Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
George Santayana, American philosopher (1863-1952)
As an adjunct to where I am at the start of this project, here's a quick rundown of me and my clothes over the years.
I grew up with brothers and a mother who was never terribly interested (or at least admitted to being terribly interested) in clothes. My grandmother, however, adored clothes and was a very accomplished dressmaker and a fine knitter.
It was a little navy blue jacket (with a red pompom on the zip) that my grandmother made me which is my main clothes memory from when I was very small. I loved that 'coat that granny knit'! I also remember a yellow and white dress with daisies, and a few years later an Indian style floral dress which I thought was wonderfully exotic with its beading and tassels. I also remember a lot of Clothkits knitwear and 'sew it yourself' clothes, some of which were much loved.
Apparently until the age of 9 or 10 I refused to wear trousers, but then I discovered jeans - and I've worn them pretty much ever since! 'Tight jeans' were all the rage, and I begged my parents to buy some for me. I can't find any photos of me from this period, which is probably just as well, as I'm sure they looked awful!
At a party in 1985 - I thought my grey & yellow batwing sweater and chunky necklace were the height of style!
When I went to high school it became a weekly ritual for a group of us to head to the local town on a Saturday morning where we haunted the clothes store with its carousel racks of denim skirts, batwing sweaters, sailor dresses and lacy blouses (it was the 80s!). It was cheap, badly made stuff, but to us it felt like being in Aladdin's cave! I don't recall buying much, but I do on one occasion remember taking yet another haul to the changing room to be asked 'are you still here then?' by the assistant.
When I was about 15, I ignored my mother's advice and got my hair permed. A hated it immediately! Of course it took months and months to grow out. I haven't had a perm since.
I did, however, dye my hair pink a year or so later. Only semi-permanent dye, but that lasted a while too. Strangely my mother encouraged me on this one. Maybe she knew it was something I needed to get out of my system. And that's exactly what happened. From then on I've had my natural hair colour all the way (just giving in very recently and getting my roots done to cover up the encroaching grey).
Unsurprisingly, this was also the time I was experimenting with 'creative dressing'. Strictly on a budget of course, but it was fun, and I was mercifully free of the body issues that I have now.
On a field trip, age about 18
And then... I discovered travel! All my money (including my meagre but hard won twice yearly 'clothes allowance' from my parents) went on coach tickets to Paris, a dorm bed in Venice and other travel delights. Suddenly I had a new love, and I became a fashion observer rather than a fashion participant.
As well as lots of travelling, my late teens were a time of college field trips, necessitating nothing more fashionable than jeans, T-shirts, very warm sweaters and hiking boots. As the girls found out very quickly, nice clothes, make up and hair styling were affectations that were completely impractical when camping in a muddy field with one makeshift wash room between 30 of us!
Working in Asia in the mid-1990s - a walking wardrobe disaster!
Later I went to live and work in Asia. Finally some money to spend, but shopping was hopeless - weird styles, strange fabrics and tiny, tiny sizing. Internet shopping hardly existed (this was the early 90s), and my one trip home a year was far too precious to spend much time shopping, so I'd cram everything into a single frantic day. No wonder I made some terrible choices!
Added to this, my job required me to dress 'conservatively' which I didn't have a clue how to do. Photos from this time feature a lot of shapeless jackets and prim silk scarves. A twenty-something dressing as a 50 year old woman, and a rather dowdy one at that!
Back in my 'uniform' of jeans & a T-shirt as a new mum in 2004
By the time I moved back to London it was a new millennium and I'd been out of the loop so long that I was largely desensitised to current western fashions. And anyway, everything seemed geared towards the young and skinny! Whenever I did go shopping for clothes, I generally came home with some terrible - and expensive - mistake. I spent the next few years either pregnant or with young children. I proudly got by with a pregnancy wardrobe of just nine items*. Style definitely took a back seat!
Busy with my children and family life, and working from home, jeans and sweaters seemed to do the job just fine. Yes, there would be a crisis anytime I needed to 'dress up', but generally I got by OK. Certainly I rarely 'looked my best', but equally I don't think I was ever particularly inappropriately dressed. Window shopping, fashion magazines and lots of wishful thinking replaced any kind of participation in stylish dressing
But enough is enough! With my children now a little older, and my horizons and 'time for me' expanding once again, I'm finding that my interest in dressing myself is rekindled. I'm also realising that this means facing a new set of challenges. Now I'm over 40 it's getting harder and harder to 'pass' with little to no effort. And anyway, I've finally had enough of that approach. I want to look good, and I'm determined to figure out how to do it.
My time has come!
* I don't necessarily suggest you emulate me (especially if you work outside the home!), but my nine maternity items (mostly from Blooming Marvellous, which is now part of Mothercare) were:
3 pairs of maternity trousers: a black pair, a stone/beige pair and a fantastic pair of jeans from Formes (company seems to be defunct, but try Ebay)
4 maternity tops: a raspberry T-shirt with a floral pattern, a dark red T-shirt, a black & white T-shirt, and a black evening top with sequin embellishment)
2 maternity sweaters: a teal one, and a pink (the latter awful but cheap & cheerful!)y
A true 'capsule' wardrobe! It worked, it didn't cost much (especially as most items were bought in a sale) but became achingly boring.