Monday, 28 February 2011


Marie Antoinette

What on earth am I going to wear?

Who hasn’t stood in front of a wardrobe bursting with clothes  and
exclaimed: “I haven’t got a thing to wear”.

It’s Spring, fashion shows in New York, Milan, Paris, London, Berlin make the headlines, shiny magazines and a dazzling array of the latest fashions in the stores tempt us to spend our money. From haute couture on the catwalks to
piles of cheap t-shirts in the mass market outlets, clothes are the preoccupation of the moment.

Fashion and the drive to adorn ourselves are nothing new. From earliest times mankind has worn jewellery, made up body and face, dressed up. We have records of prehistoric people and tribes in distant jungles, who have never heard of fashion designers, who still felt the need for physical decoration. If fashion were sensible and served purely practical purposes, it wouldn’t be called fashion, it would be called clothing. Actually, I’d even say fashion wouldn’t exist.

John Willmot - Earl of Rochester
The way we dress tells us and the world around us who we are. The richer the outfit the heavier the purse that pays for it. You only have to look at paintings of noblemen and –women in history, ostentatious display of fashionable apparel denotes their relative importance; clothes are a status symbol, a visible sign of wealth and position.

Fashion is, and always has been, big business. Even Shakespeare advised:
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy ; but not expressed in fancy; rich, not gaudy, For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
In German there is a similar saying: ‘Kleider machen Leute’, ( dress makes the man).

Although we have become much less formal about clothes, many of us still spend a lot of time and thought on the way we present ourselves to others. Fashion is like a second skin. Even if we wear nothing but jeans and t-shirt, we still declare our adherence to particular dress codes. Remember punks? Or goths? Tolerance is all, but I still secretly shudder at the sight of them.  I realize that my reaction is silly, all fashion is a kind of theatre, a public display, artificial by definition; we constantly change fashions – I understand new collections come into the shops monthly nowadays.

Followers of fashion play with fashions, constantly re-inventing themselves while doing so. There is this wonderful word “fashion victim” for those who must have, and be seen to have, the latest outfits. People suffer for fashion, just think of those heels models and actresses wear. There was a photograph of a group of women of 60 + in the colour magazine of a reputable broadsheet the other day. All the women were wearing the most uncomfortable looking shoes; I cannot imagine that any of them wore those shoes for longer than it took to photograph them. Three hundred years ago it was men who teetered about the courts of Europe on high heels. How sensible of them to give them up.

For the life of me I cannot admire and certainly don’t covet those horrendously expensive, huge, bags which are all the rage. Shoes and bag are often worn by the same woman, who constantly reassures us how comfortable she is while tottering precariously on her heels, being weighed down by half a ton of handbag.

Personally, I am at  that boring stage of life where comfort is the most pressing concern; I am an out-of-fashion has-been. I enjoy buying clothes, enjoy choosing what I feel suits me and I certainly make an effort not only for special occasions but also for going into town. Living in the country one gets so used to dressing down, throwing on jeans and jumper and gum boots, that getting out of them is a treat which happens not nearly often enough for me. But my special occasion clothes are rarely fashionable, they are more likely to be "sensible" and even "serviceable", although I much prefer the term "classic".


  1. Yes, classic works for me too. I have walking shoes, standing shoes and sitting shoes - actually, I probably won't ever buy another pair of sitting shoes.
    At work I have to do segment on dress code for new staff. Believe it or not I have to start with 'no bare midriff at work, no cleavage'. Fashion - gotta love it!

  2. Classic is good! I can't say I'd mind having a really large bag.. it could double as a camera and extra lens case. ;) I used to love shoes with heels but I've kind of outgrown (or aged past) that now. I'm just glad our era is not that of cinched corsets or even girdles. But then again, there's always Spanx. ;)

  3. Oh, yes, classic it is - my entire closet is filled with "classic" clothes.

    I've reached that same stage in my life - elastic waist jeans are the staple of my style. The only shoes I ever wear anymore are Crocs - and yes, it being winter, I'm wearing...Crocs with socks.

    This past Christmas season, I found that I had to do quite a bit of shopping in a MALL, which I absolutely detest. I have never been a mall person, because I have never been able to dress like a mall person - remember "big hair," tight leggings and those stilettos, low cut sleeveless dresses? Not really for a pudgy pale penniless woman. So I was always uncomfortable in malls, and thus, I avoided them. But this Christmas, I found, much to my surprise, that I simply didn't care. I watched women who looked like Playboy models strut their stuff, those huge bags, earrings dangling to their shoulders, leather boots with the highest of heels, and I didn't look at them with envy. I just plain didn't care.

    I was comfortable.

    This is a great take on fashion through the ages. I've often wondered about the extravagant clothing worn by aristocracy of old - think of the poor maids and valets who had to wash, iron, and repair all those frills! And we all know that those outfits took a beating - the men on horseback ion their riding suits, women dragging their heavy skirts along stone floors, across mud puddles in roads. And...baths were not an every day event; Arrid Extra Dry was centuries away.

    Here's to cotton/poly blends, washers and dryers, and minimal undergarments!

  4. i just came back from shopping for beachwear. it was odd. all i can see is colour and then sometimes where the clothes will rest on my body. otherwise fashion has no interest for me other than to watch from afar as karl lagerfeld or whomever, sends people out in stuff that is so beyond my ability to be inside that i can see it as pure art. steven

  5. Ah, I do love my sensible shoes . . . to me, that's fashion at its best!

  6. My goal when working was not to wear stockings. My wardrobe was pants, long skirts, and boots all winter. Now comfort and easy care is my #1 priority.

  7. I am sort of in the middle. I dress how I feel.
    And I was struck by the photo as the red of her dress is the colour of my front room/dining room walls, the gold the silk panel curtains. :)

  8. Classic is good, Friko. I really enjoyed your essay on fashion, and I'm so glad it doesn't matter for women my age.
    As my best friend says, "We're invisible now. Nobody looks at us except the people who know us."
    What a relief. "What will people think when they see me?" They won't think anything at all, thank goodness.
    -- K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

  9. Classic! The only way to go, comfort, dressed to coordinate, somewhere beyond the new fads, more faded memories, but definitely 'my style' - comfortable shoes a must.

  10. I'm rather glad I live today, when comfort is OK. Like you, I dress for comfort first and fashion second. I have to admit, however, that I sometimes miss the days when I was young, and women actually "dressed" to go out. No one wore exercise clothing in public, and definitely not their pajamas!

    However, the trade off is:
    *no girdles
    *no nylons hose
    *no pantyhose
    *high heels only by choice
    *no white gloves

    Yep, I can certainly live happily the rest of my life without those things!!

  11. "Definition of Sumptuary:
    The word sumptuary comes from the Latin word which means expenditure. Sumptuary Laws were imposed by rulers to curb the expenditure of the people! Such laws might apply to food, beverages, furniture, jewelry and clothing. These Laws were used to control behaviour and ensure that a specific class structure was maintained. Sumptuary Laws dated back to the Romans!"

    In youth clothing & looks are important;
    In maturity, it's all about bearing (and basic cleanliness :-)

    Aloha from Honolulu,

    Comfort Spiral


  12. you know...i go with what is comfortable...jeans are a prime in my wardrobe...i do like a soft collared button up shirt, sleeves rolled above the elbow...i do pay particular attention to footwear as my dogs do a lot of walking...

  13. Who would be a follower of fashion? Not me with my arthritic feet (not from wearing high heels I must add), no for me comfort is everything. But then I do care what I look like my husband's 96 year old uncle often says "If she knew what she looks like she would never have left home" ..or he, whatever the case maybe.
    But there always have been the followers of fashion hence the term bigwig.

  14. I've never been a fashion victim. And, although I've been told I should wear a suit more often, when I do, I feel like a trussed up turkey. So, 'smart casual' (that great term) is about as 'dressed up' as I get, these days. As you say, Friko, we tend to 'dress down', in the countryside, for practical reasons.

  15. Wish all of the network of friends have a new start .

    hope you have a great 2011. Thanks for the link, sweetie!
    Titanium Necklaces

  16. ah yes, appropriate dress. these days I have gardening clothes, walking clothes, clothes I can cover in sawdust, loose clothes for chi kung, and basic comfortable clothes for the bits in between. last night I dressed up (a little) for an informal concert. it took me ages. I'd gained weight. Nothing looked really good. eventually I was satisfied and even wore earrings. it was so cold we all kept our coats on and nobody knew what anyone else was wearing!

  17. I too am at the comfort first stage of life, especially when it comes to shoes.

  18. Lovely post.

    I have to admit that when we lived in the village Hunters wellies and waxed jackets were a must!

    I was delighted when I left them behind but I still have my faithful old walking boots.

    I do enjoy dressing up but am equally as happy to shrug into jeans and T-shirts ... I couldn't face having to look "my best" every day!!

  19. Yes, I have stood in front of a closet full of clothes, with the sinking realization that hardly any of them fit any more. I have moved to t-shirts and cargo pants in retirement as my very favorite clothes.

  20. Comfort rules for me since I discovered the elastic waist band.
    Today, getting dressed up means putting on a bra.

  21. I am so glad to not be working in an office where I must dress to the nines every day. As long as what I am wearing is clean, that is good enough for me. Well, I do like to be co-ordinated, colour and fabric wise.

  22. I'm with raining acorns--sensible, comfortable shoes are the bomb! My daughter (10), however, wears outrageously creative outfits (nothing like Marie A. though). ;-) Thanks for the read, I enjoyed that.

  23. The scariest thing about fashion these days is that I've seen it all before! The 'latest' look is what I was wearing decades ago! I'm proud to have developed my own style now - comfortable shoes, elasticated waistbands and nothing that needs to be dry-cleaned.

  24. I share the same approach to "fashion" - so true when you reside away from a metropolitan area - comfort becomes the dress for the day as we head out to the garden. Frankly the last time I wore a dress is forgotten & my wardrobe could use an update.
    Gone are the days when I walked in high heels around the office & made the commute between Virginia & Washington, DC. And does anyone remember how we used to dress up when flying?

  25. I have to tell you Friko that I belong to the classic club too! What a nice change to sometimes be able to climb out of the green wellies, old fleece and tatty trousers - a treat in itself

  26. My wonder bra has become a "wonder where it went" bra. Comfort, that's what it's about.

  27. Count me on the side of comfort!

  28. Friko, I agree that comfort is key these days. I wish I could still wear those high heels, but I am too lazy and too sensitive. I do think that if one is thin, almost anything looks good on them and that is why I hate trying on clothes. I remember how I used to look and everything I wear now cannot flatter my stocky middle.

  29. Two of the important things in life----classic clothes and sensible shoes-----beaten into my unreceptive head by my mother, at an early age, and only recently appreciated!

  30. This was a fun read, Friko, as was your analysis of the audience for orchestral performances. But based on what you said in both these posts, I can't help wonder: Do the members of the orchestra look down their noses on those of us who do not wear six-inch heels to a performance? (pun accidental)

  31. Yes indeed, who DOES buy those huge awful handbags?
    Not me! I love to be comfortable. But I also love to look at the fashions coming from Milan, Paris, and NYC. They are like creations from an alien world, fascinating even when they are ridiculous.

  32. Yes to comfort! Now I am wondering if I can also go vintage. Everything in my closet qualifies as vintage; but, alas, I tend to literally wear everything to shreds (or outgrow).

  33. My grandmother's adage , "No woman ever looks attractive when cold " , is key .
    I'm the one dressed in thirteen layers of warm , taking up three spaces on the sofa . Stylish it's not !

  34. Growing up in Paris with a mother who had worked in Haute Couture we looked at the new collections each year and she would make me a couple of outfit copied from one of the big houses. I also splurged and bought my shoes from a store near the Opera – they were so lovely… Well that was a long time ago. I wear “casual” clothes now as they call it here. When my daughter was married with a young man whose family is from India most of the women wore saris and other Indian clothing so now I like to wear the Shalwar Kameez for special occasions – it is so comfortable and comes in a variety of lovely colors.


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