CLOTHES DO NOT MAKE THE MAN

CLOTHES DO NOT MAKE THE MAN

Most people who know me will already understand that I enjoy clothes.

On the hanger, what suits me – plain, straight, block colours – is very dull.    As I’m short, I want any detail to be near my face.     I like natural fibres – cotton, silk, linen, wool, velvet –  they need more care with laundry but they feel comfortable and luxurious and my preferred colours are black, white, beige and red.   I told you – dull.   I’ve never been much interested in shoes because I don’t want to draw attention to my horrible feet, so no Imelda cupboard for me.    Plain, black and leather (dull.)   I’m no bag lady either.   Can’t be bothered shifting my stuff from bag to bag, so generally I buy a man’s ‘handbag’ in Europe – plain,  black, leather.  (Dull).

What I’ve never been interested in is ‘couture’ (or what I could afford in that direction).   Firstly, I never wear any name or logo.  Why should I be a walking advert for them, and pay for it besides?     I  feel clothes are in the same category as wine, up to a point you get what you pay for, but a £250 bottle of wine, while better than a £25 one, is not really £225 better (unless money is no object.)  (  I have tried both. )  With clothes, once you’ve paid the amount necessary for quality fabric and a good cut, after that it’s all name and  fashion, and personally I’m not willing to spend a great deal on that.

In September 2010 I visited the Fashion Museum in Bath, and for my money the star piece was a navy  blue outfit by the late Jean Muir, circa 1975, so understated in its elegant cut that you could have stepped out in it today.     With my friend, Sandra  I once went to Harvey Nicholls, where the Jean Muir clothes were beautifully made, worth every penny if you could afford them (ruining my own argument), and the Vivienne Westwood creations were, I thought attention seeking (which is quite the opposite of elegant)  and of inferior construction considering what they cost.

If you see a woman who has clearly spent vast sums on her clothes, whose shoes and bag are hugely expensive advertisements for the manufacturer, and who looks as if her toilette has taken her two hours to assemble – well, frankly, it’s not a look to which I aspire.   Though clothes are fun, and you need them for warmth and decency, it is all in a minor key.   You don’t want to look like some bimbo whose main function is as a clothes horse.    Victoria Beckham is a surprisingly elegant woman, but she’s not a role  model I’d emulate.   Following fashion slavishly smacks of a lack of confidence, as if you only feel OK when protected by this glittering armour, fortified with labels.   You should also feel OK in your oldest  trousers and woolly top.   You don’t want to look like ‘a woman, dressed in Couturier X’s 2010 collection, who has spent the equivalent of a small country’s annual budget on today’s ensemble’.    You want to look like Roberta, well dressed as usual.

The Queen in her role as Monarch, displaying the nation’s wealth, often wears rather more jewellery than  might be deemed elegant if worn by other ladies.   Yet the Queen always looks greater than the sum of her jewels.    What is more, the Queen still looks queen in an old tweed jacket and a headscarf, and I have no  doubt looks majestic in her dressing-gown should anyone be privileged to see her so attired.

Some people’s lack of natural facility with dress is positively endearing.   Shirley Williams (now Baroness, I believe?) always had an untidy, slightly dishevelled appearance as if the assembly of her wardrobe defeated her – but she was an intelligent lady, spoke kindly and with sense.   Does it matter she’ll never make  the best dressed list?

Sometimes people get sent on courses, how to dress like a corporate crocodile, or be a true blue Tory  MP’s wife.   If they follow ‘the rules’ too closely, the result is not successful.   One’s dressing should express one’s individuality.   Even people who are frankly eccentric in their dressing – we can all think of some – while not being perhaps what might be called ‘elegant’, contribute to the gaiety of the nation.

National attitudes to dress also vary.   The French are famously elegant, and I think French women have fewer, but more costly, clothes.    Although I have bought clothes in America, on the whole what suits them doesn’t suit me.    And you absolutely do NOT want to be like a woman I observed in Boston, Massachussets.   She came rushing out of a changing room, exuding stress like a wounded animal oozes blood, and demanded of the hapless salesgirl, Does this suit me?   She was an angular, big boned woman, and the pretty, fussy outfit merely emphasised her lack of femininity.    The girl hesitated, and in that pause the customer perceived the true answer, and rushed back into the changing room, shouting about how unhelpful the staff were.   It was an extraordinary performance, and I felt like saying to her, Wear a sack until you learn to behave better.   Nothing about clothes is so important that it could justify this behaviour.

As for those gimlet eyed but vulgar people who examine us from top to toe, mentally labelling our clothes,  pricing our watches, assessing our handbags, they reveal the poverty of their values.    Don’t they know that WE are the valuable objects, and not the baubles we wear?

Incidentally, I’m not sure that my daughters  or daughter in law would entirely agree with me.     They are all adept at combining  inexpensive items with ‘investment pieces’ and have  indulged themselves from time to time with king’s ransom handbags, shoes or what have you.    With their own money, why not?    There are far worse things one can spend money on.

It’s amazing how old and dull I have become.   I could be my grandmother (herself a good dresser) delivering annoying little moral tales.     Clothes are fun and pleasurable.   It’s good to aspire to elegance.   But, though frankly I’m amazed to find myself saying this, in the end, it’s not the clothes that really matter.   It’s who’s wearing them.

Clothes DON’T make the man.

(The photograph at the top, by kind permission of my cousin Sheena Murphy, shows our grandmother, Margarett Macdonald, on Lewis.   My mother is the infant in the pram, and the young man is Lewis Macdonald, our uncle.)

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About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.

6 Responses to CLOTHES DO NOT MAKE THE MAN

  1. Carolyn Hulatt says:

    There’s one thing for sure Anne, you’ll certainly never be dull! AND I know I’m a close personal friend so partial, but even though you stick to the same colours they suit you, particularly so when matched with whatever lovely necklace your own personal jewellery designer has created!

    • adhocannie says:

      Oh, you’re too kind – and the jewellery designer ( http://www.turquoisebayjewellery.co.uk ) she’s pretty good too. It’s not that I don’t like prints, flowers, spots, frills, pleats, lace etc. I think they’re lovely. It’s just that when I try them on I either look like (a) a complete frump, or (b) a grumphy old eagle trying to pass itself off as a budgie.

  2. Sheena Murphy says:

    I’d say classic not dull.

    There’s wisdom in eschewing trends in favour of what suits one. Besides, a neutral palette gives one the fun of accessorising.

    Designer labels only impress other people impressed by designer labels!

    Our grandmother was always elegantly dressed, even into her nineties and just in her house clothes. Do you know, I don’t think I ever saw her wearing trousers. I’m not sure she owned a pair.

  3. adhocannie says:

    Well, thank you. I agree about our grandmother’s dressing: as a small girl and even though she was an old lady, I always looked to see what she was wearing with interest. I never saw her in trousers either (totally unimaginable.)

  4. turquoisebay says:

    I am very grateful that you taught Elisabeth and I, as I strive to teach my own daughters, that “designer labels” are not everything. When some Oxfam find was admired I would say, “oh this, I picked it up in a boutique in Brighton / Rome / Antwerp…”

    The pressure I see from girls of Alexandra’s age who value trainers or a bag or a dress because it is made by some large recognisable designer is immense. Alex can carry off anything and make it look expensive and desirable.

    I overheard a conversation about a dress she was wearing to a school event between two older girls. They thought it was Marese (beautiful French clothes, might have cost £70.) I checked later when she put it in the washing basket. It was from Tesco.

  5. adhocannie says:

    We call all junk shop / charity sales / second hand acquired items ‘Our Favourite Shop’, or OFS for short. It’s much more stylish to put together your own look. I met a lady at a party recently wearing a vintahe dress, sort of Art Nouveau style. You could tell right away it was the real thing because the material was so lovely. Wherever she talked, I could hear her accepting compliments and being asked where she’d got it.

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