What to wear?

What to wear?

The new neighbours came for socially distanced tea in the garden on Sunday. We’ve been getting to know them through the hedge at the back or on the front doorstep these last few months since they moved in just before lockdown started. The children, a girl and a boy aged 6 and 4, are friendly, full of chatter and curiosity. They respond to any gesture of ours to welcome them, share our knowledge of the local area, lend them garden tools or give them cuttings from our flowerbeds, with exuberant drawings – or the occasional scrawl. On Sunday, the 6-year-old brought this wonderful picture of a woman dressed up. A dancer, a party girl. Frida Kahlo came to mind when I looked at it, the rich colours and patterns; it would have been to her taste.

It made me think of the very subordinate place clothes occupy in my lockdown life. I pull the same few items out of the drawer or wardrobe each day. Well, not exactly the same – obviously I change the smalls every day and launder the other things on a need-to-launder basis. But generally, the daily attire is limited in scope. Something loose and comfortable most days though avoiding anything that could be confused with pyjamas. Shorts on the sunny days revealing legs that are starting to show their age, a few tell-tale creases alongside the blemishes of past varicose surgeries and the fuzzy down of absent seasonal waxing. I blame the parents for the varicose inheritance – there was a strong genetic line both sides of the family. The rest is vanity, I suppose. I’ve not had my legs out in public very much these last few years. Confronting what that’s all about has been one of the many examinations of self for which lockdown has been such an enabler. I’m sure I’m not alone. The airwaves ring with a chorus of women embracing grey, abandoning their bras, resurrecting old sundresses bleached by days on foreign beaches, reassessing the sharing of emotional labour on the domestic front, growing into themselves. My vanity was a kind of self-consciousness. Lockdown has helped me grasp that this is all basically bonkers. Who cares? Who’s looking? 

One leap and she’s free!

I caught a piece on Woman’s Hour a few weeks ago about women’s fashion and the effect the pandemic is having on the industry. Apparently, in ‘normal’ pre-COVID times, women wore about 17% of the clothing they had in their wardrobes. Now it’s slumped to about 3%. Somehow the 3% doesn’t surprise me but the 17% did. Shocking to think about how much money I must have spent on stuff I don’t need and end up storing in the wardrobe or chest of drawers. A whole new take on ‘occasional wear’.  I might do a proper count up to see if I am anywhere near that 17%. I fear I will be and will, thus, be horrified, possibly even tempted to cheat. There’s stuff in there I haven’t worn for years, that’s for sure. Things I wore ‘to the office’; they probably still fit but even if I was to return to an office I would definitely wear something different. Things I loved once upon a time; or that conformed to an old version of me; or were so well-made that I couldn’t bring myself to part with the sheer craft of them; or things passed down that, really, I’d never ever wear. My mother rarely threw anything away and if things were worn out she would remove the zip and buttons first – “You never know when this might come in useful”. 

A quick glance inside the wardrobe confirms that I never need to buy any more clothes. Provided I stay the same basic shape, don’t balloon because of overeating or the side-effects of as yet unprescribed meds, or shrink too much as the spaces between my vertebrae submit to time and gravity, then I’m good with clothing for the next 20 years or so. Yes, let’s be optimistic! 

But the other side of all this is that, just sometimes, I do miss dressing up. Or do I mean rather that I miss the occasions that called for wearing something celebratory, pulling out some of the clothes that hang idly in the wardrobe? Mind you, I’m suddenly struck by the fact that a lot of them are pretty boring. It feels very superficial to be even thinking about this right now but clothing is both superficial and meaningful to me. What I put on and the care with which I do it says something about my inner world, how I see myself, how much I conform. Or not. If clothes are also an expression of personality then we must all be keeping a lot of that tucked away right now unless we dip in and dress up from time to time to pass a few hours in our own front room. At home we introduced dress-up Saturday early on. Extra special effort on the food, a bottle of bubbly in the fridge and some ‘going out’ clothes for staying in. It’s been fun and will certainly have helped me towards that 17% target. But it’s starting to pall a bit, some of the enthusiasm has waned. It’s not the same as getting togged up for going out. 

Hardly a profound message here but the wardrobe, glumly silent and largely neglected, has been prodding me to take a look at what’s hanging there hollow and limp, and to reconsider it. No messing about this time, really reconsider it. Along with the abandonment of clothes shopping and vanity (I can try), I might also start to re-craft the real old idlers, fire up the sewing machine, mix, amend, refashion. Find my own style. My inner Frida Kahlo. Could be fun.

  • Sarah Fordyce
    Posted at 22:43h, 25 June Reply

    Lovely lovely writing, as usual. And always thought provoking. I’ve always thought you dressed very elegantly. I think this will resonate with so many people. Who is using the breadth of their wardrobe. I’m working from home, and realise that without the office heating, I’m choosing to wear wool most days, solid black tights, flat shoes – and a nice scarf to look professional for the endless zoom meetings.

    And I love the upbeat reference to creativity at the end Rather inspiring, although I don’t think I’ll get there any time soon xx

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