You may remember a few months ago the terrifying story of my friend Annie Kelly, who lost most of her clothes in a house fire.
We went shopping together to put together some basics to see her through early summer. One or two things to wear to work, or on a Sunday. Just things to wear. I was completely and passionately consumed by this project for days, it was such an intriguing question: if you lost all your clothes and had to start again – what would you buy first?
It led to us having a conversation about style and fashion and how they are not the same thing. This is actually a really important distinction to take on board.
If you just want to have some clothes and wear them without looking like a frump or a crazy, if you want to leave behind the stress of feeling like you ought really to be wearing a brocade trouser suit or a fucking kimono, then the thing you have to absorb is that you don’t have to be fashionable in order to be stylish.
You can be stylish without being fashionable. You can certainly by fashionable without being stylish. Sometimes you can hit the jackpot and be fashionable and stylish at the same time, but that often happens more by accident than design. And at any rate, it doesn’t matter, being fashionable. Fashion is a game for very aesthetically acute people, or for the very rich. Looking stylish – or just not terrible – is a social duty.
Pinterest and Instagram are helpful here. They rather worship “classic” things: red nail varnish, stripes, chinos, a knotted scarf just so. If you were to leave the house wearing blue skinny jeans, white trainers, a breton top, a black leather jacket and some sort of tan bag, you would be hailed by both of these social media outlets as a bastion of good taste and style.
But so often if you are a certain sort of person you will regard this look as “boring” or a “cliche”. But it is not. And it isn’t boring or a cliche because you are wearing it. And in those clothes is your own individual body, on top of the outfit is your excellent head, your terrific sense of humour, your swishy hair, your twinkling eyes and charming smile.
So as we look towards AW16 and thinking about the new term and perhaps updating one or two things about your wardrobe, or if you have just had your last baby and feel the need to get rid of everything and start again, or you’ve just got divorced, or left someone, or come back to the UK after living in Barbados for 6 years, just remember this: if you don’t know what you are doing when it comes to getting dressed, when you arrive at the shops with your credit card in your hand: buy simple things.
If you ever get the feeling that you just want to buy something, buy a navy sweater. Or a grey t-shirt, or a very white pair of trainers. Do not buy anything from Finery – (I fear it and therefore despise it) – or a neon cocktail dress.
I basically have six colours in my wardrobe:
I have trousers, dresses, shirts and other tops in most of those colours and I switch them around. So sometimes I will wear the khaki trousers with the navy top, or the denim jeans with the khaki shirt, or the black trousers with the grey top. It all goes together. I always – always – have something to wear.
I can see you falling asleep! But that’s so boring, you’re thinking. Aha but you’re forgetting about accessories! About a bright green bag or a nice scarf or gold jewellery or something to liven it up. And you’re also forgetting about my swishy smile and charming hair. Or whatever the fuck it was I said a minute ago.
This is what I do as a person with a limited innate sense of style – I have had to learn the little sense I have, as I had to learn how to cook, or as you might learn another language. I also don’t have the inclination to drop many hundreds of pounds on a Chloe Drew bag or some sort of mad diddy Ferragamo-esque block-heel granny shoes in order to be absolutely right now.
And that’s all I wanted to say about this, really. Any questions, see me after class.