The last wheezing breaths of autumn have dispersed – replaced with bitter wind and frosty mornings. Although the days are occasionally golden, the trees are bare. I had the chance to witness some magnificently beautiful weather recently when I visited Oxford – the sandstone and spires glowing in late afternoon light; stars like silver pebbles at night. But these visions were always offset by the cold. Views were admired whilst clad in several cardigans, faux fur and leopard print gloves. Meandering around the city required long boots with socks tucked inside. Moving from outdoors to indoors resulted in the shedding of many layers. Good coffee and conversation provided warmth, but I still ended up outside with bare feet in the snow at 5.30am one morning thanks to a false fire alarm.
This obsession with temperature is ridiculously British. We're characterised to the point of cliché as being a nation resigned to rain, fog and grey clouds. Unfortunately, it's true - not a country known for its balmy nights and perpetual sunshine. Some claim this has made us resourceful in the way we dress, while others assert the exact opposite. What might be seen as an exciting challenge in layering for one person is a step too far for another. For indeed, when it’s pouring, what will be of more use – an anorak, or a pretty but ineffectual brocade coat?
I’m afraid I usually choose the latter. Despite living among the tangled green hills of the rural West Midlands, I’m not the most pragmatic of dressers. I bought proper walking boots for the first time a mere few months ago. I only submit to raincoats if absolutely necessary. I’ll always take the full-length kilt before jeans. I've swung over barbed wire fences in chiffon and had tassels snared by brambles, all due to an unwillingness to match attire to surroundings.
I’m getting better though. Now I get carried away with idealised images of bucolic country-wear – reveling in tweed coats, thick knits and sturdy shoes. At least these are all warm.
Perhaps what I'm trying to express is the tension faced between ‘form’ and ‘function’. For those more interested in style, then form usually takes precedence. The overall look becomes more important than functional requirement. This is perhaps the only reason that heels continue to be worn – for they are certainly not a pragmatic choice. They epitomise the aesthetic being prioritised above practicality; they're decorative and fabulous, but hardly suited to long distance walking. Similarly, various clothes cited as being perfect for winter seem to exist in an alternate universe where clouds are banished and streets are never wet.
But perhaps that’s part of the fun – dressing merely to stay cosy and dry would be a much duller experience. At least, that’s what I tell myself. However, the gap between form and function can be bridged through choosing items that are both warm and wonderful. Capes are an ideal example. The history of the cape (and its longer cousin the cloak) is one of synthesis – what was once a practical outer layer worn to protect finery beneath became a form of ornamentation and expression in its own right. For indeed a cape is magnificent. It cuts a dash, allows for swishing around corners and envelops you in a woolly circle of warmth.
Indeed, when it has yellow panels and a rose-scattered lining like this gorgeous Asuyeta cape I was sent, it becomes a statement. It's a joyful clothing choice; dramatic enough to sate my desire to dress like an Angela Carter character, and warm enough to withstand early morning chilly train platforms. It's the perfect balance.
Big, big thank you to Erika for the delicious hunter cape. She is the owner and designer of Asuyeta (a Cherokee word meaning 'chosen') and she also makes all the clothes on the website herself, meaning that each is a one-off - an individual echo of the original design. She describes her pieces as "clothes with a soul. No mass-production. No sweat shops... Just unique, beautiful designs." They certainly are. If I wasn't already the lucky owner of this one, I'd definitely want it on my Christmas list. It is styled here with an array of second hand clothes and accessories.