Who shall I be today? It’s a question that many individuals and those considered as style icons have cited when describing the process of dressing. Assuming a character is an accepted way of choosing what to wear. It acknowledges that we have fluid appearances, and that we can change the way we're perceived at the drop (or donning) of a hat.
For me, sometimes that question refers back to a specific person. Do I want to reference Katharine Hepburn, maybe, or Kate Bush? Often though, it links more to a particular theme, era or idea. This might be Victorian heroines, the exuberance of Singin’ in the Rain or a snatched line from a fairy tale. Who do I feel like today? Is it going to be slick androgyny in a dinner jacket or an ode to autumn in tweed and leather boots?
Much of this takes place at a barely registered level. Often it's a process of pulling something from the wardrobe and seeing what can be added; what colours or layers or accessories to include. But part of the pleasure can be in matching outfits to the day’s activity. In the pictures above, I chose what felt appropriate for a day spent doing research for an essay on the Brontes. Thus I wore an idealised version of 'artful student' meets 'school governess', executed in dusky shades like faded pages. The concept wasn’t anywhere near that clear-cut when I put it on – more of a case of “I need something to layer under the dress to keep me warm. What colours go with brown? Ooh, heels and olive socks is deliciously a bit Burberry circa SS09 when I still got excited by trends...” (there’s a fair bit of fashion wittering that goes on in my head). But the day's activities ahead most certainly influenced my choice.
I do this a lot. Packing for three days by the chilly Welsh seaside involved a suitcase full of practical shorts, striped shirts and knitted cardigans. Boy scout with an Edge of Love inspired twist. I enjoy the challenge of giving myself a theme and working within its limits. If I'm going to be spending time in the V&A, I dress accordingly. If it’s a day slobbing at home then I may as well do it with panache (pink and white candy striped trousers with a silk jersey shirt and raspberry coloured jumper).
Maybe I give too much thought to clothes, but then they are a subtle form of language – one in which we can assemble an endless variety of sentences. A chiffon skirt and lace cami-top conveys a very different meaning to leather shorts and cropped mohair jumper. And in much the same way that one can privately relish the sound of a word or refrain, so getting dressed can be at its most gratifying when it is just for oneself.
It was apples a-plenty to match the Paul Costelloe shirt and vintage Laura Ashley dress (both from charity shops). All jewellery belonged to my late maternal grandma. I felt rather like a character let loose from some folklore tale. Talking of which, below is a snap of the article I wrote for issue 4 of Lionheart magazine. The theme was 'Shape', and so I explored the history, shaping narrative technique and modern significance of fairytales. The whole publication is more gorgeous than ever, bursting with photography, whimsy and thoughtful pieces, so I urge UK readers to seek out a copy.