Friday, 25 March 2016

Getting the Gucci Look (for 30p)

When did ‘get the look’ become such a ubiquitous phrase? The kind that no fash mag worth its salt would be complete without: budget versions of high-end designs presented neatly with price tags alongside. The original? £600. The near-copy? £45. Somehow through the proximity of the two amounts, the latter always looks that much more reasonable (even if actually £45 is a lot for a synthetic shirt with uneven seams).

Of course, much of the high street makes its money from encouraging you to get ‘the look’. Fashion’s whirling, flashing rounds of trends rely on people wanting to emulate a particular item or set of references for six or so months before moving on. One season: everything seventies. Another: flat shoes (seriously? Who thinks of flat shoes as moving ‘in’ and ‘out’ of the zone of popularity? No one. No one whatsoever. Not even fashion editors who write about it). Stretch it further and you get companies like MissGuided and Boohoo, whose success primarily relies on being able to copy whatever Kim K has been seen in very quickly, very cheaply, with just enough design difference to not infringe copyright.

Not all of this is bad, of course (beyond all the obvious stuff about the ethics of production). Why should only those with plentiful bank accounts have access to bang-up-to-date designs, especially if they absolutely love them – rather than feeling impelled towards them because they’re current and hot and all sorts of other words implying fleeting desirability?

It’s also not entirely new. My grandma once told me about paying a seamstress to make a replica of that feted Mondrian dress by YSL. Sadly, it’s one of the few items of hers I haven’t inherited (she gave it to her mother later in life, and it eventually ended up being donated to a costume department of a theatre in the States). I guess the difference was that, back then, you had to make a very active decision on what you wished to emulate – and then do it yourself, or find someone else capable of whipping up your budget dreams.

It can also be great fun. I used to spend a lot of time trying to work out how to do charity shop versions of Christopher Kane and Burberry. I still take pride, on occasion, in whipping up a version of something from the catwalk, usually for less than 20 quid.   

Given all of that, here’s my latest offering: a skirt that, at a glance, could perhaps just pass muster as Gucci. You know the one: the metallic pleats seen on everyone from Alexa Chung to endless fashion bloggers. Its provenance? My childhood dressing up box. Its price? 30p, I believe. My mum originally bought it from a jumble sale. As a kid it became a pleated cloak, a pirate’s skirt, a hoard of gold all of its own. I wore it for serious dressing up duties. It has also figured on this blog once before, worn to temporarily transform me into an autumn queen surrounded by windfall apples.

It was also my mum who pointed out its almost mirror-similarity to Alessandro Michele’s AW15 design. Near-identical. Though mine, admittedly, has a very crudely elasticated waist (literally a piece of elastic tacked to the inside and reinforced with safety pins). Every time I’ve worn it though, I’ve felt wonderful: striding around in all my shiny, swooping brilliance. It’s also garnered a fair few compliments from strangers (that ultimate litmus test of how excellent/ audacious something is). So I guess I have Gucci to thank. Without that gold lame skirt shimmering its way along a runway, I might have left this languishing in the dressing up box for a whole lot longer…

The particular styling here was chosen to replicate Alexa’s look (seen here): complete with a rainbow-patterned jumper and some black shoes, both from charity shops. I should have braved it with bare legs, but my mum took these pictures a few months ago when it was still awfully freezing…

I’ve been rather quiet this month. I had a dissertation to hand in, and various other projects that took up time. However, I’ve been busy scattering words elsewhere. In the last few weeks I’ve had this published on Broadly about the subversive history of women using thread as ink, and this on Collectively celebrating the ace young women making the online world their oyster.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Odd One Out

“You remind me of Alice.”

It was a thoughtful remark coming at the conclusion of a long chat with a wonderful tutor about all sorts of things: spinal surgery, publishing, clothes choices, Virginia Woolf. I still love how Alice is the kind of name that requires little context, no extra words needed to identify who’s being referenced. There’s only the one, wandering (and wondering) her way through a strange land.

I also love how, during this particular conversation, Alice became a sort of shorthand for oddness and inquisitiveness, as well as some pretty rapid shifts in size... I mean, as I take great, great pleasure in telling people I’ve just met, I did once grow 2.5 inches in five-ish hours. Thanks spinal surgery! (Spoiler alert: Alice does actually figure in my book. I’ve long thought about what an apt analogy she is for physical metamorphosis).

Rapid growth and shrinkage aside, I want to pick up on this idea of Alice symbolizing a kind of oddness. Alongside that delicious vision of blue-skirted curiosity (though as any Alice aficionado would point out, such imagery is largely Disney-influenced), she also represents a distinct sense of what, for lack of something more succinct, I’m going to call out-of-place-ness. I’ve been lingering on the idea of place a lot recently: about how we fit in, stand out, take up space, stand apart, feel comfortable in our surroundings, or visibly, uncomfortably stick out.

When I was at secondary school I spent plenty of time feeling like the odd one out. I worried that I was too tall, too interested in learning, too exasperated by the flashing, shrieking carousel of social games and shifts in hierarchy. Curious phrase isn't it? To be ‘odd’ is to automatically be ‘out’ – to stand on the edges of things, looking in. It reminds me of Woolf writing in her diary about those who “secrete an envelope which connects them and protects them from others, like myself, who am outside the envelope, foreign bodies.” Ironically she was talking about clothes – somewhere I’ve (nearly-ish) always felt at home. As I wrote earlier today for World Book Day’s Teenfest though, “in my teens I located the way I liked to dress pretty easily. Building up the attitude to match took longer.” That was where I struggled, torn between my own joy in vintage dresses, versus the ‘oddness’ I might be labeled with for openly wearing what I wanted.

Basically, Alice was the odd one out because she was a girl exploring a land of mad hatters and talking flowers (and, in the follow-up, strangely porous mirrors). I fell oddly outside of the expected rites of passage for teenagers, keen to go my own way – and certainly doing so online, and elsewhere – but still feeling the weight of ‘fitting in’ too. It took several years to let that dissolve, giving me room to acquire proper confidence in my own independence.

Maybe I’m projecting all sorts of things onto Alice that, actually, have little to do with her. Alice is kind of perfect for projection though. I saw the beautiful exhibition in the British Library recently, idling around the gorgeous illustrations and editions before dipping into the manuscripts room to pay homage to Jane Austen and Angela Carter. Alice appears in so many guises and formats and appearances, continually in flux, reinterpreted afresh for each new age.

Alice has featured on this blog before too (see here and here, indeed my blog header is still a cropped image taken from that very 2010 shoot, complete with crochet apron), and I’ve grappled with what she represents several times. At the heart of it all, I remain compelled by the image of a young woman exploring a world so utterly surreal. I find this world of ours surreal (increasingly so, in some ways), but, for now, I’ve found my place within it. These days I think the most important bit of Alice isn’t the oddness, necessarily. Instead it’s the sense of wonder.

Given that it’s World Book Day, I’m making like my primary school self and presenting a rough approximation of me dressed up as a favourite character. No prizes for guessing who! This Alice is self-determined and sprightly, complete with trusty wellies to scale windy hills (and by windy, I really mean ear-biting, hair-whipping, finger-numbing blasts that we worried might make us airborne). The photos were taken over the Christmas holidays by my dad, and the dress was bought for a few pounds from a charity shop years ago. The belt was my grandma’s.  
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