'Clothes and Being Myself' Category

(Un)Crafty Bride on a Budget: Handmade Fabric Bouquets, Origami Flowers, and Flower Baskets

Making our wedding flowers was a long and rewarding part of preparing for a highly personal, low-cost and (relatively) environmentally-friendly wedding.  I’m posting about this first, as if you’re planning to make your own flowers, it’s good to start early, so you can pick up and put down this project as time, leading up to your wedding, goes by.  I had never made flowers before, and with some help from friends and strangers, was able to make my own bouquet, and my seven (!) bridesmaids’.

Here is my bouquet — made from the petticoat of my daughters’ outgrown, 2-year-old-size summer dress.

Why would I have needed to make flowers?

Wedding flowers cost hundreds of pounds, cheap cut flowers are often not friendly to the environment.  What’s an uncrafty bride on a budget to do?

Make flowers.  

What sort of flowers? You may well have a theme or colours for your wedding.  For years, I held onto a dream of having a rainbow of bridesmaids; however, after looking at a few Pinterest images, I decided it didn’t work visually.  I had seen that when a group of bridesmaids stood in a line wearing dresses in every colour of the rainbow, they looked like a rainbow, but I imagined that as soon as they reconfigured or mingled or moved – which I very much wanted my bridesmaids to do – they’d look like guests, in block colours.  

The rainbow was still an important motif for a number of reasons, but another one had become important: my bridesmaids as backing singers.  These were the women who had been there at all the important times, who brought the glamour of true friendship and love.  They have always been with me, backing me. I love backing singers.

I also wanted my loved ones to be comfortable.  So, I asked my bridesmaids to wear their little black dresses (or catsuits / trouser suits / skirts and tops), like backing singers, and to each choose a colour to accessorise with.  Then I made bouquets in their rainbow colours.  

Photo by the brilliant Tracy Morter (www.tracymorter.com ). Three brilliant women. Three out of seven rainbow flowers…

As established in my ‘Why So Many Clothes?’ diary (http://saranesbitt.co.uk/2011/06/12/why-why-so-many-clothes/), during which I wore everything in my enormous wardrobe, I have a tendency towards holding onto clothes.  This meant that when it came to finding meaningful materials to make my flowers, I had plenty.  

I used fabric from our daughters’ outgrown summer dresses.  Around the necks, there were the usual toddler stains etc., which meant they were not good hand-me-downs.  However, much of the fabric was gorgeous and colourful and, importantly, connected to our union.  If you’re making your own bouquets from old clothes, first date clothes might be another interesting fabric, or anything that is unwearable but has some kind of history.

A friend added me to the Facebook group, A Make Do and Mend Life, early on in wedding preparations.  This helped a lot: a community of people who are generous with their skills and advice and gently passionate about conservation.  I was advised to get myself a glue gun and given some ideas on how to make the fabric into flowers.

The method I went with in the end was a combination of several, and well suited to my rudimentary craft skills.  

  1. Cut a strip of fabric, about 2-3 inches wide (4-5 cm), and longer than 12 inches (30cm).  
  2. Thread a needle with a length of cotton, doubling it up and tying several knots in the end so that the knot hooks onto the fabric when you make the first stitch (much like you will have learned at Primary School).
  3. Tack along one long edge of the fabric strip (to tack means to do a very basic stitch, in and out. I know this from a friend who customises all her clothes. She is amazing).
  4. When you get to the end, pull.  The fabric will gather along the edge with the stitches in.  Pinch this fabric between your fingers as it gathers, so it forms the base of a bloom.
  5. Poke a piece of florist wire inside the gathered fabric.  
  6. Apply hot glue to it from your hot glue gun.
  7. Squeeze the fabric into the hot glue to stick the wire to the flower and cover up any dodgy stitching (being careful not to touch any hot glue so you don’t burn yourself).
  8. When you have made enough flowers for a bunch, wrap all the flowers together with florist tape.  This tape doesn’t appear sticky until you apply a mild stretch to it and then it activates – great fun.

 

Total Cost: approx £26

Fabric – reused (free)

Hot glue gun with glue sticks – approx £20

Florist tape – approx £3 per roll

Florist wire – appox £3 for 100 ‘stems’

Time: on and off for months.  Once you get the hang of it, you can make three or four at a time while catching up with a TV show, listening to a bit of music, or even having a drink and chat.

Floppier fabrics were less useful; starchy cottons were best.  I filled in smaller bouquets with woolly pom poms (more on those in another post).  This is my picture of the bouquets, their stems wrapped with tissue just in case the English summer got really hot and the wax on the florist tape bled (almost wishful thinking…)

After the ceremony, the flowers went back to the venue and into glass jars on the tables.


A Little Rustic Stitching…

 

Flower Girl Baskets

As well as the bouquets, we decorated two baskets found in a local charity shop with the fabric flowers.  Two lovely friends and I spent a fun evening trial and erroring making origami flowers, finally finding a video we could follow on YouTube.

We filled the flower baskets with the origami flowers and they were scattered to make a colourful path down the aisle.  It was a perfect way of bringing our wedding into the Town Hall.  

Total Cost: £6

Origami paper – friends decluttering (free)

Baskets – £6 from charity shops

 

Time: a very enjoyable evening, plus a few extra origami flower making sessions while watching First Dates.  

With huge thanks to Natalie S for additional photos.

The Origami Flowers, made from this YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm_4hFPFAOU

 

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

Weeks 15 and 16: New Beginnings…

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

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

06.09.11

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.

07.09.11

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.

08.09.11

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.

09.09.11      10.09.11

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

12.09.11

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

13.09.11

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.

14.09.11

Scan Outfit – Yeah! Baby!

15.09.11

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.

16.09.11

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?).

17.09.11

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

 

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

Let Me In At Your Window

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

22.08.11

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

23.08.11

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.

24.08.11

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?

25.08.11

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

26.08.11

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

27.08.11 - 1

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

27.08.11 - 2     28.08.11

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

 

 

 

 

 

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).

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

Last Dance in Paris 

08.08.11

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

09.08.11

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.

10.08.11

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?

11.08.11

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…

12.08.11

Moving On

13.08.11

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.

14.08.11

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

 

 

 

 

Week Ten: When in Paris…

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

The Wolf is whisking me off to Paris on holiday, it’s the first time anything like this has happened to me and I’m very excited.  It’s also my first holiday in seven years.  He booked it a couple of weeks ago.  I packed on Friday, before travelling to Guildford for the weekend, knowing I’d have to be organised if I wanted to feel like me, and feel good in Paris, in my one-week’s wardrobe.  It was different from packing a capsule wardrobe, as I had to make sure I didn’t wear anything twice, in keeping with the rules of the ‘Why So Many Clothes’ experiment.  It was made more difficult by our approaching week ten – days sixty-four to seventy of not wearing the same clothes I’d worn since beginning this project.  When we arrive, I will unpack everything into different outfits, on hangers, but then decide what to wear each morning depending on mood and what mysterious adventures might spring upon us that day.

Going Green

01.08.11

Flushed, giddy and a bit smelly after a night on Eurolines, that photo’s actually the last minutes of wear of Monday’s outfit.  I’ve just seen the view from our apartment for the week – do you see the Eiffel Tower quite near to my right ear?  The apartment is perfect, rented out by a family every August, otherwise their beautiful, spacious home, with views that we see so far encompass from Pere Lachaise to Notre Dame to Sacre Couer, up on the hill.  I tried to wear something comfy but, well, different on the journey, which started in Guildford, then took us to Waterloo, home, Victoria, and Paris.  Hence, the green ensemble.  I love the green skirt and am definitely keeping it, partly because it grows and shrinks with me, but also because it’s something I bought for 10p at a jumble sale then never found the guts to wear while I was in my mid-twenties, fearing ridicule.  Being able to wear it confirms that I’m more sure of myself as I near thirty. More importantly, I really like it: it’s been thoughtfully made, it feels like something another human has put into the world because they thought it would add something, rather than be trendily temporary and have empty value.

The green vest is something I bought new on the high street, however, shortly before trying to give up. An old housemate won an argument about the number of wearable items in vintage and charity shops making ridiculous the need for newly, mass-manufactured clothes.  I couldn’t see past his logic and grumpily accepted defeat and stopped buying new things that weren’t made locally or on a small scale, or second hand clothes.  If I could afford couture, his argument would allow me to buy that too, although he’d probably be annoyed at that! The vest has lasted well, and is another item I bought when much smaller that still fits, so will change with me.

Planting Seeds

Tuesday’s official picture is in the park Ethan Hawke and Julie Delphy walk through in the film Before Sunset.  This was one of my choices for what to do in Paris, and I’d love to recommend it.  If you plan to descend at the end for the Canal St Martin / La Bastille, you’ll follow their route and can try sliding down the banisters at the end.  It’s called the Parc de Plantiere.  Here I am, standing on a beautiful bridge across the Paris streets, planted with flowers and plants, with walkers, joggers, babies, couples… standing with my bottom above Paris in a sheer dress with short, black satin underlining with no tights or leggings! I feel like I’m making peace in my body’s relationship with Endometriosis.  Interestingly, the usual quirky, clashing things I would normally put with a more chic dress aren’t here today – I’m confident that I’ll be present enough without them.  Or perhaps it’s just the effect of Paris.

02.08.11

All Good Things Come to a Trend

03.08.11

Loved the cream, see-through crochet dress from the moment it emerged in a Bristol charity shop. It smashed through any embarrassment I had about being out of fashion.  I got a lot of double takes at my chest from women, trying to work out if I was wearing anything underneath, but that trompe d’oeil, is, I suppose, part of what I’m doing by wearing the dress with a skin-tone, knee-length lining; it sounds daft, but sometimes the relationship between how I feel and subsequently put together an outfit and its consequence – being outside with other people and creating an interaction with them – don’t always come together and I get surprised by feeling exposed in the clothes I’ve consciously chosen to wear.

There was a bit of me that worried it might be too hippie for Pere Lachaise (next to our apartment) and an evening by the Seine but those were the most unfounded quibbles I could have had: all of Paris seemed to be relaxing in deckchairs on the banks of the Seine, and in the cemetery, it was hard to know which decade we were in.  On the coach to Paris, I read that see-through crochet will be coming into fashion this Autumn/Winter. I hate it when this happens, because that means my things I’ve had for years will, by Spring, look like last season’s trend.

Not Moulin Rouge

Argh! Accidentally ended up in Pigalle and felt like we were in a Heironymous Bosch painting.  This was the first wear of the dress.  I almost wore it ages ago, to meet the Wolf’s entire maternal family for the first time (including his parents and brother), to a party where the invite stated ‘red carpet’ as dress code. I thought this meant fancy dress, and was going to reference Moulin Rouge with a red feather headdress, black lace shrug, the dress and heels, until one friend explained it just meant formal, in a playful way, and another said, ‘Sara, give them a chance.’

04.08.11

Now that I’ve seen the Moulin Rouge  – the famous venue flanked by a burger joint and theme pub, and surrounded by strip bars and sex shops, paraded by tourists with their young families – I’d never dress to positively reference it and its neighbourhood’s commodification of sexuality and bodies.  Walking down the central pavement in Pigalle, I had to put on a blazer to cover myself up as I wanted to disappear.

Climbing the hill to Abbesses, I relaxed and shed the disguise, enjoying my clothes again.  The neck and hem of the dress are modest enough, and it felt slinky yet thick – a dress to feel beautiful and at ease in, to be me at my happiest in, which is what I am this holiday.  I adore the shawl, embroidered and appliquéd with long, soft tassles – but remembered it’s actually my mum’s, and on loan, and I should have given it back about two years ago.

Ah, the shoes.  Their first wear after five years in the wardrobe.  Pretty, very pretty, but I got pins and needles in my toes just sitting eating dinner at Le Relais Gascon, the favourite restaurant in Paris of friends of the Wolf (very tasty and I couldn’t decide between tagliatelle and garlic potatoes as my side so the restaurant gave me both, so friendly, and yum). Sad, but, Not Keep.

Proper Tourist Day

Ah, the Missoni top.  I’ve always wanted a Missoni top and couldn’t believe my luck when I saw one hanging in a new charity shop in West Cork, a few months ago.  I was just buying some more china for my china collection, a shepherd and shepherdess clock and vase, as well as a ‘teach yourself’ French book to revive the brain cells that used to study French and a tea towel with lady birds on.

‘How much is that stripy jumper?’ I asked.

‘Two Euro,’ said your man.

The Jigsaw slip dress underneath is a hand-me-down from mum (like the pink shirt I had on during scorchio midday sun) and it makes a good base. Both keepers.  Shoes? Very, very, very wet.

05.08.11       05.08.11(2)

When in Paris…

Hmm, that thing about not buying in the high street and not affording couture? Parisian design house Sonia Rykiel’s knitwear range for H&M was too much for me to resist.  My friend ZH woke me up on a Saturday offering to buy me the dress before they all sold out, if I paid her back.  I rang my mum to talk through my qualms and she said she’d gift me it so I wouldn’t get guilty.  My principles are clearly loose and fast, if existent at all.

But this dress is something else.  Who would think of putting those colours together? The criss-cross over the collarbone?

06.08.11

The photo’s in the Parc du Chaumont, the most surreal, beautiful place.  We were recommended it as a place Parisians go, and it’s great, one of my favourite places – if you want to walk towering cliffs, temples, suspension bridges, caves and under waterfalls, in a disused quarry in a capital city, while local people walk their dogs, picnic, play with their children, walk hand in hand.

Pure Elegance

The bridesmaid skirt I’m wearing Sunday is another treasure. It had tags on valuing it at $180, and I got it for a few pounds in an Upper Street charity shop.  The two white tops are pretty, but the blouse is too frou-frou on me, and the vest too tight on my chest.  While I like them both, Not Keep.

07.08.11(1)

Wolf and I rose early(ish) to get to the Bastille Market. We found the famous spatchcock lady, who marinates her chickens for three days before cooking and selling them fresh on the market.  She was extraordinarily friendly – nearly everyone in Paris has been open and kind, it’s been a very peaceful time, but she was an exception.  We took our chicken to the Seine and sat on the Paris Plage, tearing tasty strips off.  I made a ‘table’ on my satin skirt from the carrier bag, les mouchoirs (love that word) and the chicken packet. It worked.  Keep.

In the evening, I changed into another of my favourite things.  It’s a bit of a shock, and a relief, that on day seventy of this experiment – I’ve been wearing everything in the wardrobe only once as promised, and made it to seventy days and counting – I still have some beautiful things to wear.  The denim-coloured, silk top with pretty wrist buttons, unstained skirt and I went with the Wolf for our last restaurant supper in Paris, down the road from the much-loved apartment.

Paris, je t’aime.  But have I worn all my sane and beautiful clothes? While packing for Paris, I started to get the fear about what will be in my wardrobe when I return back to London.

07.08.11(2)

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

Week Nine of Why So Many Clothes: Becoming

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

Skin Slipping Off

If you’re gonna do it – do it properly, I seem to be thinking this morning, going for the full seventies with flared, navy cord dungarees (Topshop, Glasgow charity shop), Granddad top (new, FCUK) and oxblood, handmade Mary Janes.  Usually, I like my dungees, thinking they suit me and look cute while comfy, but today, I feel underdressed, scruffy and weak.  Not feeling too well, and getting giddy, it’s like the outfit isn’t supporting me.  In the mirror in the toilets at the office, the outfit’s exposing me – weak and vulnerable.  It might be the side panels, the skin tones, or just the undaringness of it.  Should have worn spiky heels as I’d imagined before getting dressed, although the giddiness would certainly have got the better of me!

25.07.11

And Slipping On

Was going to wear a blouse over the black vest but catching a glimpse of the outfit in the mirror, I saw, after aspiring to recreate them since I was 16, the wardrobes in the film L’Appartement.  I don’t have Monica Belluci’s figure – she does – but this is the shape I’ve always wanted from an outfit and have finally found it, by accident.  This wardrobe will support me, as it did Romane Bohringer’s otherwise unstable character (who dressed like her friend, Belluci).  She looked hot in a short, bikerish jacket, and here’s my Sara Nesbitt Gibbons version: take the basic, L’Appartement shape and add a soft, piratey jacket or a butterfly bolero for day (both bought new, the vest and skirt Mum-hand-me-downs).  Or, if you’re Belluci, a silk scarf, and dancing.

26.07.11         26.07.11(2)

The outfit is showing me, but also making a shape of my body that isn’t its outline, isn’t me, but feels like me looking good.  It’s also playing, of course, and the clothes are beautiful in themselves, and also comfortable.  Great for eating squeaky cheese with NN.

Born to Be a Dancer?

This is the birth of the pink dress, its first day of life outside of my wardrobe.  I bought it from Oxfam a couple of years ago, without trying it on, because it’s exactly the same design as the black one I wore for my 21st (and 29th) birthdays.  I had found the colour a bit cheap, in electric light, so never wore it.  In daylight, it’s gorgeous – deep, glowy, commanding pink.  The dress moves well – the skirt of it does.  It’s just far too small on my bosom, the seams stopping before they do.  Even under the top the line of my bust was made a bit odd, wrongly curved and lined.  Much as I think it’s a lovely dress, someone else will wear it better.

27.07.11

Another first was the pair of shoes – soft, lilac suede with scalloped sides, a peep-toe and stiletto heel.  They felt gorgeous and look gorgeous in my bag, where they’ve spent most of the day.  Keep, because I can’t afford to replace such lovely things, and have weddings coming soon.

First Steps

The blue top was from a shop called Central Park in Bond Street Station, where there was a £10 rail.  I was seventeen, and spent money from my first payslip, from my first employee job, on the top.  Somehow, it’s withstood urges to get rid of it over the years (too boring, too tight, etc.) and I’m pleased it’s still here.  It was an early experience of financial independence, and has proved a useful thing over the years.  I like the little slits in the sleeves.

She Got Legs

After last week’s realisation, it may look like the leggings are a cop out, but it really wasn’t that hot, and also, I was dressing up a little bit like the ballet.  Fairy Twinkle Toes that I am (not).

Baring most of the legs on Thursday, albeit in leggings, as the tunic is bottom-skimming, and the leggings, slinky.  Not something I would have braved before, as it’s not just skin, it’s shape, too, some days, a bit, though never too completely.  Trying to learn not to be embarrassed.

28.07.11

Talking of which, although I love the tunic – it feels very me – the second button came undone briefly in the afternoon, at work, where I’d been rubbing at a sausage and mash stain – that really was too much exposure.  Keep the tunic, and keep an eye on the fastenings.

Buckled Up

It was also the first day of life for the black PVC, strappy wedges.  They were surprisingly comfortable and springboarded me around all day.

Old Skins for New Me

Both the little black dress and chiffon, flower blouse on Friday are things bought or kept by a younger me for when I grew up.  The black dress went to my 21st birthday party, the week I became a proper adult, and fell down the stairs of my bedsit, unable to say anything other than ‘Whalefish’, giggling a lot.  Adult, indeed.

The blouse was uniform in the clothes shop I worked in at that time, and I chose it as I thought it would be useful when I got older.  It was, today – the first time I’ve really started to like it. Must be getting on.  I was told, by a seamstress, that I looked very glam, and, she added, why shouldn’t I, wear what you want! It’s silk, folds small as a hanky, and no reason not to Keep.

29.07.11

Added the green leather jacket to look less smart for going for pizza.  I answered an ad for this jacket, and cycled to Bath to fetch it, on a romantic first sort-of-date (only one pair of shoes for that man! Lucky him.  But, oh, it was to pick up clothes… is there a pattern here?) The coat was, in my eyes, pure Sixties.  It used to squeak in the University library, as I moved around the shelves, eliciting dirty looks and shushes.  Keepity keep.

Cast Away…

Ouchy shoes.  Pointy with a slight heel.  Even after eight years, they’re too tight.  Not Keep.

…Those Fears

30.07.11

And here is my skin.

Love this dress, especially now I can wear it without leggings or tights. Yes, you can.

Saturday in Guildford, in a garden, loving the Vitamin D and the silk.  (Dress originally from Oasis, bought on Petticoat Lane Market, worn for my elderly relative’s 90th birthday, and first Valentine’s day with the Wolf, at Clapton gig, and other, much less occasional occasions).

Endless Possibilities

Concludes this week, on the question of Why So Many Clothes? The haphazard things I’m wearing on Sunday somehow come together to make me feel playful, free, relaxed and well.  Each a nice item in their own right, even the silver cardi I was unsure about when I bought it, but like now.

Why did I buy it? It was in a charity shop, so I knew I’d never see it again, and thought, maybe, it might become a skin to slip into one day, depending on what happened to me.  It might pay to be more careful about distinguishing between a contingency and a possibility, when it comes to choices for the wardrobe, and its so very many clothes.

31.07.11        31.07.11(2)

by Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

Please note, lovely readers: posts go up a week after the wearing, for personal reasons, although this is likely to change in the very near future.

Week Eight of Why So Many Clothes? Hiding Becomes Revealing

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

Leggings and Tights

There is evidence of a time before leggings and tights. Photos of me wearing this black, cotton Lacoste tennis dress in a friend’s restaurant, by a beach in Thailand. My friend is Thai, I’m with several Thai friends from Bangkok.  For beachwear, this dress was acceptably modest in Thai culture.  Yet, I can’t bring myself to wear it without tights or leggings in the UK: seemingly incapable of wearing a skirt above the knee without tights or leggings.  While I’d like to think this was an independent decision, a matter of personal style and a resistance to dominant ideas about leg-lengthening lines and, more importantly, female shapes, I’m aware there’s some kind of body issue that’s the hindrance.  I need to wean myself back onto showing the skin on my legs, because it’s not modesty that’s stopping me, it’s a deep, inhibiting embarrassment, and I’m hiding from what is causing it.

18.07.11

On a more positive note, one of the reasons why so many clothes might be the kind of personal trends that are little fascinations with the same shape, texture, colour, pattern.  In particular…

Foumphiness

I do seem to love a foumphy skirt.  By foumphy, I mean one that goes out and in and is a bit flouncy and has its own curves.  A good example is a tiered skirt, like I’m wearing Tuesday.

19.07.11

Although Tuesday’s photo ended up being taken in white tights, they went on in the evening because it grew cold.  I spent the day in bare legs in a knee-grazing skirt, foumphy enough to show occasional swathes of skin.  This skirt has holes punched in the lace of the layers, so you can see little circles of sunlight on the skin underneath, if you catch it at the right angle.  Wearing it felt quite nice, with occasional but intense flashes of self-consciousness, in case too much skin could be seen; the bits I didn’t want to show, particularly the backs of my thighs.

The stripy top seemed to not-go nicely with the black and white tier near the bottom of the skirt.  Unfortunately, the pink pumps have started to disagree with my little toes, otherwise this would have been a really comfortable outfit.  I like the way the stripes sit on the round of my tummy.

Wednesday’s purple skirt is another example of the foumphy skirt (Upper Street charity shop, as was yesterday’s).  Fitted on the waist, hips and bottom, it has tucks at random intervals down the length and all around.  I used to feel really unsure about it, but today I feel so utterly myself that I have the confidence and sense of being to wear it.  I feel earthy and sunlit and want colours to go with that.  I feel a release.  Also, got the stains out of the pink jumper, and that release means it’s ok to wear and keep.

20.07.11

The final example of foumphy is the red and white skirt (Irish Charity Shop) I’m wearing on Thursday.  I feel like I’ve rooted in my dressing up chest, can see how wrong it is but it triggers some Red Riding Hood dream, maybe some little girl’s idea of how grown women dress. I feel comical in it, cheerful and winking although a bit nutty.  I seem to be back in tights.

21.07.11

How to Make Friends and Lose Lovers

The red Gap tee is better known as the Chilli Top.  Plain and misshapen with wear and years, but it holds the old memory of meeting my great friend BP dressed as a chilli, with red cords and my long-gone red mountain bike, Roberto.  Roberto was lost to bricks and oblivion, in Bristol, when he got stolen as BP and I sat and ate pasta and drank wine with two middle-aged Italian brothers in their too-lightly patronised café.  Roberto may have gone forever, but BP decided we would be friends for life, partly – or maybe mainly – because she liked that I was dressed as a red pepper.

How Many Shoes to Take on a First Date?

The pink shoes were bought for ZH’s wedding, on a day I ended up on a date with five pairs of shoes about my person.  Each pair was pale pink. I had started the day with three pairs – flip flops, heels and plimsolls – because it was summer and I was worried about how my bare feet and their thin, sensitive skin would react.  I bought two more pairs of pale pink shoes on the way to meet the man in question, as I needed two options for the wedding (one pair was given up on as they just didn’t work, a little bit like the pair of us).  These shoes are not as comfy as they look. They’re toe suckers, too big and the heel’s worn down.  You must clench your big toe to keep them on, the little ones getting uncomfortably suckered, while the odd-shaped wooden heel aggravates the base of your foot.  Not Keep.  A bigger foot would be happier, after the cobblers.

Trend 2: Liberty

22.07.11

Liberty prints.  Today’s blue shirt (Upper Street charity shop) is an old Liberty one, while Tuesday’s skirt was a Topshop (charity shop) imitation, I’d say.  The red linen dress is another ‘like now’, that was a hand me down from mum I wasn’t sure about.  Although it’s dated, writing this blog has made me feel a lot less inhibited about what I like, and a lot freer of the trends that are imposed, free enough to start finding patterns that emerge in personal fascinations and tastes.  The dress got a lot of compliments.  The shawl is from Thailand, and was a gift from my work there.  I’ve been too scared to wear it in case of loss or damage, which seems like a waste, but I have lost some beautiful shawls to stains, trains and mysteries over the years.

Argghhhh!

23.07.11

Yes, I did it, it had to come sometime and I can only blame myself for having it in my wardrobe: the psychedelic moo moo.  Walking around a residential, East London area on a Saturday, I didn’t get any hassle. Groups of children playing in the street were almost respectful (was that it?): one group told a boy to stop knocking on a miniature door in the wall of a church because of the lady (and Wolf) passing, and because it is a church.  Shopkeepers were very friendly.  I got one totally befuddled and confounded look, but otherwise, the idea I grew up with that you can wear what you want in London and we don’t mind seems to be true.  I can’t imagine being anywhere else I’ve lived and forgetting I was wearing this.  I did, and just, for the main, thought people were being nice,  friendly and smiley today.  If I find out I’m pregnant with octuplets, this will still fit, so perhaps I should keep it just in case.

Another Attempt at Something Abandoned

24.07.11

Ya ha. Today, Sunday, I’m growing old disgracefully.  At nearly 30, I’m wearing the things I never dared to as a teen: because of body and social issues.  I mean the things I didn’t wear at thirteen, when I should have been rocking mini-kilts (local jumble sale), like the girls with long, tanned, hairless legs in the neighbourhood of my French Exchange partner in Lyon.  I’m wearing them with leggings, yes.  The problem now is, I can’t get over not de-hairing every inch of my thighs – I rarely feel like I’ve got rid of all of them – before baring them to the world, as ten years of Endometriosis has left me with thicker, darker, more visible hairs than I can bear.  This is where my embarrassment comes from, and it’s attached to a painful, difficult condition that a large number of women experience.  One in four women in the UK are expected to have Endometriosis.  This means many other women are also coming to terms with a body that doesn’t look like what we’re shown it should.  More importantly, it feels very sore and tiring, and, moreover, personally frightening, because of the connection with sub fertility.

There is always hope.  Hopefully there will be more to say.

To today.  Last time I saw KR, I attempted a different mini-kilt, which ended up in Not Keep.  Today’s has safety pins, ergo room for the lovely fajitas KR and FL are cooking.  Moam moam.  This outfit feels fun, like dressing up, rather than trendy or conventionally attractive.

Clothes With a Life of Their Own

The vest is a semi-organic thing: bought as part of a three-for-£10 offer from a Japanese boutique on Commercial Street, when I got it back to my old office I saw it had been pre-stained under the armpits. Unworn, just treated to look that way.  I looked up Japan fashion at the time and found some similar things.  I cut off the armpits and turned it into a vest, one of my favourites.  Unfortunately / fortunately, recently I accidentally picked up one of my red gingham shoes with my armful of whites and the vest came out pink, after being washed with the shoe.  I like the bubblegum pinkness, today.

The shoes used to be a size 6.  I’m an 8.  I wore them first on a date with the same guy who experienced the five pairs of pale pink shoes. I had to get these shoes stretched, by a shop selling handmade shoes, so they’d fit.  On the date, I just used a lot of plasters.

 

PS Next week’s post will be up slightly later in the week than usual, on Wednesday 10th August.  See you then.

 

by Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

Week Five: I Have So Many Clothes Because So Many Occasions Are Special… And So Many Women

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

Petticoats in Paris

Like the gorgeous, silk, cherry skirt I wore in the first week of my Why So Many Clothes experiment, ZH convinced me to buy the red, patchy, floral dress nearly ten years ago. This time, it was for a specific reason, rather than her brilliant ability to make me think of a piece of beautiful silk as a practical investment (she was right there, mind!): to wear on a trip to Paris for an old boyfriend’s birthday.  Twenty-one year old me sauntered round with nowt but a matching bra.  My sense of how much skin to show changed considerably when I worked in Lebanon, some years ago, and so, although I don’t cover up in the way I would have done in Lebanon, now I find I often can’t quite shake the feeling I need a bit of modesty.  Sometimes this is reflective of a way I learned to express and value myself – but sometimes I worry whether I’m expressing my past experiences with clothes, and what they show about how I value myself, or whether I feel dutiful, but not genuinely expressive.  It’s a question that might need asking.

27.06.11

The sheer top, like the dress, I bought new in the sales; the dress from House of Fraser, the top from Monsoon.  I haven’t worn the dress for a couple of years, and don’t feel as fab in it as I was expecting to when I pulled it off the hanger.   I’m not sure it sits quite right, although the concept of the different layers is appealing.  An older, Irish woman of about ninety approaches me, in Camden later today, with a horrified expression: she tells me my petticoat is hanging down.  She finds it hilarious when I explain it’s the design of the dress.  While the dress is a valued artefact of that Paris holiday, I have other, better, souvenirs – a pretty ring, metro billets, a concert ticket.  This dress, though pretty, doesn’t feel quite me anymore…  Not Keep.

So Many Women to Celebrate With Clothes

The asymmetric Lipsy skirt has only been worn twice in over ten years, because I get antsy about the hemline showing sudden flashes of upper thigh.   Both times I wore it, I wanted to nod to Marilyn Monroe: firstly with a cream, feather-collared cardigan, then peeking out from under an off-the-shoulder jumper dress.  This Tuesday, I’m wearing it with leggings and layers to channel the hotties in the British Library: women of all ages, working with rare books, wearing themselves inside out in thoughful, unpredictable and beautiful outfits.  I’ll keep the Lipsy skirt, tricky though it is, because it allows me to dress up as female icons.  The mask was made by my very talented friend MG, an inspiring woman who finds ideas everywhere.

28.06.11

Modesty comes into play genuinely on Wednesday. The pinky orange silk skirt is a classic ‘Clothes Make Me Happier’ specimen.  The grey jumper is, I have to admit, exhausted.  It has an unshiftable coffee stain and the fabric is worn to bobbled thinness.  It was about £6 in H&M seven years ago.  The skirt is made to last, but blows up, however, and so the leggings to match the jumper help a lot with travelling on the tube, those pesky, blowy escalators.  I love the silver glads, not sure how long they’ll last but then again, I do still have a lot of shoes to wear…

29.06.11

Reading, Wedding and Reading (redding)

30.06.11

Thursday’s satiny frock went from the office to the launch of South Bank Poetry 10, the poetry magazine I assistant edit.  As the tenth issue, it was a real celebration, and I wanted to pay tribute to the excellent poets and poems with my garb as well as my gab.  Happy Birthday SBP! As for the frock, I’ll keep it.  When my mum gave it to me a few years ago, it fell off immediately as there was nothing anywhere to hold it up.  I can’t comprehend how much smaller I must have been then.  I went for supper with the very kind EH fairly recently wearing this dress (pre-blog), who kindly recommended I stay my current shape, to fit in it.

01.07.11am

Friday was the wedding of a very beautiful wedding magazine editor and a very nice man, friends of the Wolf.  I was at work in the morning, and needed clothes I could move about in and move stuff about in.  I didn’t like the red tunic when I bought it, but it’s grown on me.  I adore the blue dress, and the shawl.  I bought them both for the wedding, from ebay, before this project started – while bed-bound after the op, which definitely influenced the time I spent looking for the right dress and accessory – and preserved them to wear today.  I loved every movement made in them – a wonderful, beautiful wedding, a very happy day.

01.07.11pm

Saturday’s outfit is a travelling back from a wedding one: comfortable, easy.  I did enjoy this dress in its lifespan, but it’s a bit worn out now and it’s probably time to let it go.

02.07.11

Sunday was a day for a catsuit.  Mum and I both wore our catsuits to see Grace Jones, in Hyde Park.  I say Reading because Mum helped set up the original festival, and I wanted to note her absolute grooviness.  Not that I need to, given how groovy she is in her catsuit! Her floaty sleeves inspired me to put the cape with mine, which I bought in the market in Lebanon.  I think perhaps my experiences are more embedded in my wardrobe, in all their complexity and twists and tensions, than I’d realised.

03.07.11

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

 

Week Three: My Clothes Are a Museum of My Life

You need to upgrade your Flash Player

Why so many clothes? Because there are so many different ways of being

Monday’s might look like a plain outfit, but these are some of my favourite clothes.  I really enjoy my curvy thighs and bum in these jeans.  I like the Bardot-esque, 50 Cents in an Irish charity shop simplicity of the top.  The cardi reminds me of my lovely friend CS’s folksy, crafty style  – although she’d add a few homemade corsages and maybe a nice headscarf.  I can see that if they weren’t quite the shapes they are, and the level of comfort, these clothes could make an outfit for disappearing in. But these clothes all help me feel good and so be present. I’m keeping them all.

13.06.11.

Because clothes are artefacts

I’m apprehensive about wearing the butterfly-print skirt.  I used to wear it a lot, but haven’t for about two years, and now, it reminds me of a weird date, an old job, and a time I’d rather not step back into.  The memory of buying it is much happier.  Brighton, three or four years ago, the Oxfam right by where the bus stopped distracted me from getting to my brill friend BP’s party, and I bought the skirt, virtually new, from French Connection, and a really good Benneton dress, slinky with a sort of purple and white cloud print and black velvet trim. I was wearing that dress a couple of years ago, when my partner-in-crime EH and I met to talk about a poetry theatre project and watch a play, and loved the dress because of that memory.  I did a very rare thing and gave that dress away, to my friend NN, a few months ago, because she needed to borrow a dress and when I saw her in it I felt that she looked so beautiful and elegant she had to keep it.  As for the butterfly skirt, I’m very active today, and the broken button I’ve ‘fixed’ with a safety pin causes a number of wardrobe malfunctions at work, eventually tearing the fabric.  I don’t enjoy wearing it anymore, but it’s a nice skirt and it would be a shame to waste it, so if anyone wants me to post it to them to fix or recycle, please drop me a line.

14.06.11

I feel ungrateful for saying this, but I don’t quite feel quite right in the black net skirt I wear on Wednesday.  It’s lovely, but I think I look like a goth fairy scrubbed clean.  I want to put it in the Not Keep box, but it was a present from my mum.  I’ve been looking at it, slung over a chair in limbo, and feeling like I want to keep it just to remember that my mum gave it to me.  I can’t give it to a charity shop or sell it because that feels somehow mean, out of the spirit of the skirt’s purpose, so I’m going to give it to a friend who my mum knows and loves.  The navy blue coat makes me feel amazing – also a gift from my brilliant mum, who (very kindly and generously) insists on buying me coats and posting them to me, even though I have quite a number already…

15.06.11

I’m trying to wear all of the tights and leggings I’ve been hoarding, and Thursday’s the day for the yellow and purple flowery tights.  I’ve got through loads of tights by discovering that many of the ones in my drawer are holey and ripped.  One pair only had one leg.  I’m feeling a bit self conscious about these tights, but they have a good memory, of going to the circus with a cocktail dress and yellow wellies on the Wolf and I’s first anniversary celebration.  I was also wearing them with this red coat and my glasses when I stepped out of the house one morning, and a man shouted out of his car: ‘Hey lady! You look like Ugly Betty!’  I was a bit upset, as he was the first person to speak to me that day.  He got really confused, shouting, ‘In a good way! You look like Ugly Betty in a good way!’ Ah well.  It beats the guy who tried to chat me up by pretending to mug me at a cash machine.

16.06.11

Hoarding clothes is like being able to time travel, secretly.  The tight, polka got skirt I’m wearing on Friday takes me, in the present, to the Wolf’s cousin’s band’s gig, and also to BP’s dotty spotty party three years ago, and to the rustle of the church jumble sale where I bought it for 10p.

17.06.11

Because I want to be seen

For the Wolf’s birthday celebrations, we’re going to see Bob Dylan in Finsbury Park.  This is what happens in my head, as I put on the skirt.  Bob Dylan says, ‘Nice skirt, it’s very colourful, what’s your name?’

‘Sara, I was named after your song.’

‘Well, Sara, would you like me to sing it for you?’

‘Thanks Bob Dylan. Actually, it’s my boyfriend’s birthday.  Please could you sing ‘Forever Young’?’

‘Forever Young? How about, Happy Birthday?’

Then all of the festival goers join Bob Dylan in singing happy birthday to the Wolf.

I’m really wearing it because I asked him, of all my clothes, which he really liked, and he thought of that skirt.  It was a hand-me-down from my friend ZH, along with a matching shawl.  The turquoise, beaded top under my black jumper was a hand-me-down from the amazing GM, and my 94-year-old  relative gave me her coat.  I love wearing all these beautiful women’s clothes and bringing them with me.  I’ve got black wellies on my feet, and had the skirt tucked into my waistband to protect it from the mud.

18.06.11         18.06.11(1)

On Sunday, I wear the hat in tribute to Bob Dylan.  It was the best gig I’ve ever been to.  The hat and sunglasses are effectively holding my head together and I don’t feel good and think I don’t look good.  I’m wearing Calvin Klein vest and skirt, a nineties tunic jumper and Camper shoes, all charity shop finds.  I bought the shoes for about £2 on a rainy day in Glasgow, when the ones I was wearing got soaked and my feet were cold.  I think I don’t really like them, and my toe escapes.  I’m thinking the shoes and skirt are both going in Not Keep.

Then I see myself through my boyfriend’s eyes, through the camera, and I look nothing like my bad view of myself.  In the weekend’s photos, he shows me the possibility of beauty in his camera’s eye, that maybe I have so many clothes because I like them and maybe I even like myself.  One thing he shows me, clearly, is that he really sees me.

19.06.11

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons