on leaving fashion behind
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.