Posts Tagged ‘Endometriosis’

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 Ten: When in Paris…

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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

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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.

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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.

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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 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 Four: Why! I Have So Many Clothes Because I Have So Many Shoes!

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For Richer

Last Thursday, I was looking for the second half of the pair of pink, satin, ballet plimsolls I was wearing for the first time ever, that day.  I started on the floor, then the shoe rack, under the bed, finally braving the Narnia-sized shoe world in the bottom of the cupboard.  Pressed against a shoe mountain, like Michaelangelo Pistoletto’s Venus of the Rags, only with shoes, I scaled the magnitude of many shoes I need to wear to fulfil the rules for my Why So Many Clothes? experiment.

Shoes are a whole other world of trouble.  Most of my many clothes worn so far seem to be hand-me-downs and presents (from my mum, and other friends and family) and charity shop finds – with the occasional bought-new, high street purchase (usually in the sales).  Shoes, however, have hit the triple figure mark.  My pink, suede heels (in front of the beach cabin) I alternate with pumps on Monday were £60 new, from Kurt Geiger – almost ten years ago, when it was possible for me to spend a utility bill on shoes.  I like the shoes a lot and I’m glad the younger me equated self-value with earning capacity in a way I now kick against – she spent on quality shoes I can still wear and love.

I love shoes.  Their shape, their reckless decoration for something so close to the ground; there is something ultimately sexy about the way we wear them… My nonsense alarm is ringing loud in my head… I’m using ellipses… but shoes! Ridiculously lovely.

As is Monday’s dress. The pictures are on the South Bank, and in the Sea Life Penguin Ice Adventure.  I put on my Noa Noa cape (charity shop) to fend off the artic temperatures in the Ice Adventure.  Turns out the instructions for what to do when you meet a penguin and how to stay warm in the freezing cold were a ruse – the penguins are in a large, sealed tank and the ‘artic’ is a children’s play area, the wandering penguins, toys for sale or to be encountered through photoshop on t-shirts and coasters.  I didn’t need to wrap up warm, but I do love the shawl and it’s a definite one for the Keep box.  The South Bank beach huts and Dishoom cafe are fun and good in the heat, like the dress.

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On Tuesday, I’m relieved to last all day in the high wedges (second outing – first involved a car).  I really like the pink suede and, although I think I don’t like prints, this week shows I really like prints of painted flowers (Monday, Tuesday and Friday).  Pink suede and painted flowers make me happier.

21.06.11

For Poorer: Just in Case Clothes

My black fleece trousers are not a thing of beauty but they are a thing of comfort and, as I wore them as day clothes recently, they are definitely part of the wardrobe.  The moon jumper is exhausted but friendly.

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The size 6 blue tee shirt under Thursday’s dress doesn’t look very great but is a useful layer and I like the colour.  I don’t realise till I’m out and about that the hem of my jumper dress is now tugged and uneven.

Three out of four items I’m keeping because they are artefacts.  The fleece trousers became day wear when I wore them for a laparoscopy operation, a marvellous thing to have been through because I feel much more well since, and my body is more ready for babies (hey, I’m showing you my clothes inside out, I feel like we’re close…too much?).  The moon jumper has some happy memories: I learned to hula hoop in it a couple of years ago, taught by a nice lady I met, on the South Bank; I needed to learn to do some poetry with a hoop and met her at precisely the right time.  The black dress I wore when it was new, smart and as unrestricting as it is now, for the interview for the job that made my life brilliant.    The blue tee shirt doesn’t have a place in my heart, that I remember, but I like the colour and it’s useful for layering.  I’m not able to Not Keep any of them, perhaps because the poorer me might need to be comfortable or scruffy again and I don’t think it’s sensible to spend more money for that!

The black pumps I was wearing with Thursday’s dress were so soaked and worn out by the end of the day – the sole stuck on with electrical tape – that I threw them in the bin on the way home (I was wearing my walking trainers).

More Playing

24.06.11

Friday’s clothes were play clothes: the sandals make me happier with their big, orange circles.  I feel like a bat-punk in the hoodie.  Good for playing and playing in work.  Saturday’s jumper dress was very misjudged.  BP was coming to stay, and she mentioned she was questioning what to wear.  I said clothes for sitting comfortably and talking, talking, talking – but fused the weather where she was with where I was and wore clothes for a chilly day (not the beginning of a heat wave).  It was fine in the air-con supermarket, not so much when cooking a slow roast – but the food and wool were good for talking, talking, all night.  It’s a classic jumper dress and in the Keep box.

25.06.11

Sunday’s vintage dress was a lucky find in a bag of fabric off cuts, in a craft cupboard.  It didn’t look very good when I found it, when I was two stone lighter than now, because I didn’t fill it out and it felt frumpy.  Now it does what I thought it would when I found it.  I spent the day imagining I might play tennis, and in reality, repotting my Christmas Tree (been meaning to since December). In the scorching sunshine, a barefoot day.

26.06.11

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons