Sunday 16 August 2015


Audrey Hepburn once said that you can always tell what kind of person a man really thinks you are by the earrings he gives you.  Unfortunately, as the majority of us are wooed by knuckle dragging Neanderthals who are more likely to give us pots and pans, we are going to have to widen the baseline.  Looking back at the presents we have received over the years can bring happy/fond memories, or alternately it can lead to several pages of a lengthy and acrimonious divorce Petition - depending on how much blood/cash you are going for. 

However, before grilling the beast you share your bed with about why he bought you a French maid's outfit and a tickle stick, or indeed a drill hammer and a set of spanners for the car, think for a moment about the image YOU are projecting. Most people, even demonic exes, try to buy presents they think the recipients will like/love.  If you get a hoover with matching accessories and an extended duster, you have only yourself to blame.  Ditto, if you are ever daft enough to say out loud you find frogs/poirot clowns/fluffy toys or anything pink, cute.  If you ever become a hoarder, you will have a dedicated room full of it. On the whole, men tend to escape a lifetime of gift themes, unless of course, they are 'Great' golfers/drivers/amateur cooks, in which case they will have an assortment of golf/driving accessories and a kitchen drawer full of saucy aprons. 

As most of us are innately altruistic (and some us of still filled with Catholic guilt), we put need and necessity above desire and frivolity and we put the pleasure of others before our own.  We can't help ourselves, and there is nothing wrong with that, but a happy mum/dad equals a happy child and nothing lights up the heart quite like diamonds or a new hat. Figuratively speaking of course, although these days, diamonds and likenesses thereof are cheap and abundant on every High Street.  Men, great thinkers especially, spend so many hours wondering why they are not getting laid, truth is, they are simply not buying the right presents. 

That our loved ones, family and friends have  categorized and slotted us into the 'gift demographic', appropriate to our age/sex/ orientation, is bad enough (our own fault), 'society' has the more mature among us knitting wheat for breakfast cereals and pondering between a mahogany veneer or cardboard for our coffins. Whilst simultaneously of course, we are cowering in fear that a salesman might call.  Begone you fat, fifty and stairlift ads, send me fabulous ads instead!
When it comes to our fashion choices, we are all a product of the environment we were raised in and the parents who raised us.  In my case, Scottish/Irish and delightfully bonkers but with an unhealthy dose of guilt ridden Catholicism from my years incarcerated in a convent. Bright green hipster bellbottoms apparently, set you on the road to hell.  So too false eyelashes, mini skirts, halter neck tops etc, all tools of the devil designed to get us treated like tarts, raped and/or murdered and dismembered.  And all of which we will have brought onto ourselves for dressing like a hussy.  Mutton dressed as lamb especially.  

Also, many of us foolishly believe that if we wear sensible brogues with a no nonsense hairdo, the world will give us the respect and admiration we deserve for our brains and hard work.  Sadly, life doesn't work that way, whilst standing on an orange box in Hyde Park with Doritos in your mangled hair quoting Shakespeare might draw a large crowd, it will be for all the wrong reasons. 

I can't entirely blame my dramatic incarceration for my own need to dress modestly and sensibly and in accordance with the times (and my age). The cast of Dallas, Audrey Hepburn and Dawn French must shoulder some of the blame.  Dallas for my office attire and Dawn French for showing large ladies too can look fabulous.  And Audrey Hepburn, of course, who's beauty was top to toe, because it came directly from her heart.  I wanted to look like a laydee, a sort of tousled Maggie Thatcher/Hippy Chick.  My fashion sense was as confused as my head. 
I can't even blame all the disapproving matrons I have worked and socialised with.  It wasn't their fault I took their cruel, remarks to heart. I chose their judgement over mine and lost 20+ years of playing dressing up! It was my favourite game when I was 5 and its my favourite game still!  And when I ask all my female friends and acquaintances (of any age) they usually confess it's their favourite game too!  The men I am working on!  Sadly, most straight men live in terror that a splash of colour will declare to the world they are gay and they haven't got the time or patience to try things on, let alone mix and match. Sadly, they don't want to get dressed up, so much as get naked.   
Until those shy heterosexual men come out of their own Neanderthal rules closet and confess they thoroughly enjoy getting dressed up like a dog's dinner, I recommend a hat for every occasion, a snazzy (beautifully textured) blazer, an exotic waistcoat, and of course, a dickie bow.  Trousers are a given (do behave those who think Unbound has dominatrix connotations), but remember, Rupert the Bear ones suit no-one but Rupert. 
 Though I tried to aspire to dress like my fashion icons, my own 'look' was always the modest, toned down, and it has to be said, rather distorted versions of their attire. I was aiming to look classy but not draw attention to myself, I wore a lot of black and 50 shades of unflattering grey and beige.  The fat, manic depression years especially, when the overall look I was trying to achieve was invisibility.  Consciously, or subconsciously I wanted to disappear. I didn't want to bother the world, and I didn't want the world to bother me. I waited for the sun to go down before tiptoing to the local shops dressed like secret squirrel in sunglasses and a camouflage tent. My miserable face ready to scowl at small children and friendly faces along the way. 

In 2010, I had lost my feisty Mother and my lifelong best friend Big Lynn.  Big Lynn was a 6ft 1inch gor blimey cockney, who found a laugh in EVERY situation, bar none, and her laughter could raise the roof.  We met when we were 15 when we started our first jobs together, and from then onwards, even until our 50's, whenever we got together, we were 15 again, giggling like school girls and showing off our new togs.  For me, Big Lynn (and my mum) were the only other women on the planet who understood the sheer joy of putting together an outfit with sparkly accessories. Having lost both of them, I completely lost interest in my clothes and the way I looked.  In the list of catastrophes that was my life, what I wore was way down at the bottom, underneath get the dog's nails clipped.  
I entered my fifties, in a deep, dark (terminal) depression, in my head my life was over.  I believed I should step back and leave centre stage to the young 'uns.  I was thankful that I had once been pretty, but I had to accept that I was now the shabby, smelly cat singing Memory, and telling anyone who would listen about my days in the sun.

Becoming invisible is a strange, yet enlightening experience, it enables you to look at the world from an entirely different perspective.  It isn't a pleasant experience, because when you become invisible, you can see how shallow people really are.  How quick they are to dismiss you because they see you as worthless as you see yourself.  But there are always random acts of kindness too, often from total strangers, enough to save you from losing faith in humanity entirely. 

I had accepted that having my gall bladder removed mean't a lifetime of being fat and unhealthy. I was unaware then that I, and I alone, had control over my health and mental well being.  And that realisation, that epiphany (I have lots of them) changed my life so dramatically that I rushed out a book about it.  If I could lose weight and start to live again, anyone could.  My book 'The Reluctant Dieter', is a (healthy) fast track in which to change your way of thinking about food/life and the depression that cripples us and it is now being recommended by GPs.

But I want to stick with fashion and preening. It is a wonderful, amazing part of what it is to be human, one that cossets and comforts us, and one that can give us confidence beyond our wildest dreams. Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. It is impossible to feel down in the dumps when you look like a million dollars.  Not only do you look at the world differently, the world looks at you differently in return. 

You must create the person you want to be, then let your imagination run wild. You don't even have to be original, you can help yourself to large dollops of traits in others you admire, most people accept imitation as a huge compliment. You cannot steal whatever it is that makes another person unique, anymore than they can steal it from you.

 Since the 1960's, I have always longed to draw a sweeping black line across my top eye lids, a la Cleopatra and Elvira from Bewitched. As a child and an incarcerated teen, I missed the boat on that one. But my desire for that sweeping eyelash, startled/stern flick at the corner look and huge chandelier earrings never truly went away.  In fact on my bucket list, is get a lesson in makeup from a Drag Queen. My stunningly beautiful friends and indeed my stunningly beautiful mother, always steered me away from the gawdy. When I told her I had gone blonde, she said 'wot like Lily Savage' - those 4 words pretty much told me how much faith she had in my sense of style and given that my fashion idols are drag queens, she may/or may not have had a point.   

For most of my life I have dressed according to society's codes and conventions, the right outfit for the right time and the right place, whilst secretly admiring those who dared to be different.  The guys with the hand crafted bow ties (never elastic, eeek), the gals with the butterfly eyelashes and the cruella nails.  The people who dare to sparkle. 

The only times most of us truly experiment with fashion is in our rebellious teens, and/or, if we are lucky, in our twilight years when we realise all those dire, fatalistic warnings about making a show of ourselves and bunions, matter not a jot.  During the years in between we dress as daughters, girlfriends, wives, mums, office/retail workers, or worse, we wear a uniform. Society expects, neh demands that we suppress our inner desire to look like Liz Taylor or Marilyn Manson, quite rightly some might say.  Turn up at the school gates in diamonds/ full rock concert/nightclub mode and your child will need therapy for decades. Even I, as a small child remember begging my mother to 'at least try' to appear normal in front of my friends and indeed my own kids begging the same of me.  They are billing me for it. lol.

When we look back over our lives, the good times and the bad, we might struggle to recall the details, but we always remember what we wore. When a good friend of mine was eye witness to a bank robbery, she was wearing a cute little jumpsuit with kitten heels and a fabulous new lipstick from Clinique but she couldn't remember that the robber was carrying a gun and wearing a Groucho Marx mask. 
With fashion there are no rules, only those we impose on ourselves.  When I had my recent epiphany, my eyes were opened, at least half the people around me were wearing exactly what they wanted!  It was a bit of a 'Doh!' moment. I was part of the (way too large)sensible Nana group with my practical grey jacket, comfortable walking boots and single string of pearls.  I had a wardrobe full of fabulous things saved for right occasions that never came along and smart office suits that I no longer needed.  Getting dolled up had become a chore.  I had linked it to years of mind numbing office work and rushing to catch trains. I had forgotten how much fun it was nipping down to Petticoat Lane or Oxford Street in the lunch hour with my pals or the girly giggles in the ladies as we got ready for the pub. 

But worse still, I had designated times in my life when it was OK to be fabulous, but as I got older those occasions were fewer and further apart.  Almost everything I possessed was too good for everyday wear. My dressing up clothes were locked away and I had put the padlocks on myself.

It took me until my late 50's to realise that you don't actually need a reason to look fabulous, we don't have to wait for someone to get married so we can wear the jaunty pink hat we bought in Oxfam or for someone to die so we can wear the pillbox with black lace veil. 

Sadly, very few occasions in life demand the wearing of a feather boa, false eyelashes and killer heels, and even less, strictly speaking, require us to wear our Sunday best.  Trackie bottoms say we are far too busy thinking intellectual thoughts and sacrificing our lives for others, it says we have eschewed fashion and frivolity because we are too busy working.  And of course, guilt trip, 'What kind of fecked up, narcissistic bitch spends 20 minutes doing her nails when she's got kids?' 

Tis true, kids and spending 3 hours experimenting with makeup are not natural bedfellows, but the wild hoots of laughter can curb your wilder excesses and their little eagle eyes are great at finding dropped eyelashes, nails and contact lenses. If you are lucky enough to have little girls, they will probably say 'add more sparkle', little boys, if you have not throttled them, will be rolling around the floor giggling and jumping out of your clip round the earlug radius.  The moral being, don't ever take fashion advice from 'orrible little boys or their bigger counterparts.

Next week I am going to the party of a little friend who is going to be 6 and I am probably just as excited about my party dress as she is about hers.  Six year old girls understand the joys of dressing up - the brighter and more flamboyant the better. They don't see age, weight, colour or even eccentricity, they just see fabulous.  Now, where did I put my boa.     

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