(Hi there. I actually wrote this post last September and then forgot about it, which is why all the links are really really old. But if you love reading out-of-date, lengthy rants about high-street fashion and celebrity dressing, it’s your lucky day! Enjoy!)
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about fashion ‘rules’ and putting together outfits, partly inspired by this post from one of my favourite blogs, Rip it to Shreds. It’s mostly about hideous trends but this is the bit that really caught my eye:
“…people insist on this revolutionary concept they themselves invented, mixing “high” with “low” and cut-offs with heels. It’s very fresh to do this, as opposed to the “too perfect, matching” look people always say they are against but no one really wears because it is out to match.”
Traditionally there are lots of different clothing ‘rules’ about what can and can’t wear, and you still see fashion magazines saying ‘Forget the rules and wear whatever you like! Why not wear designer shoes with high street jeans? Wow! Go Crazy!’ (I may have paraphrased a bit).
But has anyone actually obeyed this mythical fashion code of conduct since the 1950s? Unless you’re a member of the Royal Family*, it seems like having to dress appropriately for an occasion is a lost art.
* although most of them have lost it too. I refer you once more to this handy reference guide.
It does seem like a backlash is coming, with the most obvious sign being the return of ‘lady-like’ dressing. The first hint was longer skirts. One of the major reasons I started sewing was because for the past few years it’s been impossible to buy skirts and dresses that reach below mid-thigh. I know this makes me sound like someone’s maiden aunt, but I’m 5 ft 10. The average British woman is 5ft 4. That’s 6 extra inches of leg to deal with.
But that’s all changed over the last few years. The Whistles ‘Carrie’ skirt was a huge hit last year, despite looking like something your gran would wear to a nu-rave bingo party. Suddenly below knee-length skirts are everywhere. Similarly with Peter Pan collars, high-cut necklines, and long sleeves.
This (extremely old) New York Times article on the subject rather predictably talks about the ‘Kate Middleton effect’, but I thought this was the most interesting quote, from Jason Wu:
“A couple of years ago, the deliberately dissolute look of a model off duty was a strong inspiration, he said. “Now people are interested in looking ladylike.”
Well, duh! Here’s a thought: if an Eastern European 14 yr old with baby giraffe legs and Martian eyes looks good in a holey vest and ‘boyfriend’ jeans, it might not be down to the clothes.
But I’m not just thinking about bodycon dresses vs. knee-length pleated skirts. It’s more about really going for a look and nailing it. It can be scary to look too ‘costume-y‘ (as Peter from Male Pattern Boldness put it) But wouldn’t it be great if more people started wearing a whole look head-to-toe, without feeling they have to ‘dress it down’, or ‘dress it up’?
Nobody would describe Suzy Quatro’s style as ‘lady-like’, but she knew how to put a look together. What else can you wear with a zipped leather jumpsuit but knee-high python print boots and a ton of necklaces?
One thing people always say about Northern cities in Britain is that the women there aren’t afraid to glam up and go the whole hog – check out this article about Liverpool girls going out in their curlers. They don’t try and ‘dress down’ their outfits by putting horrible bike shorts underneath or wearing denim dungarees on top or something (I’m looking at you, Alexa Chung).
Also, why not just stick on a pair of trainers if you’re dressing casually? I’m sick of seeing celebrities wearing cut off jeans with huge leather boots and clunky handbags.
Listen, if you’re just popping to Starbucks for your 18th sponsored frappucino of the day, put on some Pumas and wear a Kanken! It’ll look better AND you’ll be more comfortable!
Here’s another quote from that New York Times article, from Tommy Hilfiger:
“In a departure from his willfully incongruous pattern mix of last season, “we will be really very studied about how we’re putting our outfits together,” he said, to the point of offering matching shoes and bags — an apparent homage to Britain’s future queen”
Matching shoes and bags! Now that really is revolutionary.
I think it all comes down to is being comfortable in what you wear. Not necessarily comfortable in the literal sense: I don’t think we should all be walking around in pyjamas and sports bras all day, god forbid. But comfortable in the sense that everything goes together, and you look like your clothes were made for you and not someone else three sizes smaller or larger. This quote from Nancy Mitford just about sums it up for me:
I have often noticed that when women look at themselves in every reflection, and take furtive peeps into their hand looking-glasses, it is hardly ever, as is generally supposed, from vanity, but much more often from a feeling that all is not quite as it should be.
Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate
When you wear something that you love and that you feel great in, you can stop worrying about your appearance and turn your attention outwards (perhaps to tell other people how hideous THEIR outfits are…)
For example. I’m not a huge Daphne Guinness fan but I bet when she leaves the house, she always knows that she’s nailed it. I guarantee she doesn’t waste time fretting about whether her skirt goes with her beige cardigan (or more likely, whether her multi-coloured kimono matches her enormous pony heels).
Needless to say my wardrobe is hardly anything to write home about, but sewing has been making me consider this issue more and more.
What do you think?