Thursday, 25 February 2016

Silk Slips

Do you know why silk slips are called ‘slips’? The answer is surprisingly obvious, stemming from the ability to literally slip these undergarments on and off with ease. Well, I’ve been slipping in and out of thoughts about all things slinky and silky recently, mainly thanks to writing this rather personal essay for Refinery29 on slips, sexiness, and our changing relationships with clothes (and the bodies beneath them!) over time. The piece sprung from thinking about the fashion industry’s carousel-like obsession with reviving ‘underwear-as-outwear’ every few years – a trend that, as you’ll read there, I hugely took to in my mid-teens. Any very long-term readers may even recall the odd outfit post brimming with lace, pink silk, and vintage thermal vests… See here, herehere and here for a handful of examples.

It was an absolute pleasure to work on that essay, and I’m also pretty bloody thrilled because Refinery29 is a brilliant, smart site full of writing I admire. Side note: I recalled the other day that I actually first made an appearance there several years ago, snapped at LFW in my mermaid skirt with tassels like seaweed. Look how long my hair was!

Also, in a twist of good timing, here are some rather more up-to-date images of me in a series of silk slips that I slunk in and out of whilst shooting Pippa Small’s latest jewellery catalogue. The photos were taken by the wonderful, wonderful photographer Susannah Baker-Smith, who I’ve written about before here. This time it was more of the same: lots of time spent sitting, draped in dazzling jewels, working out the best arrangements of hands, hair and face in each portrait. After a day in slips, it felt almost strange to shrug back on my tights and boots and thick winter coat.

And on that note, I think it’s time to do the reverse and don my ridiculous dusky mauve Italian silk vintage dressing gown, make dinner, pour myself a glass of wine, and retreat into the evening with a good book (like the cliché I am).

It's been a busy time. I recently wrote this for Collectively, looking at where we're at with conversations about diversity, beauty, and the fashion industry - as well as a love letter to my all-time favourite vintage Jaeger dress. Oh, and I forgot to mention that last month I was included on the Metro's top five upcoming social talents. I'm glad that all my procrastinating on Instagram has its uses! (If you like selfies, old Hollywood stars, carefully posed shots of books, and the odd shot of Oxford, you may find something there to enjoy...) 

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Longing for Summer

“Throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads.”

Virginia Woolf wrote this in a love letter to Vita Sackville-West in 1927. Given that it’s Valentine’s Day, it would be easy to focus on the ‘love letter’ aspect – and, if there’s anything that would make ideal solo V-day reading in bed with a cup of coffee, it’s probably their communications. I mean, when better (hmm, or perhaps when worse, depending on circumstance) to think about Vita’s missive where she wrote, “I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that.” To go one step further, one could reach for Orlando - that dazzling, outrageously wonderful book that’s part paean to Vita, part romp through bodies, clothes, centuries, and historical figures. To return to this specific letter though, when I first read it I was struck by their relationship, but perhaps more so by how much I craved an evening like the one described by Woolf (tempestuous affair optional added extra).  

It encompasses so many things I adore: food, stretching evenings, wine, conversation, good company, a sense of potential extending ever further outward. I want those millions and myriads, the delirious freedom of abandoning everything for dinner and tipsy talk.

I think it struck me keenly because recently I’ve been longing for summer. I’ve never experienced it with quite this bittersweet urgency before. Probably because I’d never before had a summer quite like the last one, so sweetly full of hot afternoons, wine at sunset looking over the fields, long swims in the river, skinny-dipping at midnight, 7am walks to the canal with dew still on the grass, sitting in my room in the twilight with the windows open and a record playing, bare legs, warm skin, the satisfaction of having nothing urgent to do. A time full with brilliant people and places.

Lots of hours spent outside reading too. I can still distinctly recall carrying a stool out into the scrappy yard of last year's student house in Oxford, plonking it down among the weeds, and then discovering wild strawberries to eat by the handful while I sat and flicked through my book. Back at my family home among the hills I had one of the best/ most pretentious (you can choose) evenings, involving a stack of poetry books and enough candles and lanterns to let me scrutinize the pages outside in the dark. When it began pouring, I took shelter under our tree house: relishing the sudden smell of sharp, green, rain-damped grass.

In all actuality, the parts I’m describing distill down to a few weeks and events that are easy to string together to assemble a whole. They’re selective snippets: speckles of glitter. It was also a summer of uncertainty, change, and a lot of self-revelation. Easy to gloss in retrospect (isn’t that always the case?) But perhaps I value those memories all the more because they did take place in the context of this strange, brilliant, odd, unsure time. They’re that little bit more luminous for it.

It’s very easy to idealise times and seasons not presently in front of you (something I wrote about a while ago). Especially easy to crave summer when stepping outside the front door currently requires thick tights, gloves, and a bulky coat. Even easier, in the face of looming exams, to sink back into thinking about days that were free to be structured as pleased. But the next one will roll around soon enough, with another set of possibilities and surprises (and I have a feeling that this particular summer is going to be FULL of them). If they involve invitations to “dine on the river”, well, then all the better..

In the meantime though, I have plenty to keep me occupied. I might not be able to float around parks wearing tiny shorts, but I can relish all the thinking, reading, writing, boundary pushing and flickers of new creative projects presently on the go. The last month has (surprise, surprise!) been brimming with Virginia Woolf, dissertation writing, and the odd night of escaping to London to dance. Maybe this time, in its own way, will become another pocket of recollection I’ll look back on fondly. In fact, I’m sure of it.

Talking of next summer – I saw a proof copy of Notes on Being Teenage for the first time the other day! You can see me looking ever-so-gleeful with it here. Lots of the summer is going to be taken up with all sorts of exciting things surrounding that. I can’t wait. 
Photos above were taken in Sweden last year, during our family summer holiday. Everything I’m wearing is second hand. Some more combinations of saunas-and-cold-lakes soon wouldn’t go amiss, either.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Tearing Up the Rule Book

Yesterday I was trawling the ‘fashion’ section of a charity bookshop, snatching a half hour’s gasp of time away from the library - where, obviously, there just weren’t enough books... There were all the usual suspects on the shelves: ghastly/ brilliant 80s beauty manuals, the odd exhibition catalogue, loads of outdated sewing guides full of oversaturated images, one absolute gem from Taschen on the history of lingerie (which I promptly snapped up), and several publications that I’m going to lump together under the genre: ‘clothes-shaming-masquerading-as-self-help.’ You might know the sort. Mostly from the late 90s and early 2000s, they’re something of a peculiar institution – their patron saints in Britain being Trinny and Susannah.

For anyone unaware of this duo, they were mainly known for their TV show called ‘What Not to Wear.’ That says it all, really, doesn’t it? The entire premise was rooted in the idea that women were getting it wrong, and needed guidance to improve: requiring rules about how to hide their upper arm fat or compensate for small boobs. I used to watch it with my mum, and remembered it being relatively innocuous. Having spent some time on Youtube today revisiting their offerings, I was shocked. Not that I should be, really. They were only saying what so many others did (and still do) about female appearance - that it’s something to tame and transform into a state of relative acceptability, and that women are inadequate and thus must make up for it (in their case, usually with a tasteful wrap dress).

As a kid, I just liked the makeover aspect. Woman in a baggy cardigan transformed into slightly prettier woman in a brightly coloured dress with a belt emphasizing her waist! With a make-up artist on hand to complete the metamorphosis! As a society we love a good old ugly duckling to princess narrative. It’s a narrative that has fuelled myriads of TV shows, magazine articles, films, and books. It can be a very compelling one too, no denying it. Sometimes transformations can be truly magical. I think that every time I put on an item of clothing that suddenly makes me feel different: whether it’s a grey, silk dress that makes me want to slink around like a 50s screen siren, or a pair of boots that add extra flair to my step. Age 14, making myself over into someone who wore fancy vintage dresses and silk shirts was super-significant. It helped to shape who I am now.  

What bothers me though is the number of those narratives that are built on a foundation of shame. That’s all I could think about when revisiting ‘What Not to Wear’. Maybe it gave some women positive new ways to approach their wardrobe. If so? Brilliant. But, to me, it reeked of the expectation that we should feel shame about the skin we live in, shame about the ways we present ourselves to the world, shame at being too large, too ugly, too hairy (ugh!), too unwomanly (double ugh!!), too much of this and not enough of that. In one segment, they asked a variety of women “Is there anything you don’t like about your body?” When one answered “no” and walked off, they joked, “she’s lying.” Because, of course, women do not possess the capacity to fully love who they are and how they look…

This isn’t even really about a slightly trashy TV show that had its moment and has now, thankfully, faded into little more than a footnote. It’s about questioning this generally bizarre idea that clothing could ever be something one could get ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, according to an external set of values. Moreover, a set of values partly built on the idea that there should be a fraught relationship between flesh and fabric. The clothes-shaming publishing trend may have dwindled, but there are still plenty of outlets hollering about how we should dress around our bodies, rather than for them (and feel bad about any lumpy bits in the process…) 

I should point out here that of course we have processes of trial and error. Of course we all have - I think? - managed to wear hideous things, and may do so again. Of course we can acknowledge that outside help might be useful in pointing us towards dressing in a way that, ultimately, makes us feel fabulous. Of course we can learn to choose clothes that might flatter our particular body shape, and celebrate others who do so. But all of these judgments should ultimately come from a place of viewing clothes as something exciting and full of potential. NOT from a place of deficiency or disgrace at letting your bingo wings roam free (a phrase which still makes my mind boggle).

Too much of the fashion industry - and, ya know, capitalism in general - is built on making us feel like we’re not enough. As someone who now revels in striding around in gale force winds wearing ankle-length leather coats, the only response I can offer is blunt: fuck that. Avoid those who think that dressing should be an apology, a way of making up for something you lack. Dressing shouldn’t be an apology, but an act of joy. Joy that is yours, and yours alone, to own, in whatever way you see fit.

This post felt like an appropriate illustration because the one thing you can't see in the pictures is the number of people out for a walk throwing bemused stares in my direction  as I balanced on top of a pile of rocks, up a hill, in wind strong enough to nearly knock me over (the things we do for pictures, eh?) Once upon a time that would have fazed me. But now I just find it amusing. I assume I'm providing some kind of entertainment. And I'm certainly dressing entirely, utterly, and only for myself. Everything here is vintage or second hand (apart from the wellies - not shown - which were temporarily removed and kicked to one side). 
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