Hadley Free­man

Who picks the fash­ion ‘clas­sics’? A 6ft wo­man with a safety pin, an iron and time to burn

The Guardian - Weekend - - Contents -

I’ve I been read­ing fash­ion mag­a­zines for al­most a quar­ter of a cen­tury, and writ­ing for them for half that time, so I reckon I know my way around the genre. It took time, of course: when I first bought a mois­turiser that cost more than £30, I was gen­uinely an­noyed it wasn’t, as the ar­ti­cle had promised, “life-chang­ing”. Then there was the time I bought some Miu Miu wedges af­ter see­ing them in a fash­ion shoot, only to dis­cover that not only did they fail to make my legs look like the model’s, I couldn’t walk in them. I’m look­ing at those shoes right now. They’re on my book­case, the world’s most ex­pen­sive book­ends.

But I’ve lived and I’ve learned and I un­der­stand fash­ion mag­a­zines now. I know this sea­son’s “must-have” will be next sea­son’s “so passé”, and that when a bag is de­scribed as “es­sen­tial”, this is not be­cause it is, lit­er­ally, es­sen­tial, but be­cause the la­bel bought the cru­cial ad­ver­tis­ing slot on the back cover. Es­sen­tial to the mag­a­zine, sure, but not to any­one else. You come to glossy mag­a­zines a wide-eyed ro­man­tic, you leave a hard­ened cynic. (Ob­vi­ously, none of this ap­plies to your morally im­pec­ca­ble Guardian Week­end, its fash­ion team as free from com­mer­cial in­ter­fer­ence as a Miu Miu wedge is free from prac­ti­cal­ity.)

But there is one thing I have never un­der­stood, and that is how fash­ion ed­i­tors come up with clothes they deem to be “clas­sics”. Fash­ion clas­sics are very dif­fer­ent from “essen­tials” or “must-haves” in that they are im­per­vi­ous to sea­sons and even – gasp! – ad­ver­tis­ing. Rather, mag­a­zines pro­mote them, year in year out, as items a wo­man must have in order to be a stylish mem­ber of so­ci­ety. But must she? I don’t know when the meet­ing was held that de­cided which items made the list, or why I wasn’t in­vited, but I have some quib­bles. Let’s in­ves­ti­gate.

Clas­sic no 1: the trench­coat

I like Peter Falk. You like Peter Falk. We all like Peter Falk. But do we want to dress like Peter Falk? Ev­ery year, fash­ion mag­a­zines tell women to get “a clas­sic trench­coat”, and ev­ery year only women who are 6ft tall and have a body mass in­dex of about 17 look good in them. Add in the fact that my good ol’ Semitic her­itage means I am lit­er­ally the same colour as a trench­coat, which makes it, si­mul­ta­ne­ously, an in­vis­i­bil­ity cloak and one of the least flat­ter­ing gar­ments in the world.

Clas­sic no 2: the wrap dress

Again, an item that re­quires a very spe­cific body type, namely long bones and not much flesh. (Per­haps Amal Clooney came up with the clas­sics list be­cause, as far as I can tell, she’s the only wo­man on Earth who looks good in all of them.) Also, for all the end­less talk about how the clas­sic was in­vented for “busy work­ing women”, let this busy work­ing wo­man tell you that, un­less you want to find your dress flap­ping open and your bra hang­ing out be­fore you’ve even got to the bus stop, you’ll need a safety pin when wear­ing a wrap dress, and if there’s one thing busy work­ing women don’t have time to look for in the morn­ing, it’s a sod­ding safety pin. Handy tip there from the coal­face.

Clas­sic no 3: the crisp white shirt

This is the only ac­cept­able de­scrip­tion, ap­par­ently – not just white, but crisp and white. But as well as find­ing a safety pin, you know what else you don’t have time for in the morn­ing? Iron­ing a damn shirt. Hard pass.

Clas­sic no 4: the bra you’ve been mea­sured for

You know how your mother oc­ca­sion­ally gets ob­sessed with some­thing you should do? “Dar­ling, you re­ally ought to get a bob hair­cut, like that nice wo­man who does the lo­cal news!” or, “Would it kill you to wear a dress oc­ca­sion­ally?” Fash­ion mag­a­zines are like that when it comes to get­ting mea­sured for a bra. Hon­estly, you’d think the holy flip­ping grail was hid­den in bra mea­sure­ment rooms, the way they go on. And maybe it is: I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t been mea­sured for one since I was 21 (a present from my mother, ob­vi­ously) and, two decades and two kids later, those mea­sure­ments may have changed. But se­ri­ously, who has time to get their boobs mea­sured? I barely have time to go to the den­tist. So no, I do not have a bra I’ve been mea­sured for and, well, all I’m go­ing to say is, no one’s com­plained when it hangs out of my wrap dress.

Clas­sic no 5: the Chanel hand­bag

I’ll hold my hands up here and ad­mit I love the clas­sic Chanel hand­bag. But I can love some­thing and still ad­mit its flaws, and the Chanel bag is deeply flawed. It is too tiny for both your wal­let and your phone, yet costs more than a sec­ond­hand car. You will have quar­rels with your­self be­fore leav­ing the house about whether to bring blusher or lip­stick, be­cause you can’t fit both, and – sorry, Coco – that is not a great start to a night out. I will say this, though: these bags make fan­tas­tic book­ends

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