Driving through Bradford yesterday, I chanced to sit in a queue outside a sari shop and so had plenty of time to admire the outfits in the window. They were beautiful. The fabrics, some in strong, jewel colours, others more subdued and elegant, were all delicately embroidered with metallic thread and there were beads and sequins to accentuate the designs and add sparkle. I could have walked in and bought any one of them.
Then I looked down at my own attire. Jeans of course, on their second day and so slightly bagged at the knee and with a paler patch where I fell and rubbed the indigo out. A nice enough top, grey cotton with lace but nothing special. None of it could be called smart and nothing came anywhere close to making me feel like a woman.
Now you may say that the only person who controls what I wear is me and therefore I only have myself to blame if I don’t feel that I can hold a candle to the women in their saris. And this is of course true. I am solely in charge of my own wardrobe and consequently the image that I project to the outside world but I am also a product of my environment.
When I worked in an office in the 90s I tried to look the part. Suits, blouses and heels were the order of the day every day. But then my home became my workplace and things changed. I needed practical clothing, stuff that I could wear to crawl around on the floor with the children, that could withstand constant washing and would protect me from the elements whilst walking around town. Jeans. They fit the bill.
I’ve been wearing jeans for over ten years now. There is a brief spell in the summer when I cast them off but generally that’s what I’ll be in. At the start of every season I peruse the catalogues and make half hearted decisions to smarten my wardrobe. Sometimes I even buy things. A skirt perhaps or some tailored trousers. But they don’t get worn. They either aren’t comfortable or I never find the perfect shoe. And most days nobody actually sees what I have on underneath my coat so there hardly seems any point making an effort.
But I do miss dressing as a woman and making an effort. Heels make you carry yourself in a particular way and if you are wearing a skirt you have to think about how and where you sit. I have now reached the point where I have barely anything feminine in my wardrobe. If someone were to invite me somewhere smart for lunch I would have to go shopping first. I watch 50s films and long for an age when clothes had structure and were well tailored instead of soft and designed to hide a multitude of failings. And yet if I bought these things they would never get worn.
I know myself well enough now to know that there’s no point planning to change my image this season; nothing will change. However, staring wistfully at those beautiful garments yesterday did make me wonder whether perhaps I ought to make a little more effort.