When these jeans were first unearthed from the dressing up box some two or three years ago I shuddered. They called to mind the kind of garment that Eddie from Absolutely Fabulous would descend on in a cloud of exclamations and “sweetie darlings!” The swirls, patterns and colour scheme were part henna tattoo, part psychedelic ode to the nineties. I stuffed them back into the dark corner they’d emerged from, shaking my head.
My mum had found them, and a partner pair, in the local charity shop for a pound apiece. The reason for purchase was the label stitched into the back: Jean-Paul Gaultier. They were bought for the sheer hell of it. No need to wear them – just occasionally admire (or wince at) the brash patterns. The corresponding pair was equally outrageous: the combination of black, white and red called to mind a skeletal, Alexander McQueen-wearing zebra. I defined both pairs as the epitome of ‘bad taste’, suitable only for silly evenings spent in even sillier costumes.
Here I am, several years later, wearing them out of choice. I recently cleared out the basket under my bed housing the ball gowns, sequined tops, fifties floral aprons, old nighties, lace leggings and other fancies used for dressing up. Although the ‘clearing’ was only minimal - I managed to get rid of about four items - it led to re-discovery of the trousers. Whether it is my taste that has changed, or the zeitgeist (as my mum remarked: “patterned trousers are everywhere at the moment”), they appeared a little more acceptable than previously judged. Although I would never call them beautiful, in my eyes they are now rather extraordinary.
There are two types of taste. The first is that dictated by the ‘tastemakers’: those who deem a particular colour, shape or style to be the most desirable of the season. This taste changes by necessity every six months in the world of fashion, and regularly in all other creative spheres – such as music, art or literature. Fledgling trends gain mainstream appeal, while seemingly popular styles quickly fade. In all areas, the taste must change so that more items – be they clothes, paintings, furniture or novels – may be sold. There is a constant desire for the new, leaving a huge pile up of the ‘out of date’ and the ‘hopelessly passé’ behind. Such taste is market driven and rather fickle.
For one who is interested in the eternal and timeless power of creativity, this can be dispiriting. If something is reduced merely to a product to be sold (and then superseded by something else), then what is there to celebrate? But the best creations are those in which imagination and innovation is not forfeited in the bid for profit. There are plenty of designers out there – from Corrie Nielsen and Mary Katrantzou to Fyodor Golan (three favourites of mine) – who elevate fashion beyond the mundane and ordinary. They do not just clothe the body, but enhance it. Their designs might not be considered timeless in the way that a Chanel jacket or a tailored white shirt might be, but they are memorable enough to transcend seasons.
At least, that’s my opinion. Their clothes appeal to my personal taste – the intricately woven map of loves and hates unique to me. Personal taste is altogether harder to define, as it alters with less precision than popular taste. Personal taste is instead an accumulation of experience, knowledge, impressions and opinions. I have learnt that I love 1960s mini-dresses and will wear them at every opportunity, but my early teen penchant for brightly coloured hoodies and trainers is a thing of the past. Personal taste evolves and is added to as we grow. Things previously described as horrendous can become desirable – and vice versa. Trends can briefly influence personal taste too. I’m happy to crack out the Laura Ashley-esque crocheted dresses whenever the seventies rears its head. I wouldn’t ever want to adhere entirely to what is ‘in’, as its better to forge a path than follow one, but there’s no harm in taking onboard pointers now and then.
Who knows what will happen with these Jean-Paul Gaultier trousers? For all I know, in several years time they might be scrunched up back under the bed. Or alternately they might still be worn with pride – although perhaps not with these particular heels, as they are completely impossible to walk in.
The highly impractical heels were from eBay, the men's silk shirt from a charity shop and the vintage silk scarf was inherited from my maternal great-grandma. All, however, were merely a sideshow to the jeans.