As you may or may not have gathered, I was on't radio last week for about 10 mins talking clothes, colour and Charles Dickens, of all things (you can still listen here, I'm on at 1.36.57) . I mentioned to Jo and Anna a Guardian article that my bestest friend (she knows who she is) sent me not long ago, thinking it would be up my street, and by golly it really was.
This is the article, and it's where I first came across the phrase 'dopamine dressing'. It really struck a chord and I realised that for the last couple of years, this is what I have unconsciously been doing with my wardrobe. Although I have always been drawn to colour and non-mainstream fashion trends, I spent a lot of my 20s and early 30s in grey accented with 'splashes' of colour. I loved charity shop rummaging and later on vintage, but also didn't feel cool enough to wear a lot of the mad 80s prints that gave me heart eyes. Once I started work I tried dressing like a grown up and would permit myself 'splashes' of colour. A red necklace; a green scarf, a yellow jumper. An internal voice told me I shouldn't wear all of these things at once, it wasn't 'grown up', 'professional', or those colours 'clashed'. I yearned to look minimalist and sophisticated. I felt envious of people with calm neutral clothing and surroundings; uncluttered and clean not just from dust and dirt but almost from chaos itself.
So for maybe 10 years my relationship with clothes and colour was a bit mixed up. I loved colour, but just wore a 'pop'. Dressing up was fun except when it was stressful, because the picture in my head didn't match the reflection in the mirror. Because I was trying to dress up like someone else, not myself, I now realise. Because I am not calm. I am chaotic.
Then 2018 happened. I lost my dad and became a mum in the space of about 3 months. Once the fog of grief, and shock of becoming a new parent began to lift I got more involved in my business and the online community of small business owners. I realised I could live from my creativity and fully embrace this part of myself. Just when I expected I'd be feeling my frumpiest my wardrobe undertook a total transformation; I started buying lots more vintage, and lots of indie brand clothing.
The first to go were the skinny jeans. I was never a massive fan. Then the breton tops. And the oatmeal coloured cardies. I got big into dungarees which were like a gateway drug into dressing Literally However The Forking Hell You Want. I found other women who were making their own clothes, screenprinting and absolutely rocking vintage looks. This looked fun, and I wanted in. I realised there is no dress for your body shape/colouring/life you want. It is bullshirt. We have been lied to. You dress for yourself and to make yourself happy because anything else is insanity.
When I look back at how I used to dress I just think I was trying to fit in somehow, or give a different impression of myself. I was hiding. I was a closet maximalist in wannabe Scandi clothing. And I was never going to fool anyone with that because I am not so much a Coco Chanel with her rule of take one thing off before you leave the house. I am much more an Iris Apfel who says 'more is more and less is a bore'. I can't help myself. I'm drawn to the bright, gaudy, unusual, sparkly things. And I want to wear them all at once.
So now I am embracing my not-so-inner maximalist, and I have never felt more myself. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I properly couldn't give a monkeys. It makes me so happy, to not care about clashing prints and colours (more, more!) and to wear massive earrings and a rainbow bow in my hair. I get the odd snigger and double take when I'm out and about (and these people really need to get a life because I'm a pretty tame dresser!) but I also get SMILES and people returning my cheery 'Morning!' Little kids stare at me and quite often come up and ask if they can touch the tassels on my t-shirt or the pins on my jacket. I like the idea that I'm giving them an alternative version of a grown up. And I hope I'm able to do that for my own daughter. Teaching her to just wear what makes her happy, regardless of what the media say she should look like or should wear.
I'm going to end this here but I think I need to return to this subject because I've got a LOT to say and some women and brands I'd like to share that have helped me on my journey (though they might not know it) and continue to inspire me, but I will just leave you with this final thought: I've kept thinking about how rather than toning myself down with age I am becoming more confident and giving far fewer forks. I keep remembering the opening lines of the poem Warning (did you ever do it at school?) Here it is in all it's glory, a fine way to end this thought spill:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.