I’ve been thinking about pleasure a lot recently.* Joy too. All the kinds of feelings that leave a sense of deep-seated satisfaction in their wake - electric thrill or quiet contentment settling somewhere down in the middle of your ribcage. It doesn’t need to be dynamic. Could be as simple as the self-enclosed delight of some small action, an immersive moment, a well-made choice, an hour or two spent in the company of someone else.
Recently my specific moments of pleasure have included too many martinis on a Tuesday evening (oops…), a night of dancing until 3am in sequin hot pants, a walk along the river admiring a sky as grey as silk and smoke. The knowledge that my writing is being honed incrementally, with each new thing I work on. Taking deep breaths about thrilling stuff ahead that now requires planning. Composing and snapping a bloody good selfie (Rachel Symes just wrote an essay/ opus/ great set of reflections on this. Read it). All of them about an appetite for celebrating the good, the significant, and the immediate.
I’ve also had several conversations in the last fortnight about clothes and pleasure (well, it had to circle back around to style/fashion somewhere…) Conversations with women who felt guilty for deriving so much fun from what they wore. Conversations analyzing the ins and outs of why this, above other forms of gratification, gets singled out for attack. Conversations about the sheer excellence of knowing you look good, embodying that knowledge in the shade of your lipstick and the way you hold yourself.
A particularly memorable one involved chatting with a friend about the detailed choices we make when getting dressed each morning. These decisions work on an almost innate level - that process of balancing up shapes, colours, patterns and proportions happening about an inch below conscious thought. “This skirt is high-waisted, therefore I want a cropped, tightly fitted jumper with it…” “I love this dress, but it’s slightly low-key and muted – I’ll ramp up the power with some outrageously fancy necklace.” “Polo necks will go with everything and make me feel sassy.” “If I choose this velvet top, I can wear my velvet DMs to compliment it.” Writing out those passing thoughts in full sentences doesn’t quite capture the process. Same principles, but most of my decisions (at least) aren’t really articulated to myself while I’m doing them. I’m too busy rifling through my drawers in search of a particular pair of checked wool trousers that I just know will sit perfectly alongside a baggy white silk shirt.
I am more and more fascinated by the ways we buy and wear clothes. I feel like I’ve been finessing my own outfits recently, choosing combinations that confer extra confidence. I am assured in my knowledge that a blue vintage velvet jacket does magic things – lifting a difficult day, improving it by a notable margin. Playing with your appearance is a way to enact transformation, spectacle, boldness, invisibility, quiet satisfaction.. So many directions. So many possibilities.
I ended up considering all of this with a little more care when perusing my wardrobe ahead of this shoot with Grazia.it (photos by the wonderful Sara Reverberi). You can see the full set of images, and my interview, here. I wanted to choose four outfits that looked good – but more importantly, felt good, affirming the subtle strength to be found in bold sartorial choices.
*I started thinking about/ working on this blog post before the appalling events of last Friday, and that has obviously thrown into relief many different thoughts on pleasure – especially, in the aftermath, as an act of defiance for the people of Paris. I'd also already chosen the title of this post. It's from a Kate Bush song, which (sadly apt for now) includes these beautiful lyrics:
"Just being alive
It can really hurt
And these moments given
Are a gift from time
Just let us try
To give these moments back
To those we love
To those who will survive"