'Clothes to Be Seen' Category

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 

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 Three: My Clothes Are a Museum of My Life

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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