Women In Clothes

My answers from the Women In Clothes survey, which I completed last year. The survey is a fascinating insight into the way women relate to their bodies and their clothes. You can read other women’s answers here.

When do you feel at your most attractive?

After a long bath, when I’m squeaky clean and my hair is freshly cut. When I smell good and my clothes fit like a dream.

Do you notice women on the street? If so, what sort of women do you tend to notice or admire?

I notice other women on the street a lot. Most often, I notice elegant women who seem confident and at ease, even if they’re wearing something I wouldn’t choose myself. Sometimes I notice the way a woman’s worn something and try to remember it so I can emulate them: the way they’ve rolled their sleeves or tied their scarf, or an unusual colour combination.

What are some things you admire about how other women present themselves?

I enviously admire women who are perennially groomed. Always manicured, blow-dried, and buffed – how do they do it?

What are some dressing rules you wouldn’t necessarily recommend to others, but which you follow?

If I were to set myself rules – and I wouldn’t dream of recommending them to others – they would include:

– Take care of your shoes.
– Pay attention to texture.
– Puff sleeves are not your friends. See also: frills, gathered waistbands, and beige – it makes you look like you’re dying.
– Comfort is everything.
– If in doubt, think 1960s, 1960s, 1960s…

lauren-bacalls-style-to-have-and-have-not-3

Lauren Bacall in To Have And Have Not (1944)

Are there any clothing (or related) items that you have in multiple? Why do you think you keep buying this thing?

It’s a bit of a boring cliché, but I have four black dresses and I’ll happily buy more. Perhaps because they make me feel smart and put together; perhaps because I watched too many old movies as a child. Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Shirley Maclaine in The Apartment, Lauren Bacall in anything: they all seemed impossibly grown-up and glamorous in their black dresses.

I also have copious amounts of out-sized cotton men’s pyjamas – at increasingly embarrassing stages of disintegration – simply because they’re comfortable. Having said that, cinema rears its head again here: men’s pyjamas feel a bit Claudette Colbert in It Happened One Night (even if that, alas, is not the effect).

Claudette Colbert with Clark Gable in It Happened One Night (1934)

Claudette Colbert with Clark Gable in It Happened One Night (1934)

Can you say a bit about how your mother’s body and style has been passed down to you, or not?

Physically, my mum and I are very different. At my age, she had a more curvaceous figure than I – very slim, with a more defined waist. I’m taller, with thinner arms and legs, and fairly straight up and down. We both have broad shoulders and long torsos – a Scandinavian trait – but our bodies aren’t much alike.

Though I haven’t inherited her figure, I’ve inherited my mum’s love of good quality fabrics, along with her penchant for comfort and practicality. We don’t dress alike, but we are similarly methodical, carefully planning what clothes we need to buy.

When I was little, our dressing-up box was peppered with her cast-offs. There were printed blouses, elbow length gloves, and a selection of very ’80s belts. When I think about my mum and clothing, I most vividly remember her stories about items that made her feel good: the black evening gown she wore to a Halloween party, a favourite pair of winter boots, her tight black cocktail dress. Stories like that made me feel excited about the potential of clothes to make you feel confident; they made clothes seem sort of magical.

Catherine Deneuve in Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)

Catherine Deneuve on the set of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg (1964)

Please describe your body.

Under-active.

Please describe your mind.

Over-active.

What are you wearing on your body and face, and how is your hair done, right at this moment?

I’m wearing: black suede sandals with an ankle strap; a fitted, short navy blue pencil skirt; a black crew neck jumper; a small watch with a black leather strap and a gold rimmed clock face. My hair (sadly in need of a wash) is in a ponytail. No make-up.

What is your process getting dressed in the morning? What are you considering?

I try to plan what I wear in advance, thereby eliminating the issue of choosing in the morning. I simply wash and then dress in the outfit I mentally picked out for myself the night before. But if I’m feeling vulnerable, I lose confidence in my choices. On those days, I’d prefer not to be noticed and I choose clothes simply for function, not style.

 When you see yourself in photographs, what do you think?

Occasionally, I notice that my outfit doesn’t look the way I thought it did. More often, I wonder who that solemn, tired-looking person is, and vow to get more sleep.

20 A question of madness.tif

Helena Bonham-Carter in Howard’s End (1992)

Helena Bonham-Carter in A Room With A View (1985)

Helena Bonham-Carter in A Room With A View (1985)

Are there any figures from culture, past or present, whose style you admire or have drawn from?

As a child, I had a thing for Hayley Mills in Whistle Down the Wind. Still in primary school, I thought 14-year-old Mills was practically a grown-up. Plus, she occupied a strange, fascinating world in which Lancashire children honestly believe an escaped convict could be Jesus – that appealed to my relatively jaded city child mind-set. I pretended to my friends that yes, I too wanted to look like a Spice Girl, but I really wanted to wear turtle necks, check skirts, tights and wellies, just like Mills. Not to mention that famous fringe.

In my late teens I had a real Merchant-Ivory phase; my ideal was Helena Bonham-Carter in Howard’s End or A Room With A View, drifting around in beautiful Edwardian gowns. I knew I couldn’t hope to really look like Lucy Honeychurch or Helen Schlegel, but I did take to pinning my very long hair into pseudo-Edwardian styles.

Nowadays, it’s still cinema heavy: Catherine Deneuve in Les Parapluies De Cherbourg, Anna Karina in Une Femme Est Une Femme, Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now, Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face…

Julie Christie in Don't Look Now (1973)

Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now (1973)

Tell us about something in your closet that you keep but never wear. What is it, why don’t you wear it, and why do you keep it?

I have two items of clothing which I never wear but keep with me. One is a 1960s French party dress. It’s black, sleeveless and A-line, with two large box pleats at the front of the skirt. The fabric is embroidered with gold and silver thread, in a stylised pattern of flowers and foliage. It was a gift when I was 17. The other is a 1940s American black skirt, A-line and fitted at the waist. It’s covered in heavy ribbon embroidery and has a gently scalloped hem. I keep them simply because they’re beautiful; although I haven’t had the occasion to wear them yet, I will one day.

Anna Karina in Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961)

Anna Karina in Une Femme Est Une Femme (1961)

Did anyone ever say anything to you that made you see yourself differently, on a physical and especially sartorial level?

I’ll always remember something my grandpa said to me when I was 16. I was wearing a 1960s cotton summer dress. It was brown with white spots and I had a brown belt at the waist. I thought I looked pretty good. He cast a critical eye over me and pronounced sagely, ‘there’s something disturbing me about your belt.’ He continued, ‘it’s not the width and it’s not the placement. It’s the colour. It should be one shade darker.’ Though I resented him being so openly critical, regrettably, he was right. His attention to detail is admirable, and something I try to emulate (even if I don’t share my opinions of other people’s clothing quite as freely as he does…!).

What’s your birth date? where were you born and where do you live now?

I was born on 6th July 1989 in Bristol. These days I live in London.

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957)

Audrey Hepburn in Funny Face (1957)

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