Mar 14 2013

Cutting My Own Hair Short: An Act of Grief, Identity or Silliness?

Clothes have been inconsistent for me – they hid, played, cheered up, celebrated, hoped, disintegrated, were beautiful or silly. My hair has – had – been a constant.

Hairstory

I was always Sara, with the really long hair and the teeth (ah, the teeth. They’re another story). I grew up with very long hair, cared for by my lovely mum. Mum brushed and plaited it while I complained at the hardness of the low, wooden stool with its white paint peeling off in layers, its onion-smooth seat worn away by my school-uniformed bottom. Mum would part my hair first with a knitting needle, the curiously nice scrape against the scalp. As we were very poor, she trimmed it after her patient, meticulous brushing and aligning. She spent hours, repeatedly, treating it and combing it with a nit comb. When I was at Secondary School, she would, when she could, save enough for me to have it trimmed by ‘The Monster’, the hairdresser in Notting Hill, near our home, whose green hair and piercings had made me cry when I was a little girl. When I was about sixteen, he made me stand up for the duration of my haircut, to punish me for having such long hair – all the way down to my bum – and tried to talk me into cutting it. I wouldn’t: my mum loved it, and it was integral to how I saw myself.

He wasn’t the last hairdresser to try that. I hairdresser-hopped for years, waiting for one who wouldn’t challenge my self-image. Is that over-serious? My tongue is in my cheek, but it was annoying, and more than annoying, too. Grown-ups I was paying to maintain my choices about how I looked to the world, how I felt about myself, were echoing the calls at the all-girls school I went to. ‘Sara. Cut your hair.’ No!

I did go through a phase of colouring my hair. When I left England at eighteen, I had waist-length, blonde-highlighted hair. This made me somewhat exotic in Thailand. The trouble was, as my dark, brunette hair grew through, and my highlights bleached blonder in the sun, I had pretty extreme roots. After three months, having decided I was going to stay for six months, I got highlights done in a Thai salon in the North. The foils were loose, so that the very roots I wanted to change were untouched by dye. I pointed this out to the hairdresser, and he simply painted highlight solution, or bleach, onto my roots, willy nilly. I came out looking like a tortoiseshell cat: splodges of red and gold on my dark roots, the underneath of my highlights no longer dark blonde but bright red, the highlights, yellow.

In the Ko Samet sun, it all got brighter, brassier and more pronounced. My six months turned into eighteen, during which I visited England to see my mum. Soon after arriving back in London, I was trying to reorient myself, taking the tube as I had done to school. In the curved plastic of the windows, I saw myself reflected, underlaid by the London Underground signs on the platforms. In the convex top of a door, I noticed how patchwork my hair colour had become at the roots, and on getting off the train, went straight to the posh hairdressers on Holland Park Avenue. I’d never had my hair done there. I asked them to give me one hair colour – dark brown, like my natural colour, from what I remembered of it. They explained they’d have to go really dark to knock out the spectrum of tones.

I looked forward to surprising my mum that evening. When she got home, she didn’t notice. I flicked and flashed my stole of shiny, dark brown hair, asked what clothes and make up suited my new hair colour, and was met with a quizzical eyebrow. Eventually, I told my mum I’d dyed my hair back brown.

‘Argh,’ she said. ‘Sorry, Sara. I didn’t notice because you just look like you as I picture you. You always had long, brown hair.’

It turned a rich, bright purple-red within a matter of weeks, a bit like Willow on Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s hair. Not what I wanted: I went back and dyed it dark again. This time the colourist put so much dye in it it deadened all colour and thatched the hair, made it stiff. Around this time, I developed severe acne – on my forehead it appeared as a stucco wall, bobbly and embedded, the same colour as my skin; on my chin and throat, up to my ears, boils, large, red and pink boils. I had a cheese fest, and gained weight. I lost my tan. The hairs on my legs grew thicker and coarser. It was Endometriosis, but I didn’t know that yet.

When I went back to Bangkok, friends said: ‘What have you done, Sara?’

I bought serum for my hair. This made it tamer but not quite straight and smooth as it had been pre-dye-dye-dye. When I had it blown out straight, I looked like me in my first Thai six months – the weight was improving, my skin was better. I spoke to a couple of my Thai girlfriends and they recommended I buy a straightening treatment.

My friend YB, her brother’s girlfriend and I were in a supermarket and found the treatment: a chemical that was for use by professional hairdressers only. Both YB and BG – both Thai with long, straight, black hair – had used it on their hair, and had great results. It was the run-up to a hot date in Bangkok: perfect time for straight hair.

Near midnight, I washed my hair, following the instructions. NOT FOR DYED HAIR, it said, so I thought: I’ll use extra of the deep conditioner. I rubbed the chemical through my hair, let it take effect, then washed it all out, conditioned for fifteen minutes, and was so tired by the end of the process that I went to bed with damp hair. In the morning, when I got up for work, my hair was hot, still holding water. My hair was so hot it was heating that water. I started to blow dry it, beginning at the front so if I ran out of time, I could just put the back in a bun.

As it dried, it looked as if someone had taken a match to my hair. The front layers were normal for about three inches, then they split and swizzled into strands that ended in nothing, in ghosts of where another several inches of hair had been.

I scrunched the rest into an up-do, hoping it would get better as it dried naturally. At work, on our lunch break, one of the girls looked at my head and said:

‘Sara! What happened?’

My head looked like a burning thatch: as well as drying it out and scorching my hair, the chemical straightener had blown all the red in it to the surface. It was frizzier than ever, and cracklingly stiff.

A hairdresser cut it to just below my shoulders: I can’t remember who or where, I blocked out the experience. Shorter, it was still stiff, red, dry – and shorter. I’d never had nor wished for short hair. I didn’t look like me at all.

For the next year or so, I used leave-in conditioner every day, intensive masks twice a week and had my hair trimmed once a month. It stopped frizzing and started to curl lightly, which hadn’t happened since I was a little girl.

This was around the time we lost our home. I remember in my sleep believing my hair had grown back down to my waist and that I’d come back. I woke up with hair that wasn’t mine, without a home.

Over the next few years, with more regular trims and leave-in conditioner, my hair began to grow again. In my time in Lebanon and Mauritius, it had a sudden spurt and after I got back to the UK, I was able to wear it at the base of my shoulder blades.

On my 25th birthday in October 2006, I had found something like hope in the volunteer community I lived in in East London, a masters degree and brill new job, and I went, boldly, to a new hairdresser, Diego, at Vibes on Brick Lane.

‘I’m 25, Diego, and I’m in a style rut. I’ve had the same hair since forever and I want a change.’

‘What do you want?’ he asked. He was cute.

‘Something sexy and mature; otherwise – really, do whatever you want. Cut it all off if you think that would work.’

Diego combed my hair again, looking: at my hair, my face, in my eyes. He sat down on a little chrome and black leather stool.

‘Ok, what I’m gonna do is,’ he said, ‘We’re gonna grow it all out and then trim it into one chic, blunt length.’

Diego got me, and this process of growing my hair back out, and as long as we could, felt like a return to me.

 

The Now

 

This week, I cut my hair into a bob. I had been out in Monday’s blizzard. My beautiful baby daughter had insisted we go out, pointing and complaining until I finally got her into her warm clothes and her pram, where she giggled and looked about, happily. For the millionth time since she was born, I scruffed my long, thick hair up into something between a bun, a knot and a ponytail, with the nearest hairband. Once again, I caught sight of someone I didn’t recognise in a dark window.

I had been thinking about cutting my hair since Saturday. My mum died last Summer, when C was four months old, after five years’ surviving with breast and then bowel cancer, and a short time dying. Much of the time, I am happy. Mum and I were close and I understand what death means, that her spirit has not gone. But her body has. Some days, that loss, of touch, of care, is strongly present, and Saturday was one. The thought occurred to cut off my hair. I laughed at myself: for having a Betty Bleu moment; I was sad for myself at having the thought.

But think about it later, I noted. And over the next two days, it became a positive. The scratty woman who could never wear her hair down, who felt disappointed at her appearance, the short hairs haloing the face after the change in hormones contrasting too weirdly with the long, long hair scruffed up and tumbling out of a scrunchie: that wasn’t me. So on Monday, after we got back from the walk through the blizzard, while my daughter – who had just shown that some things need to be entered into, even wild winds and snow – slept, I googled ‘How to cut your own angled bob square face wavy hair’, ignored all the advice, and got the hair scissors out of the drawer.

Standing in front of the bedroom mirror, I tucked up my hair till I thought, ‘Yeah, lady, you a fox.’ (Kind of. Not literally.) Then I parted my long hair into its natural centre parting – roughly, without a knitting needle, for I don’t have that kind of patience – and began with the left side, scissors in my right hand. I cut from the front backwards, in a straight line, with the theory that this would make the front slightly longer than the back. It worked perfectly. Then I took the right side in my right hand, and realised I couldn’t cut from the front backwards as I’m right-handed. So I swapped and cut from the back to the front. This created a layered, bouncy effect, in contrast to the angles of the other side. My daughter woke up. So I shook out my hair, tossed it about, and decided the style was ‘asymmetric mussy long bob’.

Three days later, and a few tidies up at the back thanks to the ever-lovely (and patient) Wolf, sometimes I look in the mirror and see Monica Bellucci as Lisa in L’Appartement, and sometimes I think of the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life when James Stewart’s character is told his wife, without him, would be an UNMARRIED LIBRARIAN and he’s all, The Horror! The Horror! Either way, I love my new hair. I feel like me again, although I look so different.

It is a marker of loss. I wouldn’t have cut my hair like this while my mum was alive, it would have hurt her too much. If you read about my wardrobe, this will sound less like co-dependency and more in keeping with the realisation that she tended to know what would suit me and make me feel wonderful and gorgeous and special. It also mirrors the physical loss: the hair is gone forever, and is suddenly, irrevocably untouchable. Not there to play with. Cutting my hair short has been a giant, gentle act of grief.

And it is a celebration of change. I am a mummy: this is my mummy hair. I can wear it loose and it doesn’t catch on slings or nappy bags; its less grab-able. It swooshes again. I see me in sunlit windows as my daughter and I take a walk. I know my mum would be happy to see this in her daughter.

 

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons


Feb 25 2013

Why So Many Clothes?

The answer begins with a call from my mum, and over one hundred days later, there were quite a number of conclusions.  If you’re new to this blog, I’d begin at the beginning, and read an adventure that took place over over one hundred days of clothes… Hope you have as much enjoyment as I did x

http://saranesbitt.co.uk/2011/06/14/the-first-day-nature-or-nurture/


Oct 8 2011

Week 18: For My Child

Clothes I’m saving for my child:

Levi’s. Because we’ve travelled together: they’re vintage Levis from Thailand. Have to be cool. Accept might not be.  But then I can see if they fit me.

Sand embroidered grey trousers.  Because they’re embroidered drainpipes and they’re beautiful and unusual and I want to offer this.

Miss Sixty denim high button-waisted with braces. because I wore it on the Wolf and my first date which I hope is romantic, and because the style is so of its time, which could be interesting.

Blue silk summer evening dress, H&M. Because it reminds me of a pink summer evening dress embroidered with white flowers my mum wore when I was a little girl.

Plum satin and matte 1930s style evening dress. Because the Wolf bought it for me, and I’ve not had the chance to wear it.

Black stretch velvet, sweetheart, strapless dress with thigh-high split.  Because I was Plenty O’Toole in this, aged 17, and because Grannico (my mum’s Granny name) gave it to me.

Coast slate blue fitted stretch dress, knee length, with ice blue sash. Because she might not want parrots peeking out of bright flowers, Bond girls, the thirties or braces.

Black, velvet vintage St Michael pencil skirt, with side pockets.  Because I first met the Wolf wearing this.

Red, midi, leather pencil skirt.  Because it’s a red, midi, leather pencil skirt and they don’t come around very often … much like the electric blue leather A-line.

Sky blue velvet A-line mini.  No reason other than a strong instinct to keep it for her.

Thai silk, tailor made evening dress.  Because she can adapt the material into her own bespoke outfit.

Backless, vintage LBD. Because it is unusual and classic.

Bronze, vintage Topshop hotpants.  Because they’re the kind of thing I’d have wanted to pinch from my mum.

Blue satin, Chinese-style, long-sleeved, embroidered top, adapted by my mum.  Because  Grannico’s hands have made it more beautiful.

Royal blue, Yves Saint Laurent, vintage silk tee-shirt and Shanghai Tang pink and cream silk top, with cherry blossoms.  Because both, I hope, will be a sort of investment.

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons


Sep 26 2011

Week 17: List Poem

 

 

 

 

If I had been able to fit into these clothes, the Why So Many Clothes? experiment would have lasted for …  another 60 days! Half as long again, and a grand total of nearly half a year wearing everything in my wardrobe.

The photo is all my corsets.  The plan was to travel around with different sets of clothes, and take photos of them in their natural habitat before saying ‘Not Keep’ to many of them.  Next stop was a building site, with the jeans. Thing is, I can’t carry around as much stuff as I used to now I’m pregnant… and get really tired! So, the corsets wave goodbye from the dock wall.

Next week will be the last post, and I’ll share which clothes I’m keeping for a daughter (or son, if he wants them).

Ciao for now…

PS The list is now in the ‘Poems’ page… not because it’s a poem but because it’s very long and I only ended up putting on one other poem! Ha.

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

 


Sep 19 2011

Weeks 15 and 16: New Beginnings…

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News

Yaha! Finally able to catch up with real time.  One of the reasons my Why So Many Clothes blog has been a week behind has been because I’ve been in the first trimester of pregnancy.  Now in my fourteenth week, and all’s well with the cub.

Morning sickness (welcome as a symptom of a busy baby, yet, it’s odd vomiting while doing my teeth) has meant that I haven’t been able to do a photo every day, which I was strict about doing earlier in the project to try and reflect mood and atmosphere.  Catching up on Week 15’s images, I can’t find the grey, off-the-shoulder, stretchy, long-waisted jumper worn over a black cocktail dress.  This happened a lot before the Keep and Not Keep boxes.  Things would disappear for years, only to reappear in a rucksack somewhere, or in a dressing up box, or under a box.

Archaeology of My Bedroom Floor

One day I will dig it up – hopefully when moving house very soon.  The top itself is an artefact: exhausted, like the pale imitator I bought later from H&M and wore recently, but extremely high in sentimental value.  It came from a department store in Bangkok, when I was shopping with my Bangkok partner-in-crime NR.  The good thing about being in a shop where the assistants assume you don’t understand them is when they say ‘really beautiful, wow’, to their colleague, not in English.  Later that day, I wore the top to Thewet Pier, to a bar overlooking the Chao Praya river, where brilliant musicians played all night.  NR and I had gone out with all the girls we worked with for the first time, and there was a great sense of companionship among us all.  I wore my Charles Jourdain shoes, also bought that day.  They were the stuff of fairytales – sadly, I later broke both heels on a carpeted stair at a ball at university.  The ball was not the stuff of twinkling stories: ugly, red, swirly carpets, a cheesy disco, in a central-Bristol hotel reception room.  The open-sided, wooden bar over Bangkok’s Chao Praya river, at the bottom of the flower market, lit warm in the body-temperature night; the unsuitable guitar player. That was a dream.

To the present.  I got ‘oy-oyed!’ by a passing van, in Islington.  I was confused: the bump is starting to show.  Then I thought, yes, pregnancy is sumptuous.

Old Favourites

Tuesday.  The black, corset top is a bit cheesy and blocky.  The black, crinkle blouse is losing its crinkle but I’ll keep it till it totally sags.  The hairy coat – my cat coat – became eccentric in the rain, with a borrowed see-through umbrella patterned with blue Dacshunds, a luminous green leather handbag, a big canvas shopper and a sick bowl.  It’s really had its time, and though well-loved, it’s too enormous to keep for sentimental reasons.

Scruff Love

Wednesday’s Status Quo tee shirt is dated ‘In the Army Tour ’86 – ‘87’.  It’s mine.  Mum and LM used to take little me to the festival, as they were involved in its inception.  I remember seeing Alice Cooper and the Milky Way, and peeling my first potato.

Welcome scruffiness there.  The terracotta cycling jacket, however, must go.  It’s the cycling jacket I mentioned last week (Week 14), which my dear friend ZH noticed marked a sadness and treated with some tough love.  I just wore it for cycling after that, but cycling is something I won’t be doing for a long while.

The wellies I bought from an elderly, Spanish-speaking lady who was selling items from chairs.  Everything on the chairs was £1.  The wellies were on the floor, ergo £5.  We negotiated three pounds, in spite of having no language in common.  I have enough wellies, but the Wolf likes them so they’re his now.

Cupboard Love

I tried to wear the stripy tunic, but it was too tight on my arms and bust.  I was relieved.  Although the tunic has strong memories, as a top I bought and wore in Lebanon to teach in, I really didn’t want to wear it and wore it a lot during the sad, scruffy time the cycling jacket belonged to.  I also have a lot of other artefacts: writing by the students, presents… and other clothes. And in my heart and soul.

I wore the Mackintosh-style printed blouse that came out of a bag of materials in the craft cupboard at the office.  My boss at the time suggested I try it on, and we both thought it fab.  The neon orange halterneck used to be my lucky election day top. Absolutely, definitely Not Keep.

Two-nics

Friday’s lilac tunic was on top of the wardrobe for maybe giving away.  Wearing it again, I like it.  The lilac, knitted vest underneath is backless and gorgeous.  One day I will go to the beach.  Keep.

Saturday’s black tunic is from the market in the place in South Lebanon where I worked.  I still like it, though have hardly worn it since. It’s great as a maternity top, too.  The red wedge boots were a Christmas present from my mum.  I adore them.  Enough to talk to them.

Dregs

Things are getting a bit weird now.  The rosy, ribbon-tie vest peering out over the neck of the red jumper I love, even if I have to be 22 forever in it.  The glittery red jumper was a gift from mum.  I wasn’t sure about it but kept it, as with many things, because I love my mum’s thoughtfulness. Today I was finally told I’m showing (although the same person agreed it was partly the chub of my tummy and me sticking it out).  I am keeping this top because it makes me look pregnant.  The starry cardi is too much, and verging on beige.  I don’t beige.  Not Keep.

Cat Lady

Oh.  The background of the cat top is beige.  But it’s got cats sleeping on clouds and mushroom cottages on it.  Keep.

The little, soft brown cardi with trim is a bit twee but I do like it.  The studded, black flat sandals (first wear, had them for six months) are promisingly comfy for new shoes. I have to admit, after the experience with the Marc Jacobs shoes in Week 13, and the general ‘alternation’ of heels with flats throughout this experiment: I’m not a heel wearer anymore, and am unlikely to become one in the next ten years. Keep the flats. Especially the ones with pretty, black, pyramid beads on.

I love Wednesday’s black, embroidered jumper with a cheongsam style collar and bead fastening.  It’s a bit kitsch, in a great way.

Scan Outfit – Yeah! Baby!

Thursday is the day of our scan.  A day of celebration.  There is a part of me which is scared, and thinks it’s tempting fate to wear an evening dress over a cashmere tank and leggings to the 12-week scan.  How will I feel in that waiting room, in those clothes, if something has gone wrong?

I trust my body and instincts.  All is well.  I go to welcome life in my scan outfit.

And all is, thankfully, well.  The cub is healthy and growing beautifully.

Wave

I’m coming to the end of clothes that fit.  After one hundred and ten days of wearing everything in my wardrobe, it’s time to start coming to a close because my gorgeous, changing body is outgrowing everything left to wear.

There are many more clothes – although they don’t fit (I have to cut the waistbands of my tights and leggings) – I will show you them all next week.  Hee hee.

I’m also going to keep some of those for if I have a daughter, which I’d love to share with you before I go.

And now? On Friday, with the loose-knit, white, baggy jumper, is a deep, dark blue velvet dress bought second-hand for comfortable wear during pregnancy.  Since I conceived, I’ve felt like the sun is coming out inside me; the image of the sea has been getting stronger.  These are things I’m writing poems about, but have also chosen to wear as many sea-colours and shapes as I can get away with.

I think that’s as many as I want.

So, on Friday, I go out dressed as a wave.

On Saturday and Sunday, I wear the last two things in the wardrobe that fit.  My bad influence on the lovely green jumper has created a ladder and a few holes in one side.  The red, stretchy jumper has an unfortunate badge hole on the centre of the boob (when? how?).

I can keep them both for wearing under dresses.  I might regret not having them, although their striking colours and textures might clash with other layers and make me look unlike myself.  They will hide winter arms.

No.  Not Keep.  I don’t need contingency clothes.  Everything is going to be alright.

And clothes are not for hiding.

Looking at my wardrobe after 112 days of wearing everything in it: Why So Many Clothes?

Because I am here.

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

 


Sep 12 2011

Week 14: 100 days of…

Solitude, Comedy, Mystery, Generosity, Creases and Comfort 

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Solitude

Who would have thought clothes got so close to the bone?

Tuesday’s Chinese, red waistcoat.  Years ago, I had picked up someone very close, with severe mental health problems, from hospital.  They had self-discharged but were visibly not well enough to be on their own.  As we walked around the local area, me hoping they’d decide to go back and have their injuries seen to, they told me stories about our past which made no sense.  They saw me as someone else; everything I saw was wrong to them.  Somehow, we wandered into Oxfam – something we would have done when younger.  I absent-mindedly picked up this waistcoat, still trying to hold onto a sense of being there in a situation where I felt lost and disorientated, trying to keep things normal so a casual mention of seeking care might seem undramatic (one of many, wildly different failed approaches).  An American tourist approached me in the queue, stroked the satin, quilted waistcoat, its feathery edging, and said, ‘Wow, I’ve been here for ages and I didn’t see this.  What a good eye you have.’  It was surreal.

As something to wear? It doesn’t button up now (I used to run when stressed and it fitted well when I bought it) but is a beautiful thing.  It does still make other people pleased to look at it. Keep.

The black, faded, v-neck tee underneath has its own, warmer history.  Knickerbox did a loose pair of black, drawstring trousers with coordinating tight tee when we were all about 15.  We were all obsessed with finding a pair of the trousers as the shops ran out really quickly. I found a pair, one evening after school in Ken High Street station.  They didn’t work on my already very curvy figure.  I’ve been roughly this height and build since about 14.  However, the tee really seemed to work.  I bought and loved it.

Faded, somehow without holes, I wore it to meet my friend ZH in Harrods, where she was working, about six years ago.  I was in denial about how sad I was in a relationship at the time.  ZH looked at me and told me to stand in front of the mirror.  I was wearing my faded tee, unflattering, torn jeans, oversized men’s trainers in yellow and green suede and my cycling jacket.  ‘Did you cycle today?’ she asked.  I hadn’t.  I’d tried to dress up.  She told me how much she’d always admired my clothes and make up, since we met in the clothes shop we worked in together.  She asked what had happened, what was happening. She sent me down to the Mac counter to get some positive attention and an eyebrow pencil, then said to come back and we’d go for lunch and really talk.  I can’t bring myself to give the tee up.  Keep.

Comedy 

One of the highlights of Wednesday was the compliment, ‘I love your ruff.’  This is my first wear of the feather gilet: I’ve been trying to make it blend into an outfit and I think the answer is it will always sit like a ruff, out and proud.  The blue, stretch shirt is nicely kitsch, a bit 90s newsreader, but not quite me.  The ruff was a hand-me-down from mum; the shirt an Irish charity shop bargain (20 cents!).  The silver, cowl necked vest was a recent gift from mum.  It’s exactly the style I’d have worn with bootcut black trousers at 17; not quite me right now.  Not Keep the shirt and vest.

Lovely shoes – the gunmetal, vintage Kurt Geiger heels.  Ripped at the toe and heel, but not shot.

Mystery

Thursday, a lovely, round-necked black top.  Where did it come from? On top of the wardrobe.  How did it get there? No idea.  No recollection, unusually, of acquiring it.  Nice, though.  Grey blazer – sleeves are too tight.  Really nice, but too small.  Not Keep.  If I ever need to be smart, I have a few other options.

Generosity 

Friday’s baby pink top with lace back has very high sentimental value, vs. difficulty to wear.  It was a gift from a performer in a very glitzy community theatre company I was working with.  I learnt a lot about make up and being glam on that project, especially useful  tips for getting the most out of basic make up tools.  I should probably Not Keep as I wear so rarely. The navy blue tee underneath is virtually see-through and holey too, it’s probably time to say goodbye to that one.

Creases 

The crinkled, pussy-bow grey blouse is not supposed to be crinkled.  It takes so long for me, possibly the world’s worst ironer, to get the kinks and wrinkles out of the poet sleeves and fine fabric that I don’t iron it.  It deserves someone who will. Not Keep.

The scarf was bought by a relative as a gift, for me, in Morocco.  They wore it around their head all holiday in the heat, to absord the sun and sweat.  Good thing I love them.

Black, suede, peep-toe heels are surprisingly comfy, those fabled comfy heels.  Keep.

Comfort 

Sunday’s jumper and collared vest are not a set but the exact same knit and colour.  I love it as a combo, although I wouldn’t like the vest on its own.  Together they feel sexy and comfy.

100 Days alert! Ruff day was day one hundred of my Why So Many Clothes? experiment.  Still going… see you next week.

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons


Sep 7 2011

Week 13 of Why So Many Clothes: Because You Shall Go to the Ball, if You Can Walk!

Let Me In At Your Window

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Found a day dress! Thought I’d run out, but here was a dress with nought wrong but a broken strap, easily fixed with a brooch.  The problem is, it is easily mistaken for a nightie.  When I asked the Wolf if he could take a photo for the day he said, in all innocence, ‘No problem. Just tell me when you’re dressed.’  I feel like Cathy in Wuthering Heights; I should be waving my branching arms about Kate Bush style and smashing windows.  Keep, but dye a vibrant, non-nightie, non-spectral colour.

The shoes are great fun, with cotton ribbon ties and oversized bows, wedged black soles, and a monochrome pattern – but I can’t walk in them without them beating and whipping me.  Not Keep, reluctantly.

Fairy Godmothers

Midnight blue satin, wraparound blouse with a strong collar.  Exactly how girl me thought adult me would be: dramatic, sexy, well-made, different but not ostentatiously kooky.  A hand-me-down from my mum which I’ve never seen her wear… mysterious…

The black lace trim top underneath was from a boutique in Paris, about ten years ago.  I’d never have picked it out; the lady running the shop – deep leather tan, brightly dyed hair, groomed and all in slinky black – pulled it out with a knowing look.  My boyfriend at the time blushed when I tried it on, but when I said I’d put it back, thinking it didn’t work, he said very quietly and firmly: buy it.

The Cacherel mac is one of the most treasured things in the wardrobe.  It was from the sales in a time of crisis, bought by my mum.  What better than a rainbow striped mac to weather a storm?

I think the print is by the same designer who collaborated with Ozzy Clarke.  My mum – this will come as a surprise – used to keep decades-old clothes in an outbuilding attached to our West London flat.  In amongst them was an Ozzy Clarke dress, long and slim, dark green with his signature neckline, which sadly had no hope of ever fitting me.

Ah, the shoes.  Marc Jacobs, as we’re dropping designer names this week.  My inspirational friend and mentor DF had a house sale when she moved from London to South America.  I saw these shoes, next to a selection of old workboots, red and glorious. There was love and lust in my eyes.  The Wolf saw me looking at them and helped me try them on.  They were cheap at £30 but I couldn’t justify buying them, being stony broke as ever.  Later in the evening, DF came into the room, graceful, elegant and mystical.

‘Whoever’s foot fits the shoe…’ she began.

The eyes of the women in the room lit on the shoes, their round red toes nested in her hands like glass slippers on a cushion.

‘They fit me!’ I shouted.  ‘I’m an eight! They fit me! I already tried them!’

Rather indecorous. Luckily, my shoe godmother laughed and said I could keep them if I could walk in them for an hour.  I could. I even learnt some martial arts.

On Tuesday, however, wearing them to meet my wonderful sister, I couldn’t walk in them.  I didn’t get as far as our meeting place.  Perhaps it’s my current bodily condition; perhaps I lacked the magic of foot-numbing red wine.  Keep, mind. They are beauties.  And can transform me even from the shelf.

Witchy Boots

Wednesday’s black boots – black, suedette, ankle-length and kitten heel – aren’t uncomfortable.  I don’t like them.

The green swing jacket is outdated, certainly, but comfortable.  After a lot of dithering, Not Keep too. I have too many coats.

The patterned halterneck, from H&M for my 23rd birthday, is an old favourite and still going strong.  The combination of colours is unusual and attractive, and the choker tie neck and dropped, floaty back are flattering.  The sea-green halterneck underneath is useful for layering, though not something I’d wear on its own.  Keep, for layering.  The royal blue cardigan is much-loved, ancient work uniform, so worn that the elbow has nearly come through.  Keep until it does.

Pumpkins

The three pinks vest under Thursday’s black, button front top helped me transform from the shrunken, fat person I felt like in my first year at Uni into someone who had a right to be at the ball.  At a Greek restaurant which closed its shutters and kept the cheesy music going till breakfast time, on the first wear of the pink and pumpkin layered vest, I found myself with one man hanging onto my hand from his attempt to chat me up while another tried from my left.  I extricated myself from both with my inner candle lit.

The battered, black leather jacket was once a swish, slim-line one which made me, in my blonder days at eighteen, look like a Bond girl.  I was so convinced that this transported me from local girl to a woman ready to shriek, ‘James!’ that I mentioned it to the man writing the screenplays at the time, who lived on my street.  He laughed.  I was confused.  In retrospect, I’m not embarrassed. Why shouldn’t a young woman see herself as good enough?

How quickly the transition to a frumpy-feeling 19 year old at Uni happened.

Finding the Other One

In the laundry room of a volunteer community I lived in with fifteen others, I saw the skirt to Thursday’s black and embroidered top.  The owner of the skirt became one of my best girlfriends ever.  Perhaps it was a sign of what a great match we’d be.  The top’s knackered, now.  Not Keep, and keep the memories.

Princess

I love my horsey red jacket (Friday).  The buttons have horses on them and the label says ‘Dressage by Paul Costelloe’.  My mum found it for me in a charity shop.  Whenever I put it on, I get the song I Want Money in my head.  I feel like I’m holding a whip.  The crinkly blouse is old uniform from the lunching ladies clothes shop I used to work in.  The boots, which I’d previously gone off, are really comfy for a heel, and have a sort of pony feel to them.  Keep all.

You Turn Me To Jeelie

Hmm. I love the pink, wedge jelly heels (jeelies) I’m wearing on Saturday but walking in them is really beyond me.  I’ve worn them out a few times, maybe once upon a time, and am likely to turn into a knee-quivering jelly if I try again. Not Keep.

Rich Fabrics Over Rags

Saturday and Sunday’s tops are like two alternate endings: the happy and the disappointing.  Saturday is the happy ending: chiffon vest, silk top and velvet jacket. All Keep.  The chiffon was a few quid in the sales; the silk top, a hand-me-down from mum; the velvet jacket, £2 in the sales.  I’ve hardly worn the velvet and1 the chiffon but now I choose to be swathed in soft textures.  This isn’t an expensive decision as the clothes are already in my wardrobe.  I’m going to feel good.

Sunday’s (Not Keep) tops are old, panicky, contingency tops.  Things I’ve kept in case the world falls apart and I run out of clothes.  I choose not to feel like that anymore.

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

 

 

 

 

 


Sep 4 2011

This week

Hello there lovely folks, this week’s post will be slightly later than usual, up by Tuesday. Thank you and see you then! Oops… Make that Wednesday! An unexpectedly busy start to the week! Miss you X


Aug 29 2011

Week 12 of Why So Many Clothes: Bottomless Bliss

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A Happy Accident

Monday’s first two attempts at the bottom half don’t fit.  Well, both of the black skirts (hand-me-downs, the cord from GM, the embroidered from mum) fit, but the height of waist they need to be worn at on my expanded hourglass figure mean they’re indecently short.  They would only be good for standing very, very still in front of a camera, and I wouldn’t like to trick you.  With less than ten minutes to get to an appointment up the road, let alone leave the house, I end up a lot more glam than the local GP surgery were probably expecting.  Fancy tights, black, halterneck, satin dress (mum hand-me-down) and black, crochet-style Monsoon jumper (Upper St charity shop).  The heels don’t leave the house, the pink pumps by the front door do.

I feel big and bodacious, a lot better than when I was thinner; a time when I bought this jumper and thought it was tight and made my arms look fat.  I genuinely wasn’t expecting the jumper to fit, and it’s actually comfortable and relatively roomy. Back then, I was three stone lighter than I am now, and a size 10 – 12. What was I seeing, and how? I remember enjoying my fitness while running or stretching, but sometimes, something else must have been going on.

Uh Oh

Today starts with a repeat performance.  The corseted playsuit I start with is too boned.  This isn’t a problem: I am happy getting bigger, happier in my body than I’ve ever been.  A swooshier alternative does fine, and it seems a shame to hide it over leggings and a long-sleeved, heart-necked t-shirt, but it’s chilly today. I love the detailing on the back of this playsuit (Irish charity shop).  It has slight camel toe issues, but I’m, er, prepared to ride this out.  The shirt (mum hand-me-down) is nice but perhaps too easy.  It’s too tempting to use it to hide and cover up (Weeks 1&2), so it must go!

Jumper To It

Love the sequinned velvet dress on Wednesday.  I wasn’t sure about the Miss Sixty jumper when Mum gave it to me, but today, in jumper and dress, I feel like the large, glam, bad-to-the-bone but wise best friend in a 90s rom com.  I enjoy this.  At work during the day, I had the pale pink, cross over blouse, at it was too hot for the jumper.  This was another hider, so today’s only Not Keep.

Old Habits Die Hard

Expected Thursday’s pleated skirt to look and feel hideous.  It was a leftover.  Four years ago, a charity shop (one off) closed and gave its stock to a friend for a not-for-profit festival.  She gave me the remainders from the swap shop / make do and mend sessions.  Of course, as described last week, I said yes to all of it.  Just in case. Some bits have made their way into costumes or props for various things; this skirt stayed in my wardrobe.  Although I like it, it’s not really me.  Yet, I want to keep it.  I have a strong feeling it’s about to work for me, become part of my winter look, which I dream is going to be based on Twin Peaks.  I’ll give it a season.

The top I’ve had since I was 18.  It’s from Ad Hoc, on Ken High Street and King’s Road, which I thought the best shop ever.  In 2000, waistbands still sat on the waist, and this top isn’t meant as a crop top.  Trousers and skirts really came up that high.  The long and short is that it has too much sentimental value to give up, being the only thing I ever afforded from Ad Hoc. The top is lightweight and scrunches easily into a drawer, and is still pretty wearable.

Bottomed Out

On day 89 of this project, I have run out of dresses or bottoms to wear that I haven’t worn already, bar three evening dresses.

Eighty nine days without repeating a dress, skirt, pair of shorts or trousers, jumpsuit, catsuit or playsuit.  I thought I might have a lot of clothes.  If I’m to carry on wearing all my clothes, to find out every possibility of Why So Many Clothes, some of the bottoms are going to have to be worn again so we can get through all the tops, and the remaining shoes (Week 4), coats and scarves.  And those three evening dresses.

Friday’s pink, silk satin vest (bought new, FCUK) is a favourite.  I think of it as a granddad vest, because of its shape and loose fit.  It started an obsession with tops of this shape and fit – see past weeks for more evidence! It came into my wardrobe as I believed that it would make a jumper dress more modest for an important job interview.  The sales assistant’s insistence that I shouldn’t wear anything, as having nothing but a push up bra under the crochet-front dress would make it more likely for me to get the job, should have alerted me that it would have been a good idea to try on the ‘modest’ vest she recommended.  I had to tuck the back of the vest deeply into my tights, in the toilet before the interview, to make sure I didn’t spend it with my cleavage staring bewildered into my peripheral vision.  This vest has since been on many more adventures, through thin times and thicker.

The kimono top I’m wearing over the vest is getting a bit old and stiff with washing, but it also has high sentimental value and takes so little space in the drawer that it makes no sense to Not Keep it.  Also, it elicited a number of compliments, and we know they tend to win me over.  Fickle.

Taratatata

When is an appropriate time to wear a cut out, fringed, see-through, er, item? (gift from Mum).

Saturday seemed like the moment, with a similarly-made blouse (Irish charity shop). A friend took me to the matinee of Anna Christie, starring a very good Jude Law, at the theatre.  It frustrates me that most people don’t dress up for theatre or dance anymore.  So much thought has gone into the architecture of the building in the first place, then the show’s design, set, costumes, the pictures made on the stage, and what do the audience do? Fill the larger proportion of the place with drab jeans and unthought-out colours, shapeless, hiding-away although you’re visible (and audible, while we’re there), overtly casual-for-the-theatre/ballet/opera this-is-just-a-normal-day-for-me clothes.  I know it’s silly, and of course my tongue is in my cheek, but dressing up is a compliment to the event.

And breathe. I think the dress is making me rant like Eddy from Ab Fab.

Supervest!

It’s a vest with a cape attached! But only on one arm.  It’s part fab, part sensible.  I bought it on a visit back to my friends and work in Bangkok, in 2002, imagining sweeping about in my clothes one day.

Life in my so many clothes can be great, being in the mould they let you shape yourself into for the day.

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons


Aug 22 2011

Week Eleven of Why So Many Clothes: The Best of Clothes, The Worst of Clothes

From Paris to the London riots, this has been a strange week (8th – 14th August).

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Last Dance in Paris 

Green, silk chiffon, midi-length dress, with a ruffle that runs from the tip of the hip, the hinge of the bottom, round the thigh to the bend of the knee.  Simple, vest neckline, and adjustable, narrow straps.  My favourite dress of all time, beautiful in design, to touch, in colour (2003, Jigsaw).  Saved for the Wolf’s and my last day in Paris, with an old Liberty shirt to throw over (charity shop).

The photo is from Belleville Park.  Belleville is one of Paris’ poorer areas; we have been staying just on the borders, looking forwards, into central Paris, the Eiffel Tower that sparkles on the hour after dark.  We’ve passed groups of young people, old people, ramshackle cafes, artist studios, rehearsal rooms,  estates and strawberry pink town houses, broken glass, a few looks, police, to get to Belleville Park. An old man shouted from a bench: ‘If you want to get somewhere, there is somewhere that way!’.  The park, like the area, is busy with local people. Young children of different backgrounds are doing free craft activities under a gazebo, making windmills from bottle tops and plastic straws, by an infinity pool that looks out, to the tower, and the rest of the city.  A waterfall drops between geometric puddles.  One of the puddles is dry, and has been filled with pictures from a spray can.  People pass, nod and laugh as we take photos.

Long Journey Home

The beige vest dress is for comfort. I like to think I don’t beige, but a long coach journey is an exception.  I try to brighten it up and shape it a bit with the green wrap.  We get a slightly earlier coach on Tuesday 9th August, hoping to arrive in Victoria, London before evening falls.  As we drive through Peckham, we see the shops shuttered and boarded. There is hardly anyone around.  On a corner, a few people stand with their pints outside a boarded-up pub.  A friend has said that yesterday, she would have advised us to stay in Paris, but today, people are getting together and cleaning up the streets, and the mood is very different because of that, safer.  We get back before the dark. A taxi refuses to take us, because a number of riot vans have just gone to my street.  A cyclist coming from that direction tells us it’s fine, they were passing through.  I feel like an idiot, with all my bags and my coach clothes.  At the bottom of my street, a crowd of police are buying their tea from a takeaway that was recently at the centre of a different, big news story; a couple more police officers are at an ice cream van.  I think they must be from out of London.

Everything feels off.

Wednesday

Today the streets of my home city feel alien and I want to hide, to stay indoors, but a girl’s gotta eat.  My wardrobe is getting sparser, and I was eager to find the clothes I could hide in most easily, to avoid drawing attention. While growing up in London, my slightly eccentric dress sense – then, an obsession with the sixties – got me spat on and set fire to  on a bus once, and shouted at and kicked on a tube another time, by other young people, who I’d never met.  Now, as then, I decide I’d rather not squash myself away.  We got over that in Week One of this experiment, so with a stubbornness not unlike my teenage years, I wear one of my most dreaded items: the baggy, floral, crinkle-pleat culottes, with elasticated waistband.  They were 10p in the local jumble sale, and I bought them when I was about three stone lighter than now, imagining a slightly kooky, sexy vintage look would come with them.  They are very wrong.  They create illusions of bulbous pockets of cellulite in improbable places. They suck in and blow out erratically.  The waistband is chunky.  The pattern isn’t very nice.

The big, white blouse with small, embroidered flowers is one I’ve been wanting to wear since it was given to me, again as a thank you from work, in Thailand in 2000. I thought it made me look fat, because it was big, which is plainly ridiculous.  It looks like a big shirt.  Finally wearing it, I feel comfortable and like myself.  The culottes will have to go, but the blouse will stay.

Hoarding – Against What?

The blue butterfly skirt in Thursday’s photo has a broken zip, yet I’ve been keeping it on a hanger, not even in the bag of clothes for mending.  The tights are another laddered pair, kept in the drawer regardless.  Only the blue tunic is a keeper, as the colour and fabric are so lovely – even though the fit doesn’t do what I’d hoped it would when I bought it in a charity shop in Hackney six years ago, being a bit, well, pajama-ish.

The blue pumps, a gift from mum, are oceanic and lovely, and will keep until they, like all my pumps, wear right out.

Mum’s Gifts

Friday I use another of my mum’s gifts – to wear bright, luminous, welcoming colours when the mood is dark.  From the comments that come by all day, at work and in public, the bright orange and pink silks are cheering other people up.  Keep both, although it’s taken about five years to find a way to wear this skirt…

Moving On

Poor old Saturday’s things.  Cheerful and whimsical as both the skirt and patterned top are, neither feel like me.  They both belong to a concentrated phase, where I was coming out of a shell, and they were the closest thing to bright and pretty I could manage.  That was five odd years ago, and the hippyish, unconventionally shaped clothes, while they fit, don’t fit.  The delicate white silk vest, however (the white version of a black one I wore two weeks ago) is perfect.

Sunday’s red, silk shirt is, like the turquoise tunic, comfortable, striking and a deeply tactile fabric, so for the Keep box.  The black velvet trousers are very high quality, but just too short on my ankles, so, rather than hoard them to wear with over-knee boots, I’ll relinquish them. The shoes are knackered: half of the platform of one foot crumbled away, but kept anyway, till now.

Hoarding is an odd thing.  If I’m offered clothes, I say yes to them, and always have.  I have always, until recently, struggled to give them up.  One of my favourite bits of art is Michael Landy’s ‘Break Down’. He inventoried everything he had on an Excel spreadsheet, then destroyed it on a conveyor belt in the old C&As on Oxford Street, open to the public.  I value this as it hits on my greatest fear: to lose all my things, all the objects which hold together the fact that I am really here.  I grew up with my glorious mum, who raised us to feel safe and part of a community although her income was below the poverty line.  You can never have too may clothes, because you will never know when you need them. In 2003, we lost everything she’d held together over those long and difficult years, to domestic violence.  We were homeless as well as poor, and I was careful to pack each and every thing of my own, because it was all evidence to say that once, I had been home. I, and all my loved little things, had been safe.  When I got back to Bristol university, to my temporary place there in a first, debt-doomed, attempt to escape poverty and associated lack of opportunity, I sold my flute, and bought the green, silk chiffon dress I wore on Monday.

It was a symbol of hope; the dress said: there will be happy times, when it is right to wear me.

Now I am sure . Here I am: in the green dress, in love, under another unlikely Paris waterfall, at a stage where the lack of confidence brought by poverty – to become what I want, to live for something that feels like me although that means an ongoing struggle with money, rather than living for a happiness measured by what it cost, and who approved it  – is slowly getting chipped away.  That dress has its place in my life.

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons