to wit, a leop­ard-print Miu Miu coat that, against all odds, looks great on me. It was shame­fully ex­pen­sive, but I jus­ti­fied it by the loot I’m sav­ing on hideous mis­takes. I know that of­fi­cially I’m 89 years too old for Miu Miu (I’m braced for strangers in the street to shout, “Oi! Mut­ton!”), but, hey, I’m a fash­ion mav­er­ick now.

I’m not shuf­fling off to fash­ion’s grave­yard yet. No, this old dog has de­cided to find her look.

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