Thursday, 9 November 2017


As a teenager, I owned several wedding dresses. Odd, perhaps, especially given that I had no imminent plans to get married. Yet still they hung there in my wardrobe like a ghosts of brides past: the seventies white shiny nylon affair with a high neck and long sleeves with buttons at the wrist; the fifties gateau monstrosity of lace and tiered, starched skirts that itched like an absolute bitch; the sleeveless sixties shift – textured almost like broderie anglaise – with an inbuilt necklace of zig-zag beads.

On top of all that I had the remnants of my paternal grandma’s actual wedding dress: endless lengths of cream lace repurposed into a number of more practical garments including a maxi-skirt, top, and jacket. They were unfathomably elegant, a plastic-wrapped suggestion of another era. Oh, and then there was the satin one – beginning life as a wedding gown, with a bow at the base of the spine and a panel of lace just above the chest – that my mum had dyed (disastrously) pink when she was in her twenties, splotching the fabric in rose and scarlet. It was immediately demoted to my childhood dressing up box, rediscovered with glee as a teen.

All of these garments - some frothy, some silly, some almost chic - made their way onto my blog, often repurposed to more fantastical ends. They were made gothic, ethereal, the stuff of fairytales. For of course, that was the reason I owned them. To me they had no more value or charge than anything else in my vast dressing up box. Each had floated in from charity shops and vintage markets (or were passed down through family), often because they were brilliantly silly or beautiful or suggestive of a good story. Each was a tool: a way of approaching clothes as a costume to shrug on and off, a means of inhabiting and subverting narratives, associations, and various, outlandish characters.

What I obviously recognised then was the particular intrigue that still lingers in a wedding dresses. From teens onwards, women tend to be asked whether they’ve ever considered what their wedding dress might look like, as though we’ve all already marked marriage as a set goal in the future. (FYI mine though, if I do ever find the right woman or man, would probably have to be something thirties and bias cut. That, or a jumpsuit. Or even just a suit. Wouldn’t that be great?!) It’s garment as ritual. Dress up in (one of) its most deified forms. An item of clothing that’s also become a battleground for discussions of sex, gender, equality, expectation, the ways we demarcate adulthood.

No wonder literature is scattered with them – often in deliberately strange or eerie contexts. From Melanie in Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop sneaking out of the house in her mother’s wedding attire and coming to harm when she attempts to scale the apple tree (some none too subtle symbolism there) to the infamous Miss Havisham in her decaying splendor, there are plenty of women in white dresses wandering through books. More recently, I read Stephen Benatar’s Wish Her Safe at Home, where a wedding dress becomes a visible, uncomfortable signal of the protagonist’s declining grip on what’s socially acceptable – and, more fundamentally, what’s real.

I ended up reading the latter a few weeks ago while waiting for Artemis Szekir-Regis in the Hill Garden and Pergola on the edge of Hampstead Heath. The light was low, with everything washed gold. It’s a magic space there, like stepping back into some glorious, vine-woven Italian folly from the early twentieth century. When Artemis arrived, she pulled out her camera and a seventies wedding dress from her backpack: a glorious garment that looked the perfect cross-pollination between Kate Bush and the Pre-Raphaelites. I realized it was the first time I’d dressed up in a wedding dress for years. The same thrill was still there, as there always is with any kind of dramatic garment: that chance to inhabit another self for as long as the light lasts, flitting down the walkways in diaphanous white.

Thanks to Artemis for taking such GORGEOUS photos. It was such a wonderful hour of running around catching the last of that soul-lifting sunshine. 


Saturday, 23 September 2017

Lost Rivers and Pink Roses

London is full of underground rivers. I’ve known this since I was a child: one of those scraps of information you store away at the back of your head, no reason to dwell on anything more than the fact of their existence. I think I’ve always considered this fact vaguely beguiling. There’s something seductive in the image: water wending its way under the streets and along the edges of graveyards, relentlessly committed to moving on by any means necessary (even if plenty of these subterranean avenues have now been reduced to the status of sewage works and storm drainage).

It was only this week though that I found out one of my favourite places in the whole wide world – Hampstead Heath Ladies’ Pond – had a direct connection with the most famous of these underground rivers: the Fleet. I discovered this while doing research for some poems I’d been writing. The poems were for a dinner. Held by Burberry and hosted by my ever-forceful friends Greta and Rob, the theme of the evening was ‘lost rivers’: especially appropriate for an independent publishing house called the New River Press. When I’d found out this theme, ever the studious student I’d gone and read up extensively on this network of waterways veined beneath the pavements. I read about the Fleet and the Effra and the Tyburn, Hackney Brook and Carbuncle Ditch (what a name!) and more. I looked at U.A. Fanthorpe’s wonderful poem Rising Damp. I thought about what an absolute bloody dream of a topic it is to write on. 

The Fleet held a particular thrall though, given that a section of it was dammed off in the 18th Century to form a series of reservoirs on the Heath. Now they’re a selection of ponds, including the one I dashed away to whenever I could this summer to swim past the ducks and reeds and canopied trees. There I felt sturdy and capable and intoxicatingly alive. Last Sunday I returned to the Ladies’ pond with my flatmate, having not been there in several weeks, both of us gasping at the new shock of cold. There were orange leaves floating on the surface, and that perfect, coppery light you get on late afternoons in autumn. We left with our fingers numb and skin tingling, exhilarated at our chilly plunge.

The Fleet’s trajectory takes it all the way from this point high above the skyline all the way down to Clerkenwell, where the dinner was held on Thursday in the Old Sessions House (as a side note: the photography exhibition currently being put on by Burberry there is an excellent place to lose yourself in for half an hour). It was an apt passage to map, especially when sitting at a table decked with roses and oysters, imagining the force of the river that once tumbled just across the street from our wine glasses and poetry printouts – or in my case, my phone, given that, as per usual I left things a tad too late and had to email everything to myself whilst also simultaneously putting on lipstick, searching for my housekeys, staring out at the grim veil of drizzle, and trying to work out whether my heels were just too ridiculously vertiginous or just about doable for an evening.

In the end I wore the heels, plumped for a plum blazer, and read my poem about the Fleet (reproduced beneath), and heard good words from plenty of other brilliant people including James Massiah and Lisa Luxx. There were poems about rain, about bodies, about getting lost, about tomorrow’s women, about water in its many forms. We ate and drank and chatted and listened. And when I left, I realized I’m not quite done with those hidden rivers yet. There’s plenty left to explore there. In fact, this feels something like the burgeoning of a quiet obsession. 

Everything I wore was second hand, other than the little pink lacy body (from M&S) and the necklaces, which are by my perennial favourite Pippa Small. I now have an actual rainbow of velvet blazers, and have had to ban myself from buying any more. The photos are by the delightful and very talented James D Kelly, who told me that the rose I’d stuck behind one ear needed to be taken home and kept forever (you can tell how much I loved it given the gratuitous number of portraits I chose to post here). It’s currently sitting on the dining room table in a little vase of water, looking ever so elegant. Thank you ever so much for Burberry, and to Rob and Greta, as ever. 

Oh, and in other exciting poetry news: did I mention that one of my poems from my collection Branch and Vein was highly commended in the Forward Prizes this year?! I'm still giddy about it. The poem is included in Faber's Forward Book of Poetry 2018. And while I'm busy working on a whole tranche of new material that hopefully I'll get to share at some point, here's my fleet-themed poem from the dinner...


Thursday, 7 September 2017

Seeing Double

I love a good sleeve. Give me an excess of fabric, a good shirt cuff, a poofy shoulder, a translucent chiffon, or a set of exuberantly ridiculous ruffles that have the air of a budget Kate Bush about them, and I’m as happy as a young woman who’s probably going to end up trailing her sleeves in her dinner can be.

There’s something continually exhilarating about being able to flail around one’s limbs with extra flair, knowing that shoulders, elbows and/ or wrists are more embellished than strictly necessary. It’s silly. It’s fun. And it’s just the right amount of melodramatic (Lorde’s Melodrama obviously being the most appropriate source of outfit cues at the moment. In fact, there’s actually some very good sleeve action in the video for Perfect Places).  

This particular green dress has some of the best sleeves I’ve ever seen. A veritable wedding cake of a design: all tiered and delectable and liable to garner appreciative comments from everyone in the vicinity. Sleeves so good that it merited being bought not once, but twice.

See, here’s the magic of the internet. A swirly patterned dress from the 1970s already owned in a size 8 (technically much too small for me, but just about possible to squeeze into if it’s done up with a safety pin) – one already featured on this blog – is found again, but slightly bigger. My mum’s ever keen eyes keeping track of the latest treasures posted on eBay, she buys it, hangs it on my bedroom door at home when it’s delivered, and waits for me to notice when I’ve returned for a visit.

The screech of excitement was almost as loud as the time I had my first book deal confirmed.

And here’s the magic of having a more petite best friend (my brilliant pal Holly: aka the illustrator of my blog header) who likewise revels in sleeves and over the top stylings and the chance to look like creepy woodland twins given half a chance; the conjuring trick of doubling up on swirls and full skirts - and metallic CAT boots too, because we really are that nauseating - not quite mirror images but, at the very least, eerie half-reflections when standing in proximity with one another.

Here’s the importance of stressing that we should see more body shapes side by side, because we all inhabit skin and space and cloth differently. Here’s everything I love about dressing up, especially when it’s fabulous and silly and creative and involves a ridiculous pair of girls on a summer’s afternoon haunting the trees in our green, green sleeves.


Friday, 28 July 2017

In Praise of the Seventies

What’s your decade? If you’ve got even a passing interest in vintage, you’ll probably be able to answer: reeling off the eras and cuts and types of look that you love best. For some it’s the fifties, all little sweaters, pencil skirts and big, poofy, pretty tea-dresses. For others it’s the eighties, with shoulder pads and sequins aplenty. My immediate answer used to be sixties. I adored everything about that decade: the tiny tunics, the very mini mini-skirts, the pictures of Twiggy jumping around looking lithe and leggy. I sought out anything that looked vaguely Biba-esque, dreaming about kohl-rimmed eyes and A-line dresses and swing coats.

Then, things changed. Well, my body changed. I got hips. And I skipped forward another ten years, suddenly realizing that the seventies held better-suited treasures. There I’d find the shapes that suddenly worked anew: those glorious high-necked, ankle-skimming maxi-dresses; the big sleeved gowns, the suede jackets (you can never have too many suede jackets), the platform heels. It was a gradual shift: one I only noticed as I perused the rails of vintage shops, gravitating towards colours and patterns I would have previously overlooked. Oh sure, it had been a decade I’d dabbled in before (these blog archives can attest to that), but it quickly became a more all-consuming interest. Now, at least a quarter of my wardrobe is made up of bright seventies maxis, their hems all crushed together. There they are, in zinging green and tangerine and cream cotton flecked with terracotta coloured flowers. Some plunge down to cleavage, while others are cut high on the neck: letting shoulders roam free. All hit that sweet spot between glam and ethereal, with the added bonus of allowing one to float around like a very practical goddess with things to do and places to be. (Side note: the lines between late sixties/ early seventies are not always easy to delineate. I guess I'm going more on popular preconceptions of each decade rather than the year-to-year changes in design). 

Of course, the other decades still have their place. Come winter, I’m hardly ever out of my sixties style polo-necks and miniskirts, complete with thick black tights and big Chelsea boots. The fifties still linger around the edges of my wardrobe in the odd cocktail dress and embroidered blouse. I find myself lusting after the forties whenever I see photos of jaunty looking women in sturdy trousers and good shirts. And the thirties is another fresh discovery: all those glorious bias cuts to indulge in (admittedly achieved via buying second hand Ghost and Whistles slip-style gowns, rather than the now very pricy originals). But it’s good to acknowledge – and not feel aggrieved - that there were various vintage items that looked brilliant on me when I was fourteen, and just wouldn’t now I’m twenty-two. Besides, the vice versa is true too. A dress like the one worn here, with its bright splashes of yellow and orange, might still have been ace during my adolescence. But I don't think I could have pulled it off in the same way. The physical differences, as well as that whole thing of growing up and accumulating confidence with each passing year, makes it a better fit now.

I’m fascinated by this process of evolution in personal style: the way taste can shift and revise itself over time. Marking it out in vintage shapes is an easy way to summarize a lot of much more subtle changes - ones which bear further examination another time... For now though, I’m just reveling in the potential of the seventies, especially when mixed up with other, newer things: a second hand blue velvet blazer and wellies, for example. Especially for a walk in the woods on a damp, grey, fresh-smelling afternoon. Especially when the dress clashes with the bushes of flowers on all sides. 

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

The Next Few Chapters

Sometimes I think of this blog like a creature: one that hibernates on whim, or lies dormant for a while, only to spring back into life. In the past, it had to be fed regularly, and given a good runaround at least once a week. But this last year there’s been a kind of relief in giving up on the pretense of continual tending. I let things lapse, temporarily abandoned for months here and there. My last post was in March. And now it's July. How time flutters on!

I’m really rather glad for it though. This last year, I’ve had some breathing room. I finally acknowledged that after finishing university and launching a book, I was fired up for the future, but also really fucking tired. I needed to carve out a little more space to live: to know that work is important (and I am still very bad at fully switching off from the whirring pace of article pitches and book synopses and ambition and multiple projects), but so is walking and dancing and sleep and travel and picnics in the park and new people and kisses and long conversations over wine with brilliant friends and swimming and watching Sally Potter’s Orlando on repeat because it’s practically perfect in every way and the luxurious pleasure of lying by oneself in bed on a Saturday morning with a book and not moving other than to make more coffee before curling up under the duvet again.

Between these points of relish, and that strange business of suddenly being an adult with a multi-hyphenate freelance career, the blog was the thing that had to give – for a little while, anyway. I had to not run myself into the ground. And prioritise being paid for my writing. Writing that's included everything from discussing Frida Kahlo’s wardrobe choices for Dazed to talking about my adolescent experiences modeling for Buzzfeed to this piece for Broadly on the deadly history of clothes that could kill you (as a side note: editors! Commission me! I write good things about clothes and culture and bodies and travel and lots else. See this page for more info). And I’ve done other things too. Poetry readings aplenty – the latest alongside the magnificent Charly Cox. I’ve hosted panels about poetry at Waterstones, been an extra in a music video, travelled to some extraordinary places (keep an eye out on the next issue of SUITCASE magazine for details of my adventures in Japan and Prague), and put quite a bit of legwork into a website that will be launching later this year.

I’ve also done lots of my own writing offline. Some of that should be making its way into various, very exciting, imminent projects. Other endeavours didn't go where I wanted them to, but were still necessary paths along the way to better things. There’s been a pleasure I’ve really discovered in this slow-burn process: in not doing everything for instant gratification (I’ve got Instagram for that!), in letting things take the days, and weeks, and months they need.  

I missed this though: this little blog. Between the relief of letting myself off the hook for not doing 103 things at once all the time every day never stopping, there was the odd, sharp pang. This platform has been such a significant part of my life. One that has helped shape it in innumerable ways. It’s always been my corner of the internet, where I can do, think, dress, and write as I want. Besides, what else would give me the motivation to put on ridiculous outfits and dance around the countryside just because I could? Being able to dress up and pose for photos for the last eight years has been joyous. More than joyous. Exhilarating. Here I started learning how to fashion myself, to appreciate the transformative qualities of clothes and the stories we tell about ourselves in fabric - and to find a community who felt similarly.

Much of that community has migrated elsewhere now, but that’s ok. We all move on, as we should. Many of us were teenage girls doing this blogging thing in our spare time. Some have stuck with it. Some have gone on to make that a full-time career. Others let it fade, replaced by other types of creative endeavor. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle. This is probably always going to be a passion project. But it’s one I want to to continue doing. Maybe not regularly. Maybe not with big, sprawling articles any more (could be just a paragraph, could be a 1000 words. Who knows?!) But it’ll be here. I have an absolute stack of shoots lined up. There are bluebells and beautiful old caravans and bright pink sprays of flowers and sweeping, seventies dresses. I can’t wait to post them.

In the meantime, I’ve spruced things up around here, having said I needed to do so for MONTHS. The new header is by my incredibly talented pal - and imminent flatmate - Holly Gorne. She’s a gem of a friend, and a damn fine artist too. You can see her Etsy shop here. I love this image. It captures nearly everything I adore, including impractical silk slips (talking of which: head over to Vestoj’s Instagram for an in-depth look at that particular shiny number).

There’s a name change too. Welcome to I continue to love clothes, cameras, AND coffee, but, well, this is a portfolio for all my other work too – alongside the images of me tottering through fields in high heels. It was time for this corner of the internet to reflect that. Welcome to the next few chapters. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go.

These images were taken by Holly while we were running around a field (could have been wheat, we weren't quite sure..) the other week. They seemed like a good indicator of the fun I've been getting up to: plenty of loafing around in tartan trousers included.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

The Power Of Dressing Up

This weekend I wore more sequins than I’ve done in months. From a glittering turquoise playsuit that made me look like a (rather leggy) mermaid to a sequined gold and black bra with teeny-tiny shiny hot-pants to match, through to this Marilyn-esque sparkling number with a slit up one side definitely verging on the obscene, it was 48 hours of spangled mayhem. Around me were eight other brilliant women, all similarly attired. Where were we: some fancy party? A club?

Nope. Just a pretty little house on the Welsh coast with austere portraits of old women in the living room, shelves full of books with faded spines, and driftwood sculptures everywhere. This house backed onto the beach. A quick hop over the wall and we were standing on pebbles. Both days as the sun set, the skies were soaked with pink and orange - our very own, live Turner painting. All of us had made our way there from various parts of the country, ready to celebrate our friend Flo’s birthday - to dance, cook, read, play scrabble, drink gin in the sunshine, and, most importantly, to dress up.

Oh, the dressing up! Alongside all those sequins there were wigs, hats, lashings of eyeliner, boob tubes, and enough faux fur to start a small fake animal convention. And with each costume change, I felt slightly altered too. I lounged around in my long gown. I danced energetically in grey palazzo pants and a silver space-age bikini top. Many of the items we’d brought with us migrated between various people over the course of the two nights. It was fascinating: seeing how different the same dress could look on three different figures, accompanied by three different attitudes. No, more than fascinating. Freeing.

In fact, being in the company of a bunch of women who were equally dynamic and interesting, each of us with our own, particular strengths, abilities, and body shapes, was fucking fantastic. A tonic. A delight. A state of affairs good for both body and soul. Well, maybe more for soul. My liver wasn’t very happy with me come Saturday morning… When we all left again on Sunday though I felt lighter on my toes: fizzing at having being surrounded by great people with a similar love for the ridiculous and the decadent (and the ability to cook a bloody good curry, too).

I’ve been thinking these last few days (ok, that’s a lie, for the last few months, really. No, scrap that too. For the last few years) about the pure, raucous pleasure found in dressing up. We do it so naturally as children, transforming ourselves into witches, pirates, royals and orphans with no more than a quick costume change and a healthy dose of imagination. At that age, every garment is full of stretching possibility.

As we grow up these transformations still exist, but they’re often subtler: varied facets of ourselves developed (and clad) as we switch between work, friends, partying, dating, long walks, late nights, holidays, festivals, bedrooms. Often these categories come with their own, slightly tweaked sartorial characters – our ‘work’ selves existing independent from our ‘breezy summer weekend’ or ‘dressed to kill and ready for cocktails’ or ‘suit-clad for a poetry reading’ selves (ok, those three are just me). All are different ways of manipulating image, and playing around with how others perceive us.

But I’ll forever and always remain a fan of out and out dressing up: of raiding wardrobes/ boxes/ rails/ shelves/ vanity cases/ wherever else you keep your finery, and shimmying on something fabulous just because you can. Because it’s fun. Because we could all do with a few more of those genuine flashes of joy that come with having on the silliest and most wonderful of get-ups.

See, dressing up is a powerful force – one that can be radical and limitless, as well as just being an opportunity for some silly fun. It can be political. It can be full of pleasure. Whether it’s a weekend in sequins; a session of running rampant in the wardrobe with a good friend; assembling a seventies-inspired outfit for a blog post complete with a new maxi-dress and some tumbling hills behind; or an evening spent in your room just by yourself, dancing around in your underwear to the loudest possible music while trying on combination after combination of clothes – well, the potential is endless.

I bought this dress from the Beyond Retro in Brighton last month. I saw it on a hanger, didn’t try it on, then ended up dashing back the next day just before my train because it was playing on my mind so! The suede coat is from a car-boot sale, and the heeled boots are vintage. Now that the weather’s a bit better, I’ve been really getting back into the fun of dressing up for the blog too.

On a separate note, a quick reminder that I’m appearing alongside my incredibly well-dressed mum at Oxford Literary Festival this Saturday at 2pm to talk books, mothers and daughters, and whether writing runs in the family. If you're a concession, you can use the code StHilChil as well. Hope to see some of you there! 


Monday, 20 March 2017

These Shoes Were Made for Walking

Recently, my favourite pair of boots fell apart. I have only myself to blame. Having bought them second hand, I lived in them for months – occasionally substituting in other pairs, but mainly assuming these black leather beauties would see me all the way through autumn and winter and back into the sunshine. They were tough boots, solid boots, boots easily relied on for supporting a good stomp. And stomp I did. I stomped and stomped – up hills, along rivers, weaving time and again across London - until the leather cracked beyond repair and suddenly my toes were on show (there’s nothing quite like a green sock poking out the end of a thick-soled boot to make you feel like you’re an impoverished orphan in a bad TV adaptation of a Dickens novel).

See, once upon a time these boots would have been all stiff and shiny: waiting in a shop for the right foot to mold to. They wouldn’t have had creases in the surface like laughter lines, or slightly fraying elastic on the right ankle. But by the time I got them, they’d already been gently broken in. I then wore them until they were a pliable second skin. They were perfect. Not the showiest of footwear, but understated and stoic enough to allow me to bound around on foot all day without feeling impeded. They offered an ease, a certain flexibility, the luxury of not having to feel slowed down in any way. I’m sad to see them go.

See, much as I’m happy to change my style of dress radically day to day – from androgynous shirts and tartan trousers to floaty seventies style nymph and back again - I’m not such a shape-shifter when it comes to shoes. In an ideal world I’d have one of those disgustingly aspirational closets you see in old rom-coms, with a whole wall just for footwear. There’d be every colour, every style. I’d have loafers and thigh high heels (still on my dream to-buy list) and more beautiful flats than I knew what to do with. There’d be Derbies and Oxfords and platforms and wedges and sandals and even, maybe, just maybe, some trainers I actually enjoyed wearing (stranger things have happened). Leather, velvet, suede, plastic, canvas – I’d own it all.  

But in this world, I daily rotate between the same, few trusty pairs of boots and brogues - the clincher being that I have to know I wouldn’t find them frustrating if I wanted to spontaneously walk for several miles. It’s the one item of clothing where comfort trounces everything. Of course I own my fair share of silly, wonderful flats, and pretty heels that allow me to tower above everyone’s heads, but they only really come out for shoots (or end up being hastily changed into just outside a venue). If it’s for anything other than looking glam for a short amount of time though, then it’s pragmatism or bust. Give me a pair of shoes I can’t pound a pavement in at high speed, and I end up miserable.   

In fact, I was keenly reminded of this last week when I made the mistake of wearing a new pair of men’s brogues for a two-day London trip. Gorgeous? Yes. Making me feel just the right, suave amount of Katharine Hepburn/ Marlene Dietrich/ Vita Sackville-West if she’d ever worn brogues and a short silver slip? (I mean, unlikely, I know). Of course. A wise choice for an afternoon wandering from Euston all the way to Bermondsey, with plenty of pit-stops along the way? Oh god no. I’m not being melodramatic when I say that first thing the next morning I had to limp my way to Oxford Street to find something – anything – that would leave my toes less lacerated.

All of that aside though, I still adore footwear that verges on the decadent and the downright ridiculous: these pink bowed confections being a case in point. They actually tick most of my criteria anyway, being surprising sturdy and comfortable, despite looking like they’re made from candy-floss, prom dress off-cuts, and a five year old’s sketch of what a shoe should look like. And though I might not be able to stomp in them with the same force as some battered old leather boots, at the very least, they suit larking around a hill-top with some wild ponies for company.

My lovely photographer friend Dvora gave me these shoes last summer. They were originally from ASOS. Everything else is second-hand: this frothy shirt being vintage Liberty. And I realized it’s rather appropriate that I’m clutching some Plath books as props here (as you do), given that tomorrow evening I’m chairing an event at Waterstones Gower Street with Greta Bellamacina, Sabrina Mahfouz, Deanna Rodger, and Hollie Mcnish. We’ll be talking poetry, politics, gender, and plenty else. Come along!
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