I presume it was fairly early on in my childhood that my mother decided she needed to pick her battles. I was born wilful and she can’t have had the energy or the inclination to fight them all. As such, while I grew into an A-grade student and escaped adolescence sans baby or drug addiction, I have never had a tidy bedroom and I have always been allowed to dress myself. As well as being wilful I was a ‘creative’ child and I liked to express that creativity sartorially. I scorned Petit Bateau, Breton tees, baby chinos and burgundy smock coats. No French enfant chic for me. I favoured table cloths, tea cosies and clothes pegs. The clothes pegs were essential both for holding my table cloth gown together and for decorating my tea cosy hat. Even aged four I knew that it was all in the accessories.
The greatest indulger of my youthful fashion fancies was my maternal grandmother. I was grandchild No. 14 (seven more followed me) and she has always claimed that this constant flux of children and stroppy teenagers kept her young. Certainly she was gloriously blasé about what I chose to wear whenever I came to visit. I have fond memories of stomping to the playground with her wearing nothing but my pants, pink jelly shoes, an enormous pile of her necklaces and a bath hat. I presume that we got some funny looks on our way but Granny and I were unfazed by these narrow-minded doubters.
I guess you could have called me avant-garde. I liked to push boundaries. Specifically, I liked to push the boundaries of my mother’s good taste. I instantly recognised the clothes that she wouldn’t like and wore them constantly. A cruel family friend gave me a bright orange velour t-shirt and a purple chenille polo neck for my sixth birthday. As my mother recoiled in horror I fell violently in love. I liked to wear them together, luridly clashing the colours and clearly pre-empting Gucci’s recent collections [SS11]. I knew how to colour-block as a child and I look forward to dressing in orange and purple (and blue and green and pink) again this summer even if I pass on the questionable and rather sweaty fabrics. I will be taking Raf Simons and Frida Giannini’s spring shows as my contemporary references but I will also be a little bit inspired by my six year old self who knew that you shouldn’t be afraid of colour.
As I grew older my style became more conscious but I don’t think I ever looked ‘normal’. When I was thirteen I moved to a school where I didn’t wholly identify with my peers. I made friends and had fun but I was wary of becoming ‘one of them’. They maintained a strict social uniform of Miss Sixty jeans, pastel lacy vests and cashmere cardigans. I found the uniformity of taste unnerving and restrictive and I rebelled against it. Flicking through old photos I am happy to admit that I looked a fright but I am also proud of my teenage self and her determination to remain true to her slightly deranged aesthetic. One exemplary picture shows me standing amongst a group of my friends who all look pretty and ladylike while I look as mad as a bag full of cats. I am grinning from ear to ear and sporting a lurid, Hawaiian print t-shirt; a ruffled, pink polka-dot mini skirt; neon fishnet socks and lots of homemade plastic jewellery. That was pretty much me from 13-15. Marc Jacobs polka dots, check. Topshop Hawaiians, check. Christopher Kane neons, check. I just had the ingenuity to combine those looks! I wasn’t following any particular trend or genre (clearly) but I was using fashion to differentiate myself and to feel happy and comfortable. My clothes let me feel that I could be true to myself in what seemed an alien environment.
My mother bought my clothes back then and she went along with my whims partially because she is a pacifist and partially, I think, because she was aware that for many people, myself included, fashion is an important component of identity. Wearing what I want helps me to feel like myself and to be the person I want to be. And if that person is unusual so be it. Nowadays, as I feel more settled in myself, my style has relaxed. I still don’t see the appeal of looking the same as everybody else but I don’t burn to stand apart. I simply do my own thing and wear the clothes that I find beautiful, interesting or inspiring, just like my child self did. Sometimes I’m ‘on trend’, sometimes I’m not. Sometimes my mother approves, sometimes she still sighs ruefully.
So there you go. Happy Sunday afternoon.