Sam of Stitched Up by Samantha writes:
I’m curious as to when you wear your hats. I love hats myself, but never know when or how to wear them… I always feel faintly ridiculous if I’m wearing one anywhere other than to a wedding.
I think there are two questions here. One is about feeling “faintly ridiculous” about wearing something you love. And then there is the issue of hats which are controversial, for some reason.
I know this feeling, of course. I have experienced family members and my Mother’s carer laughing at me when I put on a hat. Even I have colluded with you to refer to them as “bonkers”. Hats can make the wearer and the viewer feel nervous. I don’t know if you have seen the film about our first female Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, but The Iron Lady starts with two male advisors telling Margaret to “Lose the Hat!”
So today I will write about feeling ridiculous, or overdressed, or inappropriate in our outfits. And in a few days I will come back to hats.
Maybe some of the marvellous lines of TS Eliot’s poem The Love song of Alfred J Prufrock, resonate with those of us who sometimes feel ridiculed.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?……
I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
It’s such a powerful poem and it focuses (in part) on clothes and how we are perceived, especially as we age. Prufrock (he has a dress in his name) is worried about his old fashioned taste – his stiff collar, old style necktie, dated morning coat, and white flannels for summer visits to the beach. He also feels confused about how to wear them. Is it OK for an older man to roll up his trousers and paddle in the water when a full plunge is out of the question? And as his body changes – losing weight and muscle tone, losing his hair, losing his teeth – he wonders if he will be spoken of negatively, or with pity, behind his back. And his reaction is so profound – “Do I dare disturb the universe?”
So this is what I thought of when Sam said “I love hats” but then worries about wearing one.
Are there certain clothes that you love, but you feel you cannot wear? One of the bloggers I read mentioned how she had finally accepted she could no longer wear shorts (she felt her thighs were not attractive enough to display). And many women are concerned about exposing their arms. Others worry that because they are heavier than they want to be they cannot wear trousers, or shorter skirts or whatever. Personally I have had to recognise that my skin is losing its tone and is best covered up most of the time. Moderating styles seems to me to be a perfectly sensible option. My view is that longer shorts, or shorts over tights, or shorts for the beach are all ways to get around the idea that maybe your legs are less beautiful than you would wish.
Of course very young men and women look great in just about anything – their shining hair, teeth and skin, slim physique and energy make a loose T and tatty shorts look amazing.
On the other hand losing touch with fashion and style as you leave your teens is very sad and ages you more than your wrinkles, flabby arms, thickened waist or liver spots on your hands.
If you love a short skirt, or jeans, or a plunging back you really ought to wear them. And so long as you find the right version for you then they will look great. Anne McClure of Anne’s Blog sent me a fantastic link to an Ozwald Boateng interview where (to paraphrase) he says – “don’t do ordinary (wearing a very conventional grey suit/white shirt), don’t try to look less good than you could, wear any colour you like – as long as it suits you”.
He emphasises individuality and feeling good about yourself. I think this is the key. Enjoy your clothes. Wear what you love.
Of course we have to bear in mind the reaction we get, and I think this is the issue here. Sam looks splendid in a hat, and loves them. But she is worried by what others will think – and I really understand and recognise this. As I put an outfit together I often think – is it too much? is it OK for work? Should I lose the belt/brooch/lipstick? I ask my husband or daughter for their view as I do trust their judgement and you want to know how others see you. And the advice is really helpful and welcomed, but sometimes I feel I dress a little more conservatively than I feel like.
Stephanie has been discussing Italian sales assistants – who apparently don’t hold back on the advice in the changing room. Steph says she welcomes the feedback even when she was told her skirt (a little tight over the rear) looked vulgar! But reading the post and the commentary made me realise we don’t get enough helpful feedback about our appearance these days.
- There used to be clear rules – Boateng refers to the grey suit, white shirt rule. Most of these have gone (including always wear a hat when going out)
- The rules were passed down in the family, or perhaps through “home ec”, peers and the press
- Fashion was less fluid in the past- skirt lengths, lapel width, hat brim sizes – were all laid down and lasted a year or so before changing
- Today the fashion is anything goes, to some extent, but it is easy to get it wrong
- We worry far more about being overdressed than underdressed
- It is hard to get unbiased advice from salespeople, who are often on commission
- Our default is to play it safe – hence everyone wearing black or denim, trousers and t shirts, jersey and trainers, most of the time
- Many of us are so self-critical about our appearance that our confidence in who we are is threatened, and we try to fade away or blend in, fearful of standing out
- When people dress up they purchase unnatural, awkward “occasion” clothes put together by John Lewis or Debenhams – eg very high heels, tight dresses, dated middle of the road styles, gaudy-matchy colour schemes
My advice is the same as Ozwalds’ – find your own authentic style, find a kind friend (or professional advisor) with a good eye for honest feedback, dare to be different as well as true to yourself. If it suits you it is good, and others will see it. If your style includes a hat and you look good and feel good, then I guarantee the watcher will read this as a positive, individual style statement and it will generally make them feel happy too.
I will finish with a profound point. Recent political events in Britain have shown how few people are willing to take a lead. Those that step forward are often vilified. Our fear of what others will think/say/feel holds us back. Have courage – this is what genuine style is all about.