I find myself in the midst of a style crisis. Today I bought a top that is covered in giraffes. And I like it. Have I hit an all-time low in a life of fashion lows, or are giraffes ‘in’ this season?
Now, to be fair the word crisis implies this is a new and quickly worsening situation. It is not. This is a sudden emergency in the same way the state of Irish hospitals is an overnight disaster. It’s been 38 years in the making, has never really been addressed by a decisive plan of action, has had plenty of money thrown at it and yet seems as far from a happy resolution as ever.
Harking from the style vacuum that was Dublin in the 1970s and 1980s, my fairly happy childhood was filled with much acrylic, handknits and hand-me-downs. The opportunity for a new outfit at Christmas would see me torn between the new pinny I loved and a new pair of runners I needed so I’d happily twin the two in a unique, wholly practical but rather terrible way. A wonky hip had me rocking around in Startrite shoes which at that point came in two colours – shite brown and boring black. The changing seasons meant nothing to those bastard shoe designers so year round I’d accessorise my already humongous feet with much hated bulky brogues, while wistfully looking at the strappy sandals of the other girls on the road. By the time of my communion my mother had very thoughtfully fashioned her wedding dress into a mid-length dress for my elder sister. Naturally this same dress came my way three years later. Sadly the beauty of the moment was marred by the fact I was already about 6 inches taller than my sister so I took that particular sacrament looked like a lanky child street-walker. As time marched on religion and I were always going to part ways as my terrible attempt at coordinating an all-pink ensemble for my confirmation – complete with black brogues, has left me with photos that are widely accepted as being the worst I own. The Church and I were not a good fit.
Flashbacks from my teenage years feature things like ponchos, berrets, plaid shirts and jeans that never actually fit me. I had a strange attachment to a thing called a ‘bubble’ – where you scooped up and pushed forward the front section of your hair just above your forehead and pinned it in place. It was a heinous creation particularly for those of us with long faces, expansive foreheads and double-cow’s licks i.e. those who didn’t really need to make their face longer. Photos from secondary school show that for any non-uniform event I resembled a much less glamorous version of Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. At my Debs, my long face again fared poorly when a french twist somehow became a Marge Simpson style bouffant. Even I, through a haze of West Coast Cooler, saw the error of my ways and I tackled the back combed mess in the hotel toilets emerging a few inches shorter but much happier.
College is a beautiful blur of cigarette smoke, pints, shirts, jeans and boots. I found the perfect haven of any style-less chameleon – the Faculty of Engineering, where I spent four years with many equally-badly dressed kin, and a few who were frankly way worse. Proper jobs and pay cheques came to my rescue though and by my mid-twenties I had arguably found my groove. Plenty of disposable cash and all the time in the world were the perfect remedies for a figure that I at last realised could never be draped in those lovely cheap clothes I craved but never suited. If I wanted to avoid looking like a really badly dressed transvestite well-cut clothes were the only way forward.
And so it continued into my third decade. Investment pieces abounded. A wardrobe or two stuffed with nice high street labels mixed with designer gear worked well for me as I even managed to tackle my nemesis – my mega feet, and source lovely shoes over t’internet. By 2008, when we got married, there was not a bouffant in sight and I was even the proud owner of a drawerful of knickers and bras that matched. In hindsight it was at this point that I peaked.
Motherhood caused less of an existential crisis and more a practical one. Dressing the bump was easy – I’d been dressing a fair few lumps and bumps for years at that stage and it was sweet relief to be picking things that were actually meant to cling to my wonderous form. It was a slight shock after my first delivery however that my fat jeans became my target trousers for a while as even the hungry baby couldn’t liposuction four stone off me. The challenges of 24-hour boob access were then the priority for the next year or so – and as any feeding mama knows breastfeeding fashion isn’t always the most cutting edge.
Three babies later there’s no doubt that things sit in different places than they were previously found. I believe I still have a little tattoo on my side, though it’s been a while since I checked. My hungry children have given me the breast reduction that I always wanted and in a non-lactating state I’m still busty but much less likely to take someone’s eye out on a cold day. Tragically, the little feckers managed to convince my masoosive feet to grow by nearly another shoe size. They have also bestowed upon me tummy rolls and a large arse – although to be fair both could equally have something to do with the love of good food, wine and lots of it.
So as I approach my 40’s the body I’d gotten to know and understand in my 20’s and 30’s is a long lost memory, and those investment clothes and shoes, ill-fitting reminders of what used to be. These days my natural style seems to swing wildly on a spectrum between that of a fifteen year old gender nonspecific teen – think converse, jeans, hoodies; to that of an ageing hooker – think badly applied make up, tops that don’t sit like they used to, and clothing with slightly dodgy stains. It’s not good but it’s also not that bad because of course I don’t really care enough to do anything about it. Most of the time anyhow.
Looking back I think there are two parts to my stylelessness. First and foremost I am not a naturally stylish woman. I’ve never been the kind who flings on white t-shirt, jeans and pumps and looks like an extra from a Gap catalogue. I am, if anything, haphazard in my approach to what I like – able to pick out something nice that actually suits me but then utterly unable to put it together into a co-ordinated outfit without some serious effort being made. And that of course is the second part; the effort. Yes, while I like shopping and love the idea of getting all those disparate lovely pieces working together, I am also terminally lazy about my ‘condition’ and don’t really mind when I head out the door in jeans and a tunic for the fourth day in a row.
This year though as the weather warms up, even I have to admit, the crisis is more profound. In addition to my annual and apathetic ritual of kicking myself for not shedding the pre- and post- pregnancy bulge(s), as each day gets milder I find myself in a sweat. Having packed up much of our house in September and moved in February I am working with a limited range of winter woolens with not a short sleeved t-shirt or linen trouser in sight. Every single article of clothing suitable for this time of the year – whether it fits me or not being a mute point, is stashed somewhere in the back of my mother-in-law’s very full attic. Last week on a fresh spring morning I stomped the 4km into work in the only coat not in storage -a full length feather-lined one. I arrived looking and feeling like the earliest stages of the menopause had indeed arrived.
My clothes may be unmatched, ill-fitting and a few years old. But I need them. Now.
But while I’m waiting, do tell. Now that we’ve established that I neither know nor care, are giraffes ‘in’ this season? ‘Cos my kids think they are.