NEW SEASON, NEW START Laura Craik explores the incredible power of the September start-again
When lazy summer days roll into September, we can’t shake that back-to-school feeling. But what if we channelled the spirit of starting again into all areas of our lives? Laura Craik reports on the cathartic power of the do-over
How long since I left school? Honey, you don’t even want to know. And yet, however many aeons pass, the school year’s distinctive rhythm never leaves me. Maybe I don’t want it to – after all, there’s a comfort in ritual and adhering to the flow of the year. The excitement of the Christmas holidays; those hazy, carefree post-exam Junes. Most memorable of all, surely, is the delicious anticipation of September – and never more so than when you are a fashion lover. That the leaves turn russet is all very well, but the real changing of the seasons is as much marked out in finery as foliage. As well as the shops being full of tempting autumn clothes, September is show season, that breathless four-week maelstrom when the latest collections are revealed. For anyone who loves clothes, it’s like a new school term and, for that, you need a new uniform.
After the lazy days of July and August, September can be quite a shock – a life-affirming jolt of realness, but a shock nonetheless. September is the time to ‘seasonify’ your life. It’s doing up your top button again, and finding it a little tighter than you remembered. It’s wearing heels after eight weeks in sandals. It’s jumpers, it’s layering, it’s ankle boots, it’s a new trouser shape, a different colour palette, new hair to go with the new clothes, a new lipstick to go with the new hair. And then, just when you think it might be safe to enter the workplace in this get-up without inviting ridicule, you realise your handbag has aged even faster than your sun-kissed visage (you started with SPF50, but your intentions slipped) and a new one must be bought forthwith. That ‘classic’ shape you invested in last season? Hmm… it’s still classic, but then so is the new Fendi Peekaboo you have your eye on. And wouldn’t it look fetching with those new Saint Laurent boots?
Buying shiny new September accoutrements is one of the season’s biggest joys, but to shop successfully, method always trumps madness of the impulsive kind. As a former fashion editor faced with the prospect of packing for a month’s worth of fashion shows, alas, I always tended towards
‘September is now established as the “thinking person’s January”. We’re ripe for rejuvenation and ready for change’
the latter. During the dog days of August, with less than a week to go before New York Fashion Week, brain still fuzzy from too much direct sunlight (OK, wine), my modus operandi was best described as ‘running around Selfridges or Zara covered in glue’. No matter that I’d spent the holidays lying on a lounger vowing to buy only items I truly loved, the September effect would always scupper my best intentions. It’s easy to decide you need only a simple white shirt and a well-cut pair of jeans from the comfort of your beach-side idyll. New Season Nancy (not her real name) isn’t in Naxos, shaming you for your lime-green tankini. She’s on Net-A-Porter, carefully plotting her back-to-work look. We all know a New Season Nancy. She’s the one who bags the Vetements jeans that were sold out before they even hit the shop floor, and wears them to the office on the first day of September. That appliquéed Gucci bomber jacket that’s more mythical than a unicorn? She got the last size 38.
Why is the pressure to reinvent yourself, or at least tweak the dreary bits, so overwhelming at this time of the year? Surely the whole ‘sharpen your pencils – it’s September’ shtick wore thin immediately after the sixth form? We are adults now, with more pressing things to worry about than whether our jeans are too skinny/bootcut/cropped/dark/unDemna-like to be seen in public. ‘It’s precisely those new beginnings that make September feel like such a throwback to your school days,’ says psychologist Dr Linda Papadopoulos. ‘Not only is it a new season; it’s the start of the season, which presents the most significant leap. You’ve gone from being relaxed and comfortable over the summer to “back-to-work” mode. As soon as your mind starts focusing more on its to-do list, that idea of your identity being bound up in what you wear resurfaces. Getting clothes ready for the summer holidays is easier, and more fun. Nothing much happens in August, but in September we tend to do a reassessment. We think, “Right: we’re going to work hard and get ahead.” So the idea of looking the part becomes very important.’
Everything starts anew in September. Understandably, there’s an attendant pressure to feel ready for it. From blockbuster exhibitions to the release of the biggest Academy Award-hyped films, when it comes to getting on top of all things cultural, it can feel as though there aren’t enough hours in the day. You swore you’d embrace all the cultural opportunities your neighbourhood had to offer, but that seemed more achievable on holiday than it does now. Suddenly, your itinerary is packed. What were you thinking when you swore you’d host a literary salon/volunteer at Save The Children/do the business plan for your mate’s tech startup/launch your own podcast about how to launch your own podcast? As for those barista night classes, you’re too busy drinking coffee to learn how to make it.
Maybe it’s just me, but September feels a shade more fraught than January in this regard. After Christmas, people kind of expect you to be a bit lethargic, and will nod sympathetically at your all-black outfit and your wide-leg, drawstring trousers cleverly disguising those excess mince pies. ‘Aah – a fellow glutton,’ they will think. ‘That lady really knows how to kick back and enjoy herself.’ September, on the other hand, brokers no such excuses. Rosé now looks faintly reprobate; there are charcoal juices to be drunk, and smart water featuring autumn’s most modish herb. There’s also postholiday bragging to navigate. What, you didn’t do a yoga retreat? You didn’t drop a dress size? You didn’t get a new hairstyle? You didn’t even get a tan? What have you been doing these past few weeks?
Little wonder that the cosmetic surgeon Dr Michael Prager has identified a phenomenon he calls ‘school-gate paranoia’ and claims requests for procedures at his London surgery rise in late August/early September. ‘Women are naturally competitive and want to make sure they’re looking better and more rested after the holidays – even though it could have been a tough one,’ he explains. ‘Summer is a period where you spend time with family, relax and generally focus on other things. But in September, as the holidays come to an end, the pressure to look good returns. As soon as the tan fades, Botox is the best way of looking calm and pretty.’
Not all women are competitive, of course, but even the most laid-back of the species would be forgiven for freaking out at the prospect of New Season Nancy, who ushers in September with a forehead as smooth as her new Céline shirt. Now I know why I don’t look calm and pretty: I’ve never had Botox in my life. Clearly, buying a new notebook isn’t enough to pass muster these days.
Whether you face down September with a shot of moon juice, a new Chloé tote, an ankle boot with a heel shape barely distinguishable from the pair you bought in March or a £2 rainbow pom-pom pen from Paperchase (just me?), September is now firmly established as ‘the thinking person’s January’. A time when, fresh from the contemplative milieu of our summer holidays, we are ripe for rejuvenation and ready to embrace self-improvement and positive change. There is something lovely about striding into the new season and wondering just what will unfold. Maybe you’ll get a seat on the train. Maybe you’ll wangle the promotion you’ve been after. Maybe you’ll finally manage to pull off deep-red lipstick. Maybe all designers everywhere will issue an edict banning crop tops forever more. Our school days might be a distant memory, but the element that made them some of the best days of our lives is still very much in play. What held true as a child still holds true as an adult: the best way to predict your future is to create it. September is your time.