Wednesday, 24 June 2015

'Vintage Style', and Other Minor Sartorial Conundrums

There’s been something of a recent pattern in my charity shop visits – an interesting, retro-looking fabric glimpsed, a hand reached out to disentangle the item from the surrounding coat-hangers, and then the moment of disappointment. It’s the moment of realizing that this is no hidden vintage gem, but an irritatingly good high street reproduction. The pattern or shape may resemble anything from a 60s baby-doll dress to a fifties fitted skirt, yet hold it up to light and the differences in fabric and construction quality become visible.

Maybe this is snobby of me. In fact, I know it probably is. I am a clothes snob (although only in relation to what I choose to wear myself, rather than in judging others). If I’m going for vintage, I don’t want pale imitations, but the real deal – proper seams, darts and all. Good fabrics. Possible backstories and previous lives. That’s not to say I’m overly selective with the labels sewn into the necks of the clothes I buy in charity shops. I can and do purchase plenty of second hand high street garments – although they don’t exactly dominate my wardrobe.

Yet the high street’s rather creeping embrace of vintage designs is something I find as fascinating as it is frustrating. It's been inevitable. Whatever appears on the catwalk eventually filters down to chain stores. The last few years have been a hotbed of references to each previous decade. About once every year and a half the sixties is trumpeted as “being back”, the nineties has been doing its damn best to infiltrate all areas of life with crop tops, mini-backpacks and pastel colours a-plenty, while the seventies seem to have returned in full suede-y, denim-y force.

It’s natural to raid the past for inspiration. I have no problem with referencing 30s high glamour or 70s louche layers – the 20th Century (in particular) is awash with all sorts of silhouettes, colour palettes and textiles ripe to use for inspiration. It would be incredibly sad if no-one plundered the archives or used pictures from the past to influence their designs – especially because at various points, it seems, designers actually knew how to cut clothes for a range of different figures and body types. Lots of modern day brands could learn from that. Plus, looking backwards is something creatives (across a range of industries) have always done, and will always do. 

So I still can’t quite put my finger on why the high street’s facsimiles of vintage designs occasionally rankle. I think it’s maybe because the end result is that ‘vintage style’ becomes just another trend – another search term on eBay, another possible look among the pick’n’mix selection of other keywords like grunge, hipster, normcore, boyfriend, girly or festival-chic (am sure you can easily think of other even more nauseating terms). It often seems to be a market response to the resurgence of vintage, rather than genuine celebration of a particular decade – which in turn means you have to be extra-careful when perusing the labels in vintage shops, for occasionally the odd thing from Topshop slips through.

There are other strands to this, many linking back to my self-acknowledged snobbery. Do I react more strongly if the label is high street rather than high end? Does my response change if I genuinely like the garment - especially if it seems like an inventive update of or homage to something classic? Am I merely perpetuating an attitude of exclusivism or style elitism? Am I being a hypocrite, as I definitely own a number of high street twists on vintage designs? Am I basically a tad irritated by something that doesn’t really matter at all? Probably 'yes' to every question. 

I do wonder though if it’s partly to do with that first fleeting instance of being disappointed that something which felt special to me – a particular style of a vintage top, shirt, or tea dress – has then become ubiquitous when one brand or another decided to make it their ‘look’ of the season, before discarding again. Suddenly certain sartorial decisions fit a trend, rather than looking like they were actively selected. But maybe my attitude should be ‘the more, the merrier’, rather than a whole lot of muttering and wittering here. And even in writing this, I'm aware of all the shades and nuances and alternative arguments I haven't even touched on... More consideration needed. 

These photos were taken by the lovely Monica several months back when we were in Bologna. I'm wearing a bona-fide fifties dress (and eighties belt), but accompanied by modern ASOS shoes. 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Treasure, Trinkets and the Occasional Diamond

When I think of jewellery, I think of family: of the big green, glittery necklace passed down to me from my paternal grandmother; the strings of faux-pearls and dangling pendants from my late maternal great-grandma; the various brooches from distant cousins and Great-Aunts: all cameos and flowers and sparkly paste echoes of diamonds; the rings from my late maternal grandma. The latter remain especially significant, having been the ones my mum’s mum had made for her - after the end of a particularly awful relationship, she took jewellery from that period to be melted down and the stones re-set in newly designed beautiful silver rings. I wear them all the time now, the loops and whorls of metal contrasting with moonstones and turquoise. I have other rings too, like the two gold bows, one of which belonged to my Great-Aunt Eva – who died of leukemia aged nineteen (read more here). I relish these stories, as I do with all family garments and cast-offs.

I’ve always viewed jewellery as a part of dress-up, to a certain extent – badges and lengths of beads infiltrating childhood play from an early age. My brother and I used to play something called ‘the treasure game’, involving a motley array of trinkets, often broken or rescued from being discarded. We’d pretend to be pirates divvying up our wares, carefully choosing them, one at a time, from a pile in the middle until we each had our stash. Then the bargains began. Was that iridescent bracelet with the broken clasp worth giving up in exchange for a mother of pearl pendant and a hat-pin? What would it take to secure the single mushroom-sized, multi-coloured clip-on earring with its red, purple, green and blue stones?

At secondary school I went through a big Claire’s Accessories phase – buying the kinds of cheap stuff that left your skin green beneath the metal. The goody bags were the best, an unknown pic n’mix delight of possibilities for a fiver – no idea what you’d find when you dug into the plastic. It was all about the small details then – the ear studs you could get away with in school that somehow might still convey some tiny aspect of personality, along with a carefully chosen bag (mine was a Roxy backpack).

I’ve since taken my ‘treasure game’ a little more seriously though, securing plenty of the desirable jewellery, some of it from that early 'pirate' hoard. I mainly wear necklaces and rings (though am planning to get my ears re-pierced soon so that all sorts of marvelous things can then dangle from them once more). Currently I have a line of cocktail glasses in my room, all spilling over with my spoils, nothing new among them other than a charm bracelet from my mum (charms choicely including books, a coffee cup and a champagne bucket) and a few beautiful Bill Skinner items that I got in return for some modeling. Even the old stuff that didn’t belong to family members is also second-hand. One of my most-complimented pendants, usually worn on a silver torc, was from the local charity shop for 50p. Bar one or two precious things (including a very special locket) the collection is not worth much - but imbued with so many resonances and stories and places. 

Usually I’m content with this set-up, eyeing up my vaguely rag-tag assembly of chains, beads and stones, plucking things up according to colour and the day’s/ outfit’s mood. But then I got to wear Pippa Small’s jewellery for an afternoon during this set of portraits, and I felt like a magpie – entirely entranced by all those ammolites and opals and diamonds and tourmalines and amethysts and rubies and so many other stones that are so very satisfying to name. I sat as Susannah Baker-Smith chose each new combination, content to lounge in the afternoon light as my skin was adorned with all these turquoises and golds and greys and rainbow-scattered shades. Some of them seemed to transform when on, while others seemed to transform me. We worked carefully with angles and poses (jewellery is surprisingly tricky to photograph), Susannah moving around and directing my limbs, me holding my breath while I waited for the shutter-click. The shoot was a small, suspended interlude in an otherwise frantic week.

That afternoon also reminded me of the possibilities of modern craftsmanship (especially apt for Pippa – read all about her ethical projects and work with communities here) as well as the sheer, aesthetic pleasure of wearing truly gorgeous jewellery. It does something to you. Not sure exactly what, but it's quietly special. And although it's beyond my price range for now, a girl can idly dream…

Susannah is a marvellous photographer and even more marvellous friend. It always feels like a vague honour to work with her - as I have done twice before. I feel like she captures something of me that's very natural and relaxed. And you can see Pippa's website here.

In other news, I wrote something for Yahoo Beauty on Oxford, outside perceptions, and going my own way. You can read it here

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Why Living in the Moment is a Trite Phrase for an Important Thing

The week before last I went to Hay-on-Wye, dropping in for an afternoon interlude at the literary festival. It was much too short an immersion, time only for a coffee, some book browsing, a single event, and a smattering of aimless wandering. The town was a-buzz; pavements crowded and queues everywhere. There’s something intriguing in observing a place you know well - briefly transformed, quiet streets suddenly full of racket.

I also had chance to meet the completely wonderful Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours (see my review here). We sat down for a quick talk, ranging over areas from Instagram to books to beauty standards. We both commented on how we already felt like we knew each other – Twitter providing a platform for conversation long before any face-to-face chats. She’s about the fifth amazing woman I’ve met through social media within the last month. The modern world is wonderful, isn’t it? Weird and odd and great, all at the same time.

I left Hay that evening feeling so utterly content. It did what so many exciting things do, whether it’s an event, a lecture, a two-way conversation, or a collection of poems. I relish anything that heightens my enthusiasm – reinvigorating and stimulating an idea, perhaps, or an ongoing piece of work, or a thought still buzzing with potential. There’s a sense that one could go and do anything: write something, create/make/ work and craft, or think and learn. We need those touchstone moments. They’re not so much grounding as elevating, a necessary form of uplift occasionally required when things are feeling bogged down. Hay also felt like a temporary shrugging off of responsibility, real life ebbing for half a day.

When have I had similar feelings since? At a barbecue in the park where we waited to watch the sun set over the buttercups. While drinking cold white wine in the burning heat, sitting on a sofa in a friend’s garden. During the weekend just gone, full of books, conversation, and bouts of slipping in and out of the river in my bikini - stretching and kicking and breathing (and avoiding the odd boat). Each morning as I make breakfast, brew coffee and spend half an hour reading Women in Clothes. An equal mix of social encounters and solitude.

Various things have been a struggle recently, requiring me to acknowledge my own vulnerabilities and limitations. But when anything feels less manageable, I always try to bring myself back into these small, significant experiences and ways of treating myself well. They are what remain important.

So much of the time we focus on work and achievement, forgetting the necessity of all the good stuff - of friends, family, lovers, food, long phone calls, whisky, a coffee in a café, reading a book because it’s enriching, writing something for oneself because it’s stimulating and full of possibility, listening to someone who needs an open ear.

Of going for a day trip, taking a walk, dancing until knees ache, listening to fantastic music, having fizzy conversations that make you dizzily content, sleeping in when the sun is reaching through the curtains, getting up early and cycling through near-empty streets, beginning a new project just because you can.

Of wearing a damn good outfit and several layers of red lipstick, buying things you don’t need at car boot sales because they’re simply too pretty, trawling charity shops all afternoon, talking to strangers on occasion, or enjoying your lonesomeness at others.  

Then there’s the pursuing of thrilling opportunities and new quests and intellectual challenges – perhaps pursuing in the knowledge that it will not necessarily be easy, but will certainly be satisfying in the end. You just have to recognize that as you work through things from hour to hour, day to day, some of those hours and days will be glorious and glittering, while others may prove really quite tough. I guess it has to be a specific kind of pursuing too, one tempered by the recognition that you are not solely the worth of your GCSE grades, your A-level results, your university degree, your inbox, your income, your work-life, your online image, your looks, your desirability, your status.

You can absolutely and utterly be bloody proud of any of those things, if you so wish. I am, with various things on that list. But for years some of those achievements were the only way I defined my worth – becoming a singular measure, rather than a set of contributing factors to an overall sense of self. Hopefully the equilibrium is a little more balanced now.

I spent this evening cooking a curry for myself, drinking red wine, and working out what I needed to complete before the end of the week. I took it moment by moment. Now I’m off to dig my nose into a book before bed. It’s taking time, but I’m getting there with each little anchor back in the present, each instance that lifts the day.

While in Hay I wore the most fabulous vintage tartan shorts I'd picked up the previous day in a charity shop for £4 - here combined with a second hand polo neck, a cardigan that belonged to my great grandma, and shoes from a charity shop. The notebook was bought on the day, and has now become the place for all my poetry scribblings and general notes. 

Friday, 5 June 2015

Denim and Velvet

I’m not a jeans girl. I’m a miniskirt and thick tights girl. I’m a shorts-and-bare-legs-even-though-it’s-grey-and-cloudy girl. I’m a maxi-dress girl. I’m a black velvet trousers rolled up at the ankle girl. I’m not a denim aficionado. I couldn't wax lyrical about the best places to find skinnies or tell you what type of Levi’s I love. I am instead the kind of girl (or should that be woman now?) who wears jeans so infrequently that people tend to comment on it whenever I do.

But maybe, just maybe, that’s less about taste and more about height. Being an inch or so off six foot, finding jeans that both fit and flatter can be something of a (hyperbolic and frivolous) nightmare. The pairs I do own are all second-hand, usually plucked up because they’re noticeably longer in the leg.

If you’re anything above about 5’8”, and even bother to look at the trousers rail, your eyes will be firmly stuck on the hems, searching for any that protrude below the others. Usually this is followed by disappointment in the fitting room when either you can’t pull them past your thighs, or the waistline is so voluminous that they immediately slip back down to your knees. Occasionally, very, very occasionally, you might get lucky. This has happened to me perhaps three times in the last two years. Admittedly that’s also because I’m more likely to be found shimmying my way into cotton sun-frocks than skinny jeans. Regardless, there was a genuine thrill in these acquisitions. Perhaps it’s all about scarcity – the harder it is to find something, the more they’re appreciated when located.

I feel like I need to clarify that opening statement further. I’m not a jeans girl, but I do enjoy wearing them. It’s just a sporadic pleasure rather than integral part of my wardrobe. There’s a kind of easy power to be found in jeans, whether we’re talking tight, high-waisted ones worn with a vintage yellow button-up halter-top (my best friend and I have decided we want to revive and occasionally embody the phrase “fifties sexpot”), green jeans with a fancy evening coat, or these seventies-esque flared beauties pictured above which work so well with prints, waistcoats and curly hair. I feel like I can stride in jeans. I can do practical things. I can jump about and cycle and climb trees  - all activities that, in my usual skirts/dresses, mean I inadvertently end up flashing unsuspecting strangers.

Maybe it’s more about conformity then? As someone who, more than she’d like to admit, kind of hates looking like other people, perhaps I find jeans just a bit too ubiquitous. I’m not big on ‘staples’ or ‘must-haves’ or ‘basics’ (unless that ‘basic’ is a sixties shift). The last time jeans were a proper staple for me was aged thirteen or fourteen, when I wore my grey pair until they were more holes than denim – see evidence of them in better days here and here. In the former I claimed, somewhat hyperbolically, that “I couldn’t live without skinny jeans.” Well, six years on I’m still surviving… 

Like any item though, I guess it’s what you do with it. Jeans can and do look brilliant in all sorts of circumstances – whether accompanied by a tailored silk shirt or the comfiest of comfy jumpers. They can be as pragmatic or as dressed up as required. To me they now just require some sort of special ‘something’ to give oomph to the outfit – crushed blue velvet perhaps, or an interesting neckline, or a sharply cut blazer.

So, I began this post by saying I’m not a jeans girl - though mostly due to a desire to wear other things, rather than any kind of denim vendetta. Yet still… sitting down to write this has kind of reinvigorated my interest. I suddenly remembered these Tommy Hilfiger jeans I nicked from my mum, and these ridiculous Jean-Paul Gaultier patterned ones that I still swing between viewing as marvelous and vaguely monstrous. Thus I’ll add to that opening sentence one last time – I’m not a jeans girl, but I may yet become one...

These second-hand jeans are here worn with a mix of vintage things from various charity shops - this shirt is a particular favourite of mine, while the velvet waistcoat was one of those 'whim' buys that proved incredibly satisfying. My trusty old Russell & Bromley men's boots proved great for stomping around the woods while my dad took photos. 

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Creative Collaborations

A few weeks ago I found myself crouching, somewhat precariously, on a branch many metres above the ground. I was wearing a silver ballgown, naturally. (What else does one wear to scale fallen trees?) We’d caught the last gasps of sunset. I was calm and elated and shaking slightly in the chilly breeze. Over the river the odd jogger and couple were reduced to blobs of colour. I was more focused on the lens below, smoothing my shivers into static poses.

It was sitting up there, grass below and sky above, that I had a moment of utter joy: joy in modeling, in collaborating, in doing vaguely ridiculous things to secure a good photo. Joy in how incongruous I was, but also how natural it felt to be scrabbling for footholds whilst ensuring the thirties bias-cut fabric sat just right. Joy in the adrenaline hit of wind, skin, fabric and a great(ish) height.

To me that enclosed moment points to all the best aspects of shoots. They are first and foremost a collaboration. One in front of the camera, one behind, both working together to produce something exciting. (Obviously there are also those shoots involving a whole team. Different dynamic, just as interesting). More than that though, there’s a sense of working together for the sake of adventure. Take a rough idea, a location, a hastily assembled set of clothes, perhaps throw in a set of interesting weather conditions, and you’ve got some proper fun.

That interlude of perching, standing, lying down and scrambling around also reminded me of the spontaneity I had as a young teen – where, on a weekend, I’d shove some items in a rucksack and head outdoors with a friend and a camera. I had the time to be imaginative and silly, to jump across streams in very impractical heels or hang out in bluebell woods. I dressed up in vintage swimsuits to traverse fields of flowers, skulked among trees at twilight, and jumped across waves wearing chiffon. Those last three were all thanks to Flo, back when we lived in close proximity and had the hours to spare.

During adolescence I sometimes took the pictures, sometimes was in them. Now it errs more towards the latter (though I hope the balance isn’t permanently skewed), and even that is a rare treat now. Although something similar is achieved in most shoots with one of my parents wielding the camera, they’re usually done in quick succession during the holidays – a morning of sun yielding three different outfits to sustain my blog over several weeks. Wonderful in their own way, but less immersive.

What I guess I adore most is the play: playing outdoors, playing dress up, playing with imaginative concepts, playing at being someone else. More sophisticated storylines, maybe. Definitely a better application of red lipstick than I could achieve aged five. But similar principles.

Models are often denigrated, as though their role involves nothing more than standing around and pouting. That’s definitely the case on occasion, but if the shoot is dynamic, it will require skill - plus a willingness to be open and experiment and respond to what’s in front of you.

These are the types of creative collaboration I want to return to more – working on things like this where it’s two-way, whether that’s professionally or just for the thrill of hanging out in the park in ridiculous garments. That reciprocity between subject and photographer can be exhilarating. You may get so cold your fingers go numb. You may have to put up with people slowing to stare or comment as they wander past. But these are minor inconveniences – and besides, at times I really quite enjoy causing a stir.

I'm wearing a thirties dress that belonged to a relative of mine's-friend's-mother, named Moonyeen (see the first outing on the blog, complete with scoliosis scar, here). These photos were taken by the fabulous Paulina Choh. We first got talking after she spotted me leaping around while a friend took a snap of me for Instagram (I am vaguely shameless about these things) - and she recognised me from my blog! It's the biggest/ oddest/ best thrill whenever this happens, and I'm so pleased in this instance that it led to such an exciting creative opportunity. Watch this space for more from her... 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

A Birthday Note

Keeping this quick, sweet and to the point as the afternoon is short and the sunshine plentiful. I turned twenty today. Kind of exciting, really. It’ll take a little bit of getting used to, this whole business of no longer being able to refer to myself as a teenager. But my, how marvelous too…

When I was younger, I spent plenty of time daydreaming about my twenties – seeing that as a highpoint of the future, floating somewhere beyond school and challenging friend groups and exams. Funny to be finally alighting here. But despite those years spent being frustrated by the limitations of adolescence, I still packed in so much that I remain proud of: from the most thrilling opportunities to the biggest difficulties I managed to move through (no matter how painful).

Things kind of feel normal right now, albeit with slightly more in the way of presents, picnics-for- breakfast and promises of cava than usual. Any excuse for celebration and slight decadence, that’s me - birthday or no birthday. But there are still emails to send, deadlines to hit, work to do. I’ve been running around and working hard and jumping between Oxford and London for the last week, too occupied with other things to give today much thought.

For that reason, I didn’t really attribute any significance to the age change until I sat down to put up a blog post. Maybe that’s because we often construct significance for ourselves, shaping these kinds of markers and moments to be as big or as small as we want. Maybe it’s also that I rarely wish to define myself by my number of years, preferring to dwell on experiences and people and achievements and memories instead.

I am a little exhilarated at the thought of the decade ahead though. I don’t know what it’ll contain, but I hope it will be interesting – if not always easy. Regardless, so long as it involves creativity, curiosity, great company, glasses of wine, the odd kiss, and a healthy dose of the unexpected, I’ll be content.

Thought some summery images were especially apt for today. I'm wearing a vintage dress, some pretty delectable Orla Kiely for Clarks t-bar Bibi shoes, vintage accessories and my much-loved suede jacket from a jumble sale. 

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Fashion and Intelligence

Why can’t a smart woman love fashion? This is a question Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie posed a while back. I quoted the question (and part of her very articulate answer) last May, when writing this piece on style and intelligence. Pretty much exactly a year later, it’s been on my mind again. Why can’t a smart woman love fashion – and, moreover, why can’t a woman love viewing fashion as something highly smart?

Of course, these are hypothetical questions. A smart woman can love fashion. Of course she can. A woman can also love viewing fashion as something smart. What we’re really asking is this: why is it that some interests are swiftly judged as lacking substance? Or maybe, why does an interest in personal style preclude that this person must be less academic, less thoughtful, less worth taking seriously?

I think these questions ricocheted again recently because my interest in style is becoming ever more rigorous. Alongside the sheer joy in a good jumpsuit and lots of red lipstick (my outfit for today), I adore analysis and discussion. If a literary critic takes a scalpel to a text, maybe the appropriate instrument for the study of fashion would be a pair of sewing scissors. No wishy-washy statements about ‘personal expression’ here. More everything from cultural contexts to the impact of voracious consumer demand to the interests, anxieties and moments of a particular age cut and stitched into material.

Maybe those questions are also partly the natural result of moving between a lot of different worlds: blogging, writing, fashion, books, academia, small village, large cities. Each has its own rules, and, significantly, its own value system. In fashion blogging I’m perhaps slightly unusual in my desire to treat clothing as something to be examined - rather than merely put on, with two lines of text beneath noting where my dress was from. In more academic circles, I regularly feel like I know nothing, like I have so much left to read and consume and get my head around. In other contexts I’m somewhere on a scale between the two. One day I feel I have to water down how I articulate things, the next that I’m lacking so much, grasping at concepts and conversations still beyond me. Another consequence in particular circles is the (very) occasional need to justify myself – as though ‘fashion’ requires extra validation as an intellectual interest in a way that, say, art history doesn’t.

I’ve been doing my homework though. Over the last six months I’ve read Amber Jane Butchart’s book Nautical Chic and realized how much I adore fashion history – all that mapping of the relationship between style and a world always in flux. I also discovered Vestoj via my wonderful friend Olivia Aylmer, and spent an evening entranced by the dazzling mix of precision and celebration. I bought Women in Clothes as a present to myself and was reminded how significant stories of style are. I’ve eyed up both Worn Stories and Worn journal (same name, separate entities, both fabulous).

I’ve spent too much time procrastinating on StyleLikeU, where body, self-image, clothing and perception are continually interrogated. There’ve been late night rambles through the BBC iPlayer Art of Fashion archives, covering everything from a 1997 doc on Alexander McQueen to a brief juxtaposition between different generations of models (clue: the 70s looked like a hell of a lot more fun than the 50s. Also more fun than today.)  

I researched the history of kilts, nationalism, punk and feminism for an upcoming project. I worked on an essay on the use of costume in 16th century city comedy, and began thinking about possible dissertation topics - mulling over some kind of intersection between literature and clothing. I rediscovered Elizabeth Wilson’s work, added Roland Barthes’ The Language of Fashion to my five page ‘to read’ list, went to exhibitions, wrote lots, and realized just how much I know about all things 20th century style. 

I’ve also thought, written and talked about a hell of a lot of things that have nothing to do with anything sartorial. Of course. Any kind of cerebral life requires plenty of slipping, sliding and skipping between various areas. It would get deathly dull otherwise. But regardless, I’m all the more determined to combat any kind of rhetoric that says, “clothes are frivolous and inane. Why not focus on something brow-furrowingly, spectacle-wearingly serious, rather than bits of fabric strung together?”

That particular tone of derision ignores any possibility of charting clothing as symbolic, as aspirational, as conformist, as subversive, as an embodiment of power, as a refusal of standards, as a hundred and one different things to potentially unpick. There are so many threads to pursue (Sorry. One day I’ll stop using fabric imagery this consistently – well, perhaps, perhaps not).

For the record, I also think fashion can be stupid, offensive, unthinking, rapacious, boring, and status-ridden. But it can likewise be wonderful, playful, witty, confidence-enhancing, fun, elegant, and, above all, smart. It’s all in that ‘can’. Depends on how you engage with it, and whether we’re talking fashion as an industry, an art, a mode of self-presentation, a destructive capitalist force, or something else entirely. And besides, those stupid, offensive, unthinking (etc) elements are often just as worthy of scrutiny. Treating fashion intelligently means criticizing it as much as you revel in it.

To return to the inimitable Chimamanda though, sometimes it's just about “taking pleasure in clothes” too. Pleasure has a different formula for everyone – whether it includes food, sex, socialising, solo walks, music, a good coffee, binge-watching Netflix, travelling, staying in bed, reading, conversation, going to the cinema, lying in the sunshine with just the birdsong for company, or thousands of other possibilities. To me, what I wear each day is among those pleasures, as is giving clothing a lot of thought. 

I don’t know where all this will lead. Hopefully somewhere exciting. There’s a lot left to learn along the way; so much to read and watch and look at and consider and respond to and, of course, plenty to lust over, buy and wear. Plenty to blog about too. I'm not sure where to head to next - the library, the wardrobe, or a word document. What a thrilling choice to have. 

As with a yellow-themed outfit and books last year, now onto orange. Maybe eventually I'll manage all the colours in the rainbow! Wearing all vintage with ASOS shoes. My dad shot these over the Christmas holidays, back when the days were cold and polo necks were oh-so-necessary. 

Thank you also for the amazing, overwhelming response to my post on the General Election. I genuinely hope we can fight hard over the next five years, as and when necessary, and also work on those personal acts of kindness/ empathy/ practical help/ creative response/ whatever else... 

Friday, 8 May 2015

A Few Thoughts on the General Election

* Fashion witterings temporarily suspended. Return to regular order will commence soon. Also, contains swearing. I’d say sorry, but I’m not. *

If you’re living in Britain, then this morning will have been… interesting. Depending on your political beliefs/ moral compass/ general awareness of individuals other than yourself, then it may have been the kind of day where crawling back under the covers seemed the safest option. Yesterday’s tentative mood of optimism has curdled. The Conservatives have a majority.

My thoughts are still spinning a little too much to form anything particularly coherent. Plenty of communication with family members and friends has been couched in that universal language of dismay: swearing. Many more ‘fucks’ than David Cameron gives about the NHS. 

I’ve realized though that it’s very easy when you’re surrounded by like-minded people to be lulled into thinking that Conservative rhetoric isn't taken seriously: a lexicon of hard workers and shirkers, brighter futures, tightened belts, dangerous immigrants, getting the economy back on track, blaming the most marginalized for EVERYTHING. All those shiny, hollow words constructing a clear set of divides between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. But it is taken seriously – and there’s a huge amount of business and press interest balancing on it. Murdoch wanted the Tories to stay. Bankers wanted the Tories to stay. Weirdly, a lot of other people did too.

But lord is their rhetoric is scary - reliant on fear, on value judgments, on a weird kind of “we know best” paternalism. It divides up the country into the deserving and the undeserving, and all it takes to move from the former to the latter is losing your job.

A lot of what the Conservatives will do over the next five years won't necessarily affect me personally (other than things relating to housing, wages, arts, the environment, healthcare  - oops ok, maybe it will). Yet I am fortunate enough, at the moment, to have a family who are pretty stable both emotionally and financially. I’m aware of how huge a privilege that is. But I still give a fuck. Two fucks. All the fucks.

Because that's what you're meant to do as a human being – look beyond yourself. You care about more than your own immediate, limited circumstances. I’m pissed off about how it’s going to affect my ability to rent anything other than cardboard box size rooms. But I’m more pissed off for those who are caring for disabled children, or who are reliant on benefits, or who need access to a food bank, or whose jobs suddenly look much more precarious, or can’t get anywhere near their chosen career because they don't have the support or contacts. I’m pissed off about cuts left, right and center – it’s easy to see a service as non-vital if you don't need it yourself. 

I was talking this over earlier with my wonderful friend Katharine Sian. As she said to me, “I grew up with my unemployed, single parent mum in Cardiff. We were extremely lucky because my father and grandfather had managed to buy us a small semi-detached house but this doesn't mean we didn't struggle from time to time to make ends meet. Benefits should exist to ensure that everyone has a good quality of life, even amid struggles. However, under austerity it is evident that they are failing.”

She’s directly involved in a lot of activism as a result. “In April 2013 I was lucky enough to meet a disabled activist in Cardiff who was at the first protest against the Bedroom Tax. Linda Philips spoke powerfully to the crowd saying that we should "use our own small whispers of individual voices in crescendo to a scream of national outrage until its volume is actually heard within Westminster itself". She spent the following years paying bedroom tax on the spare bedroom used by her carer and eventually died under austerity, sooner than she should have done.”

That’s the ugly face of our previous coalition – now one that’s no longer even going to be tempered by the Lib Dems. People died. Suicide rates rose. And instead of getting angry about that, the public has been fed a narrative of prejudice and othering by the press. Blame it on anyone from anywhere else. God forbid the responsibility should nestle in Westminster, or all those big corporations exploiting tax loopholes. Profit over people. Business as usual (and indeed, Foxtons' shares are drastically up). 

There are a few silver lights. Caroline Lucas as Green MP for Brighton Pavilion – brilliantly articulate and clear-sighted. Stella Creasy remaining in Walthamstow. (I love her. Please can her and Caroline sort out this mess?) A slight increase in female MPs. Nigel Farage losing in South Thanet. But these are counteracted by some pretty terrifying results – not least the number of votes given to UKIP.

In the wake of this, the most natural feeling is one of overwhelming frustration. What can we, as individuals, do – other than run away/ hide under those bedcovers? There are an awful lot of people who are really, really angry right now. We need to harness that – translate it into action, in whatever way is best. The image below (first posted here) is a distillation of what I want to work on myself. As my dad said to me on the phone a few hours ago, “all you can really do in response is be a good person – do your bit, fight injustice, take part in your community.” I want to use all this disappointment and fury productively and proactively; mark it as a moment to galvanize change.