Posts Tagged ‘Gifts from My Mum’

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 12 of Why So Many Clothes: Bottomless Bliss

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A Happy Accident

15.08.11      15.08.11-2

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

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

Uh Oh

16.08.11-1    16.08.11-2   16.08.11-3

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

 

Jumper To It

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

17.08.11-1   17.08.11-2

Old Habits Die Hard

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

18.08.11

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

Bottomed Out

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

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

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

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

19.08.11

Taratatata

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

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

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

20.08.11

Supervest!

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

21.08.11

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

 

By Sara Nesbitt Gibbons

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 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 Seven of Why So Many Clothes : Because Clothes Tell the Wearer Stories

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Fairytales With Endings We Change

At twenty-two, I’d been working in a clothes shop, put on full make up every morning, and bought into trends for their own sake.  By this, I mean I bought into the idea that wearing clothes marked in magazines as ‘Bohemian’ (this was 2004) and ‘Gypsy’ actually transported me into these imaginary lives. The much-parodied fashion talk about buying into dreams was a waking reality for me.

This Monday, I’m wearing my satin, aqua blue vest, with mesh trim, bought in Warehouse in 2003 at full price (about £15), layered under the white shirt.  I rushed out to buy it after seeing it in a glossy, in a section marked ‘Mermaids’, showing all sorts of watery, oceanic textures and colours.  I wore it first to a house party, with a statement, beaded necklace in more sea colours, fitted blue jeans, and stilettos.  Another wavy-haired brunette was wearing the same, Warehouse vest, in more of a sea-green, with a different, beaded, statement necklace, tight jeans, and heels.  We took a photo together: two mermaids.

Of course, this didn’t consign me to a life with my too-human legs bound forever in tight denim, my feet stabbed at each step, much unlike the sad, original Little Mermaid – although I didn’t ensnare any handsome young men either, at that party.  The vest lives on in different guises, most recently, today, as part of a quite pantomimey ensemble.

11.07.11

Clothes With Little Lives

I’ve written a few times about realising, through this blog and looking more closely at my wardrobe, that quite a few of my clothes are worn out.  Looking at this white, tuxedo shirt, I can see it’s past its best: rusty drops on the shoulder where I’ve brushed past lily stamens, coffee and very faded red wine on the front, if you look – and I don’t iron (once, my wonderful friend and ex-housemate KR ironed it for me, and I went unrecognised, honestly, at work the next day).  Love this shirt, though. Keeping.

The shorts are a favourite, although they don’t have any specific sentimental value.  I just like them.

I’d miss each of these items. I realise: I keep some, if not many, clothes because of how they look to me, and not how they look on me – as if they have lives of their own and I want to keep them in mine because they tell some sort of story to me as I wear them, rather than their always meaning something to my own life story or simply looking good.  It reminds me of looking at a picture book recently that I’d loved as a child: Angelo, by Quentin Blake.  I’d spent hours reading it, then adult me looked again and realised there were no words, and wondered where everything I remembered had gone.  I’m still at the dreaming stage with clothes.

I wonder if I should worry about this?

Adult Clothes

12.07.11

There is a large degree of adult fantasy, too.  The stripy top under Tuesday’s dress has a deep V on the chest and back, and I bought it as a reference to Brigitte Bardot.  It sits very high on the waist and looks very sixties French movie chic with high-waisted drainpipes or pencil skirts.  Today, though, I’m working practical chic, with the black dress.  Fifty cents from another Irish charity shop, and too comfy and easy (good sensible length, nice smooth, tactile fabric, sensible neckline) to Not Keep.  The strappy red sandals slip off different parts of the foot, but I want to keep them.  ZH pops up in my head, saying, as she did while we shopped on King’s Road a few years ago, that adult sandals are always a good investment.  Keep all. Except the embroidered coat – I love it, but it’s just too tight on my arms. It’s taken me four years to admit that.

Duvet Days

Wednesday is a genuine duvet day.  Really not feeling well.  Thursday I still feel unwell, but need to go out for a couple of hours to keep a promise to help a friend, before curling up in bed again.  The long-sleeved maxi feels like the closest thing to a duvet.  This dress is pure story.  I bought it in tribute to a friend’s poem for a poetry theatre event, Peter Ebsworth’s ‘The Very Brief Rise and Fall of Andy the Amoeba and his Contribution to Popular Music in the Late 1960s’ (about an amoeba who inspired the Cellular Song) and it became my Incredible String Band dress.  I wore it to my mum’s 60th birthday shortly after, because of her love of the song and band, and my wish for her, as the song says: May the long time sun shine on you and all love surround you and the pure light within you guide you all the way home.  Like a duvet, like clothes, the dress is enveloping, comforting and full of dreams and stories.

14.07.11

Weathering a Storm

15.07.11

On Friday, I need to wear all grey and practical clothes to shift things about for a performance of The Tempest, with puppets.  The grey dress makes me feel strong and shaped, although it shows my tummy.  Back in Week Two, I gave a green dress to a craft group to become a puppet. Today, that puppet is coming to life, as Caliban.  Seeing the dress in its new role, in a beautiful performance, triggered a poem, which is on a new page in its first drafty form.

16.07.11

On Saturday, the Wolf and I travel to Manchester to see Bjork’s Biophilia  (yes yes, now equal to Bob Dylan for best gig ever) with the Wolf’s lovely parents.  I seem to be in storm colours, still, appropriate because it doesn’t stop raining.  I do love rain.  At the concert, people’s buttons and zips catch on the extraordinarily loose-knit jumper.  They are all very friendly about it, and one man asks if it’s a net for catching people, new friends.  Perhaps it is.  Fisherwoman is more effective than mermaid.

One man also says he would wear jumpsuits if he was a girl, as they look so comfy.  Quite right.  I knew catsuits and holey jumpers were useful.

The Dream is Over

Bjork is wearing a short, gold, leatherette dress, with a foumphy multi-coloured top and a wavy, orange wig.  She looks stunning and glorious.  Her dress reminds me of a gold bandeau dress, very similar to hers, I didn’t buy in a Glasgow charity shop.  Longing.  Did I mention Bjork is amazing?  I want to go home and dress like her.

Sunday’s dress is, like the white shirt, way past its best but still too loved to Not Keep.  Ink stains on the bottom, mottled with light bleach, and once offered the compliment: ‘I like your dress, it reminds me of my kitchen curtains.’  The velvet leggings, however, are a failed fantasy.  I’ll keep them only to keep me warm in winter, under high boots and long skirts.

17.07.11

Here’s the link the old green dress poem http://saranesbitt.co.uk/poems/

 

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 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.

22.06.11      23.06.11

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