Before anyone even starts reading this..really this should have been my introduction as it's probably the longest blog I'll ever write...so feel free to snooze, doze or make a cup of tea half way through..this was my musing...
So after recently being in New York, living in London and zooming off to Kings Cross to spend the weekend at my family home in Yorkshire, I have been pondering on what style actually means..depending on who you are, where you are or what you were brought up with. As The Sartorialist has shown us, style is universal and it's not just about what you wear but how you wear it.
In 'The Sound of Music' when Maria dances down the street on her way to meet the Captain and his seven children for the first time, she sings about how much confidence she has whilst dressed in what were presumably, the only things she owned other than a habit. With her beaming smile and guitar case banging against her knees as she twirls around lampposts, she is dressed in a grey linen skirt suit and large straw hat, clothes that are deemed dreadfully dowdy when she appears at the Von Trap mansion but wouldn't have looked out of place on the Chloe catwalk a couple of years ago and don't prevent the happy ending that we all know is coming. Maria, you see, knows the secret, as does Scarlet O'Hara, Jane Eyre, Marie Antoinette, The Count of Monte Christo, Dorian Gray, Blair and Chuck from Gossip Girl..to name a few. To me, the secret of style, was tragically unknown for many years.
When I was growing up during the 80s in darkest Yorkshire, I was unaware that this was not the place to start life as a burgeoning fashionista, that one day those golden years were going to be referred to by some as the era of bad taste. To me, I was surrounded by glamour and beauty and clothes I could only aspire to. Mrs Gray, my primary school teacher, was one of my earliest images of what it was to be stylish. Always flamboyant in jewel brights and neons, flawless makeup with lilac blue eyeshadow and coral lipstick, topped with a towering bouffant of hair the colour of her surname, I would gaze in awe at her from across the playground. Once, when being picked up from school, I remember tugging on my mother's hand and confiding in her that, when I was grown up, I would look just like that. My mother, who did and still does prefer neutrals, breton stripes and Ferrangamo loafers, smiled at me indulgently and straightened the collar of my dull, navy dress. So began my realisation that 'style' can mean different things to different people, an ongoing battle that carries on to this day with my darling Mama, who when she doesn't like my outfit will simply look me up and down and say, " That's interesting darling." (Clearly Mummy was ahead of the game..as we've seen recently, the shops are full of 'sensible shoes chic' Note Alexa Chung again wearing Russell and Bromley loafers!)
Criticism is subjective but we can all relate to the crushing feeling of somebody judging you on your appearance. Even if you have stepped out of your front door feeling that buzz which radiates from wearing your new shoes/ cardigan/ oversized leather flying jacket for the first time, a snigger, a judging look..can, kill it. Equally there is nothing more empowering than feeling you look wonderful but then seeing someone who, to your eyes, looks better than you can produce the darker sister of admiration, jealousy. An emotion that perhaps my sex excel at is becoming green, because the other females are the competition. The impossibly thin girl who wears nothing but black yet always looks like she has stepped out of a French art house film or the friend who always looks unique but when you ask where all her clothes are from they're all things from the Topshop sale rail that you fought tooth, nail and knife edged elbows to get to on the first day, or the elegant woman in the office who looks like she was born to wear a suit whereas on you, it still looks a little like you are trying to dress as a grown-up. Style, for me you see was, for a long time, aspirational and tinged faintly with bitterness because I wasn’t sure who I was.
I hadn't realised you see, that it didn't all have to be so serious. The clothes that I wore everyday could be as fun to put on as the ones in my old dressing up box, the clothes that would take me from being a dead bride (wearing my Aunt's old wedding dress and perfecting a zombie walk) to an Amazon explorer (exceptionally large combat trousers, tweed and builder's hat). Look at Mr Ben, surely a style icon! One minute a pinstripe suit that wouldn't look out of place if one was strolling down Saville Row..the next minute...getting lost in his costuumes and appearing in a magical adventure!
Style wasn't about how people saw me but more about how I felt. Style and fashion you see, walk the parallel lines of perfection and perversity. There are many men and women in this world who are sartorially stylish but don't give a fig for the correct hemline of the season or that plum is the new black or velvet the new cashmere. Style for me is appreciation of what I look like, even on one of the dreaded ‘fat’ days, I can still look in the mirror and smile at myself, to pay a compliment to a total stranger when I’ve been secretly admiring their shoes on the Tube, to smell Chanel lipstick and think of my mother and how swipe of it could give her the confidence she needed to face the day or to be struck simply by the way someone carries themselves. An ephemeral explanation I might have offered, but to you what style is will be different because you, reader, are unique...if you're still with me. Right..now wear did I put my guitar and dungarees made of curtains.....