Desperately seeking style, part 1: the basics

Do you have your own style? Are you confident in your look? After I had my daughter, I found for the first time in my life that I really cared what I look like, all the time. Don’t get me wrong, the preceding years weren’t all BO and egg stains, but growing up in a lesbian household meant that the development of feminine skills wasn’t really to the forefront. Whatever I know about being a girl, I’ve had to teach myself. Some has come easy: I love make up and like to think I do an alright job with it after my early years at the experimental blunders coalface (orange eyeshadow up to the brow, anyone?). Many aspects of day-to-day style still elude me, however. The words ‘draw a veil over my hair’ may as well be an instruction at this point, and I still look back fondly at the day an ex-housemate told me “you have the colour sense of a toddler”. I was 28.

Most importantly, I lack the vision of personal style. My best friend, who is 5’10 and charismatic, can put an outfit together out of whatever she has lying on the floor and make it look effortless, unique and flattering. This is the source of endless envy for me. Growing up among crew cuts and dungarees afforded a view of clothing as a purely utilitarian procedure, the wide world of accessories reduced to a single wimmin-symbol earring.

As I said, it hasn’t all been bad. There were the usual permutations of 90s fashion and (contextually!) they looked good on me: short skirts, big boots, hipster flares and crop tops, skintight fluoro clubwear and Bjork knots in my hair. But it’s easy to dress when you’re young, thin and stoned all the time, and in my late twenties I lost my way badly, a combination of weight gain and unrecognised depression leading to what Mr Bones dubs, with withering accuracy, “the hairy cardigan years”.

My children brought with them an improved sense of self, as well as providing a handy all-day workout, so now I’m back at a reasonable weight, in reasonable underwear after a year-long breastfeeding sabbatical, and seeking to clothe myself as a grown-up woman. Trawling style blogs and message board threads, the general advice seems to be: know your shape, know what works for you and buy less but better. So, first up: know yourself. I’m still not a girly girl (you can take the girl out of the lesbian household etc.), which means that while I may love the look of floaty, dreamy romance or bright prints, I need to add the phrase ‘…on other people’ to the end of that sentence. The well heeled, well groomed likes of DoesMyBumLook40 and the WornOut crew provoke admiration and provide inspiration, but there’s still too much tattooed techno kid in me to ever 100% work that look. Plus, I’m shorter, rounder and skinter than all those fine ladies. Put me somewhere between them and Sea of Ghosts’s sci-fi elegance, with a trip to flirty vintage rockabilly land now and then, and I’ll be happy.

After years of being trapped in a loveless marriage with the British high street, the truth of ‘buy less but better’ is slowly dawning. I recently purchased this lovely Me&Em tshirt in the sale. WTF, it’s a plain dark tshirt that cost thirty quid, I hear mid-twenties me cry. Ah, but it is so soft, so fine, so much the right length (sleeves over hands, hem over hips – take that, builder’s arse crack of mumsiness). In an ideal world, this tshirt will last ten times as long as all those cheap cotton Dorothy Perkins numbers I’ve tugged down over my muffin top. And none of them made me feel remotely grown up, just peeved and slightly desperate. None of those DP tshirts ever gave me a thrill, or made me feel that I deserved better.

So after I bought the Me&Em, someone linked to the Brora clearance sale and I bought two more lovely longsleeved jersey tees. Oh, and this dress. I’ll post a pic once it arrives, if it looks alright.


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