'Nature or Nurture?' Category

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…

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News

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

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

Archaeology of My Bedroom Floor

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

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

Old Favourites

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 14: 100 days of…

Solitude, Comedy, Mystery, Generosity, Creases and Comfort 

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Solitude

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

30.08.11

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

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

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

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

Comedy 

31.08.11

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

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

Mystery

01.09.11

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

Generosity 

02.09.11

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

Creases 

03.09.11-1

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

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

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

03.09.11-2

Comfort 

04.09.11

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

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

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

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

Let Me In At Your Window

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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).

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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 Six of Why So Many Clothes: Coming Up Daisies

 

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I like it

04.07.11

That black vest peeking out from under Monday’s plum Warehouse (90% off) dress is one of the most sentimentally valuable things in the wardrobe.  It was a bold buy for eighteen-year-old me, when living in Bangkok.  It has a red wiggle across the waist and tummy, and a brown and red cubist design on the back.  I can’t wear it on its own now, because it has white marks, bobbles, tears, faded patches.  It’s almost offensive. I can’t get rid of it.  It’s long past its days as a really trendy item in Bangkok fashion, when I bought it in a swanky department store from ‘Fly2K’ after months of saving up the bottle.  Back then, a colleague in my office, a Thai woman of about 28 (about two years younger than I am now), used to wear the most intriguing and diverse outfits to work.  She was beautiful, with big eyes, face-framing black hair, a slim but curvy figure which she thought was fat.  She leaps to mind in a sheer, rusty and golden, printed tunic, belted with a silver threaded plait, and tight, charcoal flares, somehow officey and out of this world all at once.  When I asked her where she got all her clothes from, she laughed and said not to worry, by the time I was her age, I’d have as many choices in my wardrobe – just to keep collecting if I wanted to have that variety.  Sometimes I’ve caught a glimpse of her in the mirror, and smiled.

So, to the Warehouse dress.  I didn’t specifically like it when I bought it, but it reminded me vaguely of the shapes Ossie Clarke made.  I go in and out of phases of liking it or wondering why I have it in the first place.  Today, I like it.  The colour, comfort and relative work-worthiness.  So many clothes because sometimes I need to wait until I like them again?

I like it not

05.07.11

Oh dear, I’m fickle.  I didn’t like Tuesday’s green skirt when I put it on. I wanted to, but didn’t.  This was its first wear.  I thought I’d cheer it up with the rusty tights and the black corsage on the puff-sleeved tee shirt.  My mum’s staying and she says I look really good. My boss compliments the skirt.  I start to like it.  A colleague says he thinks the skirt is great but a real winner with the tights. Oh, dear. Keep.

I like it

I had an email (thank you!) asking how it felt to be thinking about my clothes every day, while writing this blog, and whether it made me tired.  The Wolf and I are talking about this experiment, on Tuesday evening, and I realise that, at this stage, I feel differently than I’d anticipated: six weeks in, not having duplicated an item of clothing, as I go through the labyrinth of wearing all my clothes.  Not oppressed, as feared, by my clothes nor by a stealthy, creeping awareness that some insidious notion of femininity and style and status ruled my life without me knowing it. Phew.  What I’m learning is that there are very few things in Not Keep because I love my clothes and clothes.

I’m increasingly finding confidence and self-expression through this experiment.  This has a lot to do with the Wolf’s camera eye and my mum’s generosity and friends’ and readers’ support.  I’ve also realised that I haven’t spent a lot of money on this magnarvellous wardrobe.

Is this too soon?  There are still drawers that don’t shut to wear through, that mysterious pile on top of the cupboard, a few bags, clothes on hangers and a pile of handwashing to do.  There are still a lot of shoes.  Still those luminous green shorts. Still so many questions.

Clothes as a magnifying glass

06.07.11

Wednesday’s outfit begins with one little pin. It’s a crow playing a saxophone, made by a childhood friend, for Dingwalls in Camden.  The crow’s wearing a red mac and he’s black and white with a bit of brown.  So – red halterback, black and white pirate top (Dingwalls is by the water, Camden Lock – now a very different place to when the Crow pin was made), chocolate leather jacket, black, high-waisted drainpipes, vintage Italian brogues from the 1960s, black lace socks.  The whole outfit is a magnified version of the pin, and its tone: through this, a magnified expression of feeling for the memory and the living, present person, who designed the pin back in the 1980s.

I like it not

Hmm. Thursday’s clothes are comfy, bright and playful but I’m not really playing.  I feel silly.  Always wanted to like the spotty, grey dress but one giggle from my mum and I have to admit – it doesn’t work for me.  I don’t like it, just liked the idea of dressing as a spotty librarian, the image in my head when I blew 50p on it in a Commercial Street Charity Shop. On Friday, a lady on my route to work is in a similar get together.  I narcissistically flatter myself that someone was inspired during our daily train ride but really, I think it just works for her.  As for me – Not Keep. The pink tights and lace hoodie stay though! Just maybe not together.

07.07.11

I like life!

Friday is a day for celebrating and showing change.  The black, slinky cocktail dress was from the sales in the clothes shop I worked in during my BA.  Now I’ve earned it: I absolutely need it to wear for an informal prize-giving, for a poetry competition.  It’s raining and I’m working outside of home all day so I need layers.  I started with a pink tee shirt but that went back in the drawer and on with Mum Style – the loose, retro shirt with fruit and flowers.  I’ve been looking for a reason and the bravery to wear this.  A rainy world needs a dose of my mum’s bright hand-me-downs to lift moods up.  Shoe-wise, the black wellies (my mum looked at them and said, ‘Not Keep?’, but I love them) are alternated with cute Lulu Guinness platforms (Irish Charity Shop).  The pink mac feels very right.  All Keep.

08.07.11

More magnified moods

09.07.11

Saturday: why can’t I just stay in the garden with my mum in the sunshine all day? She’s heading home and I have to go out to work before she leaves. Hmmph. This calls for my favourite tee shirt, bright red Jigsaw one, over ten years old and still keeping its colour.  It looks a bit stubborn against the Whistles top (hand me down from ZH), matching my childish, inner strop.  Not Keeping the skirt as it makes me feel flooby and wet – although I spent a couple of years eyeing these up in shops before getting my sticky paws on it.  It sits so high, it looks like my tummy’s been bandaged with corduroy.

I like it, I like it not

Very excited about seeing wonderful KR for roast Sunday lunch, want to match excitement with clothes.  The kilt carries the mental image of women I idolised when eleven or twelve, in the time mini-kilts and red and black combos were popular.  I really didn’t want to admit this skirt, bought on impulse in an Upper Street charity shop without trying it on, just didn’t fit right.  The reason I didn’t want to admit it is that the Wolf grumbled about the skirt and leather skirts in general, when I bought it, and that made me want to like it even more.  However, all day today I feel like I’m mid-parachute, showing my bottom as I descend on the embarrassed post box, winking petrol station, fired-up oven.  I don’t like the studs on the pockets, either.  Not Keep.  If I were to end the week on a stubborn note: I know what I like, can be convinced to like clothes with a few compliments… but not to dislike them!

10.07.11

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

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

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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

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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

The First Day: Nature or Nurture?

On the first morning, a Monday, my mum rings me at 9.30am. I haven’t told her that I’ve decided to start this experiment.

‘You know how I have so many clothes? How many of them are slumped on their rails and I can’t remember what I have?’

This is my mum speaking.

I hmm, thinking she’s about to tell me that she’s doing the same thing as me.

‘I’ve found exactly what I need, in a magazine,’ she says.

It must be some sort of ingenious wardrobe, a bit like wall to wall bookshelves.

‘It’s a chainmail neck-tie.’

My mum won’t be buying it, it’s far too expensive, but she does love the idea. She tells me she has a theory that Florence + The Machine has ‘unleashed something’ – we can all wear what we want now.

My mum and I were taking a break from shopping (a twenty minute one) about four years ago, when I came up with the idea for this experiment. We were sitting in Garcia’s Spanish deli on Portobello Market, drinking strong, sugary espresso. The thought of being so restricted in what I could wear was too unrealistic at the time, as I had several roles where I had to dress either smartly or modestly, and would have run out of options appropriate for those jobs. At the same time, we couldn’t imagine how long it would take to get through my entire wardrobe – months? Half a year? Longer? I decided I wouldn’t ever be able to bear having to exclude some of my clothes, even for a temporary amount of time. Four years later, I have a lot more clothes, to the point of absurdity, and have realised it’s time to find out why I have quite so many and why I can’t get bring myself to get rid of them. Why so many clothes?

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons