Do you look ridiculous in your clothes?

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!”

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher
Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

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.



32 Responses

    • Stephanie

      Ooh great comments from DF. I forgot to mention that I do get more subtle advice too in Italian shops. On many occasions I have had the sales assistant say, “Signora, If I may say, I don’t think that colour is doing a lot for you. You might try X.” I always appreciate the commentary, although will still buy if I like the thing. I think what I like is the discussion, as it seems they want me to find something in which I can shine. I just don’t get useful feedback at home. I was really surprised especially by the advice I get about shoes, extending even to discussion of what toe shape and opening suits my foot.

  1. neucarol

    Well said! Thanx for putting what we need to hear into words.
    And, the quote from Alfred J Prufrock is brilliant. ‘Disturb the Universe’…yes, indeed.

  2. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    I meet you Prufrock, and raise you one Jenny Joseph: When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
    With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
    And learn to spit.

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

    I remember my mum being read ‘the Rules’ about how she should dress, way back in the 60s and 70s. She resisted her own mum’s rules, but not so much my dad’s- he is still very controlling of the way she should dress, hem length, necklines etc. I used to be very introverted and shy, and worried about the way I looked, and like most women, now regret that I didn’t flaunt it while I had it!
    These days, I really don’t give a damn, and as long as I think it appropriate for the situation [eg workwear v. beachwear], then I wear it. Red hat and all!

  3. Elaine Sabin-Simpson

    PS. There’s quite a movement these days, of course, re body shaming and body policing. Rules that say ‘you should wear this’ or ‘you shouldn’t wear that’ are considered as buying in to a rather misogynistic way of thinking… we are hypnotised by media into thinking we should all at least TRY to look taller, thinner, less lumpy.
    Knowing what colours work for you is, in my opinion, more useful than trying to obey other fashion rules. Proportion, colour, balance yes, no minis or short sleeves because your flesh is starting to sag, a resounding ‘NO’. There’s an internet meme which I really love: ‘How to get a bikini body. Get a bikini. Put it on your body.’
    …and get a red hat!

  4. eimear

    we did the Prufrock poem in school – and I understood some of it then, I always loved the rhythm of it and it has stayed with me, (but not all of it so thank you for the reminder to visit it again). Lovely post, and similarly I always feel that you should wear what you are comfortable and confident in, and dress like you mean it – I have had to confront that I don’t like my skirts so short now, so the hemline has dropped and inch and a half, but I don’t feel compromised….. Its good to always revisit what suits what doesn’t as we change over the years and so does our style, I do think that everyone should always check their posture as this is one thing I have notice deteriorates in so many people, and clothes make less sense then.

  5. Hila

    Great post Kate. I have only recently come to the conclusion that I want to be individual and jusst wear what makes me happy. It’s hard but I am getting there. Prufrock is one of my favourite poems too.

  6. Kerry

    I’ve always loved the Prufrock poem but now I’m mid 40s and middle aged it has more resonance. I’ve always dressed a little bit differently and I’ve always been willing to stick my neck out and speak up & have no plans on stopping so whilst I’ve given up on shorts- they don’t suit me- I’ll keep wearing lots of colour and a 70s silhouette and keep my hair very long. Great blog post.

  7. Sam

    I never expected my comment to become the subject of a blog post! Thanks for this Kate, really interesting to read your take on this, and that of your commenters as well. I’d not heard the Ozwald Boateng quote before, but it’s something I aspire to. Unfortunately I often find myself in the “ordinary” camp, particularly at weekends with jeans and the like… I will try and spice things up a bit, and might even wear a hat!

  8. Pia

    I fear all this ‘beauty’ based censorship is on the same wavelength as religiously imposed uniforms. Or even worse. Perhaps societal norms of beauty need the envelope pushed. I don’t see why young firm skins should be idolised more than winkly old skin. It’s a self perpetuating standard if we submit to it. I’d rather be given some other reason (eg health, safety, respect for the local culture) for dressing a certain way than on the basis of nebulous ‘beauty’ or ‘propriety’.

  9. ellen

    Kate, I think you have the makings of a very useful and timely book in your posts along this vein. Or maybe a TV show? Keep ’em coming!

  10. Hélène

    This post is most interesting and I must say that you have a talent for catchy titles! Right now, my fashion icon is French Instagramer Sophie Fontanel. She once was the fashion director of Elle magazine, but was at odds with fashion diktats and commercial demands. I do love her playful and clever approach to style. Inspired by her, I aim to loosen it up too. Never felt better and more confident.

  11. KW

    Every year I buy a sensible swimsuit for my Greek holiday and within a few days of arriving I am searching what is left in the shops for a bikini. Almost all the women on the beach, all shapes, sizes and ages wear them and they look happy, relaxed, comfortable and cool! Yes some look ‘better’ than others but no one cares. I work with an amazing woman of 82 who loves fashion and is very stylish and on trend but always wears sleeves because her arms look scrawny (her words). She’s 82! When are we allowed to stop seeing ourselves through the eyes of others? I try hard to ignore these imposed conventions although they are ingrained and it is not easy. However this year I will arrive in Greece with 2 bikinis and what the hell!

    • fabrickated

      Good point KW! I remember when I was pregnant buying a “special” maternity swimsuit but found it uncomfortably hot and dowdy. I then realised a bikini was perfect for wearing with a bump. And I agree with Demented Fairy and you that anyone can wear a bikini if they want – I have a few that I still think are more flattering than a one piece, especially those with a little skirt or even a full length sarong. But each to their own – I wouldn’t go topless.

  12. Michele

    I too believe it’s all about attitude and wear what you love. Yes I have less than a perfect figure, yes my skin and muscle is not as good as when I was younger; quess what, I’m not 20 either.

    The one thing that I feel that you should take into consideration is the change in your skin colour tone as colours that worked well for you before can change too. I found that I now have to have lighter coloured hair than before and changed my make up too. But in the vein of wearing a red hat, I may not wear it close to to my face, but definitely would get it in there somewhere.

  13. Joyce Latham

    Fabulous post as always Kate. Rules are meant to be broken, but it’s always good to know the rule…that’s my attitude. I kind if like the rules…but it’s fun to break them too.
    There is a lot of pressure out there for the mature women, ” of a certain age” …to look stylish, or outrageous as the case may be. Thin, is still in…..doesn’t seem to matter what else is going on. i find this rather sad. I was just walking the streets of Toronto , and there are soooo many body shapes…when are we ever really gonna get it…” Your ok, I’m ok”. Fingers crossed this becomes the new fashion bible soon.

  14. Judy

    I’m 55 and have always wanted a denim jacket but I thought that I’d missed the boat. Was I too old to wear one? Then I thought – bugger it! And I bought one and wear it with pleasure and with my head held high.

  15. Mary Roberts

    I always wear a hat. I’m your age and have worn hats (every time I’m outside of the house) since I was in my twenties. I’ve lived in Australia, New Zealand, China, and Ireland and have worn hats consistently in all of those countries. I’ve also worn them as a tourist in the UK, Europe, Canada and the U.S. I have only ever had positive feedback (often from complete strangers) about my hats.

    I started wearing hats because of ‘weak’ eyes that react badly to sunlight – so my hats always have a brim. They make my life much more comfortable. My very elegant mother was also a hat wearer – so that no doubt helped the whole process of everyday hat-wearing feel less strange. My sister, on the other hand, does NOT wear hats.

    My feeling is, that if you simply wear X every day – it begins to feel normal to you – even if it still strikes others as unusual. If your X (hats, in my case) are well-chosen and you feel comfortable in them then people will simply think you look interestingly dressed.

  16. Sue

    Fabulous post as always Kate! Now I’m well into my 60s I feel age is dictating my fashion choices. I am trying to find and emphasise a good feature without looking like I’m desperately hanging on to my youth, but occasionally I buy a pattern which leads me to think I am living in the past – I just bought a 1930s beach romper pattern – really. My kids would have me believe that I last wore something like this in the 1930s!! Anyway, I am now wearing what I like, but mostly in private and I feel a bit sad about that, but, I also need to age gracefully. Again, thank you for a thought provoking post.

  17. Helen

    I’ve just found your blog via bloglovin and I love this post. As a young single woman I used to make all my clothes, with bright prints etc. Then I met my ex and witht realising it I lost that confidence and drifted into beige and not drawing attention to myself. Two children and an abusive marriage left me very lacking in confidence and it is only now 20 years after the divorce that I am beginning to adopt the approach you describe in your inspiring post. What we wear reflects who we are, how we feel about ourselves and how we want people to see us.

    • fabrickated

      Thank you for sharing your interesting, though sad, story Helen. Interesting how much clothes are tied up with our self-image, and living down to other people’s expectations.

  18. Jane

    Sorry I don’t have much to add to your interesting and thought provoking piece, but I would like to know how the fabulous collar on the dress bottom left is cut. I would have expected, to get that level of drape, it would have to be cut on the bias but you can clearly see the checks have been matched with the bodice.

  19. Jennifer Miller

    Wow, this is another excellent post that pushed all my buttons. Do I feel ridiculous? Yes! In everything. Love the poet’s question: “Do I dare?” I wonder how many say “no” without ever venturing out of their comfort style. Yet, how does one even determine one’s perfect style? So many questions!

  20. Pips

    I used to love wearing hats! I remember wearing one to a friends wedding with a full length linen dress and getting so many complements. I’m going out for tea and cake tonight. I think I might wear my black half face net veil….

    • Fabrickated

      I am so glad people like you exist Pips. You are beautiful and brave and always look sensational. And yes – wear the hat for your tea party!!

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