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Fringe Report is now closed. Fringe Report closed on its 10th anniversary, Thursday 12 July 2012. It remains online as a record of 10 exciting years in the arts. Till July 2013, previously unwritten content is being added to the site from the past 10 years, but we are no longer reviewing new material. You can still write to us on the existing email addresses. Good luck with your shows.
FashionWarmth And Decency - Sarah Whitehouse
Sarah Whitehouse by (c) RFI 2010
'Clothing that is worn both in work and out of work obviously has a dual purpose and so no deduction is allowed. However, even if the clothing is only worn at work no deduction is allowed. This is because at one and the same time the clothing has the purpose of providing cover and comfort to the employee as well as the purpose of being suitable for work.
'At the same time as you are wearing the clothing for work it is also meeting your need for warmth and decency.'
This is how the taxman explained to me that I couldn't claim back any expenses for costume, audition or rehearsal clothes. A little extreme, I felt, as when marketing a product, the packaging must be attractive?
Warmth and Decency. I suppose that's how I viewed clothes and as a result, had no interest in fashion. My wardrobe consisted of my collection of faithful, all-occasion, indestructible items – jeans, a hoodie and a little black dress to go out in. Most of which I'd had since drama school - the last time I had bought clothes - when the days of repaying the student loan seemed a lifetime away.
As an actress, there was always a feeling of guilt whenever I bought clothes. 'What a waste of money', I thought. 'Hard-earned cash that could be spent on important things - like head-shots, singing lessons, or - I suppose - food.'
I had successfully managed to avoid the lure of the high street - despite my family's protestations that I really should stop dressing like a student - until I moved to my new flat in Holloway, London. As an area, it's a mish-mash: not quite trendy, not quite functional. But it's one of the few places in London where independent retailers do well. Sainsbury's is reduced to a local next to the tube, and the halal butcher is king.
It was here that I discovered Lotus Leaf. It's a small boutique, sandwiched conveniently between a bag shop and shoe shop - if you aren't careful, you can overlook it. Everything a girl needs in less than 10 feet. We're not talking haute-couture - you get the bus to Islington for that. But if you're like me and want something original, individual, timeless (and more importantly, affordable), definitely take a peep.
Despite the tantalising displays in the window – changed weekly – I padlocked my purse and stoically avoided the shop, though casting a longing glance in its direction each time I went by. The problem is that it's near my bus stop. So it was only a matter of time before I spent £65 in there. Amazingly, I didn't feel guilty. I proudly declared my purchases to the taxman as 'audition and rehearsal wear' and have never received quite so many compliments on an outfit: 'Your dress is so different – where's it from?'
There's a huge range, from short and long dresses, skirts, tops, blouses, coats, play-suits, trousers, all from £5 to £65. Each has the Ooh – I like that factor. Tardis-like, it seems bigger on the inside, and once you're in, you can lose an hour - or day. It's always packed - a good sign - and the staff are extremely helpful (I should be on commission for this!).
And you won't see anyone else wearing it - so long as you're not in Holloway.
Sarah Whitehouse - (c) 16 May 2011
*** *** ***
This is the history of my green cardigan, its life so far, and its future. From the beginning. And my sister has the exact same cardigan that she wears all the time.
It was a day out shopping; in particular a trip to the Oxford Street store of Primark - a day trip in itself. As I walked through the entrance, there on a faceless mannequin it was in glory: my cardigan-to-be, grass-green, stitched with the same pattern found on a traditional cricket jumper, three quarters in length. Unbuttoned, it fits nicely on the body.
It's nylon with the feel of cotton, in bright green large knit with a simple line pattern that is only visible up close. 2 large pockets lie flat, positioned to fall just below the hip. Big round buttons, with a slight marble pattern, go from a big collar all the way down the front. There's a knitted belt in the same funny wool for those who prefer being unbuttoned look. All exactly what I was looking for without knowing it. And a steal at £20 (plus the 25-minute wait in the till queue). My sister confirmed that I did indeed have a bargain, by insisting she borrow it the following day.
This nicely brings us to the present. My green cardigan has been worn by this author 3 times, in the 9 months it has been owned. It has been worn once a week by a younger sister whose only contribution is it to put it in the washing machine on the right wash. Until recently, when I went searching in the abyss also known as sis room in search of this cardigan to write about. The search took some time.
There was no evidence of it in the wash - clean or dirty - and no recent sightings of it being worn to work. This could only mean the bottom of the wardrobe, soon to be sent to the charity shop. Aha.
From a distance, I could see no reason why it had not been returned to me to be worn. Looking closer I could see that, despite being a funny wool material, it had bubbled like normal woolly cardigans. Not too bad - considering it has been worn weekly for 9 months - but not the only problem. A small hole had started in the joining of arm to body - held together by a large bobby pin.
Its future contains options. A quick patch-up and off to the charity shop. Or to be worn only in the house or while decorating. Or - what cheap clothes are intended for perhaps - to be chucked away and replaced by new from the same shop to keep business coming. Only to be remembered by pictures taken during its short life. My cardigan! My poor green cardigan has been worn to death - and not by me.
Claudia Nettleford - (c) 21 July 2010
*** *** ***
So you want to go out looking smart and lady-like but not 'job interview smart'. Try this look I'm wearing today: I'll start at the top and make my way down. My hair is tied in a bun with the hair twisted around and secured with a large hair-clip. The clip is black, and I have created my own design on it in red - nail varnish is good on plastic. I have a wide, black cloth headband - it goes around the front of my hair and underneath the bun at the back.
Next is a strappy black lycra top underneath a fitted black velvet suit-type jacket (as opposed to an outdoor jacket). The jacket has two buttons at the front with an open neckline, and the velvet gives it a nice appearance and texture (a man may want to touch it to have an excuse to talk to you, he may be handsome). My jeans are dark navy blue - they look almost black. They are tight (not skinny jeans) with narrow legs. They complement my body-shape and are not loose-fitting in any place. Shoes are black ballet-pumps with diamond stitching and rubber soles. There's a lot to be said for rubber-soled flat shoes for ladies: they are better for walking and for your posture, and you can look feminine without wearing heels.
I'm wearing skin-coloured tights to have that nice summery look to my feet, and your feet don't get unpleasant as they would if you went barefoot in the shoes. The only accessories are a medium dark-brown crescent-shaped bag and a Victorian-style watch. The watch has a very thin black strap, and a silver and black metal clasp and watch-face. It subtly but effectively underscores the feminine look.
Something along these lines is attractive, smart and comfy-casual. You can go anywhere and feel comfortable (except maybe in a mosh pit). Ladies, we can look beautiful without revealing any extra skin! We can be demure and elegant, and keep the rest to the imagination (ps, this seems to interest gentlemen).
(c) Chantal Pierre-Packer 20 August 09*** *** ***
New Years Eve 2008, and as per usual I have no idea what I am doing with myself. Each year, immediately after the post Christmas exhale comes the gasping reflex of the New Years Eve inhale. Oh my gosh! What am I going to do? Hold. Who am I going to do it with? And. What am I going to wear? This reaction occurs with the imminent realisation that, yet again, you haven't actually settled on any NYE plan and that you now have exactly 24 hours until the clock strikes 12.00.
For that one 'this is potentially the biggest night of the year' fantasy moment, it's that dramatic. I'm not one of the most organised people. Unlike people who do a good two days shopping perusal roughly a month in advance of the big event, no matter how strong my intentions of having 'the' outfit hanging on the wardrobe door, ironed and accompanied with accessories a year in advance, in reality I always end up making the mad dash down to town about five hours beforehand, whipping round in a crazed frenzy with the hope of finding it.
This year was no different; it was worse. Four hours before I needed to be on a train into central London, I'd yet to arrange a ticket for this year's overly-priced venue - shock horror - and I may as well have been going in my birthday suit.
Topshop - in the not so long ago dank town of High Wycombe, England - now has a store in the new Eden Shopping Centre. As a young woman pipping the post at 5'-1", possessing both breasts and hips - I know - I cannot possibly imagine what I was thinking in being drawn into a shop where I can quite often mistake a pair of jeans for an all-in-one jumpsuit. Oh and of course with 3hrs and 45 minutes to go I really had time to be looking at the kind of clothes designed for Kate Moss.
Five minutes later, after adopting the bumble-bee style approach to sweeping the shop floor, I had a selection of beautifully stylish, highly impractical, overly-priced dresses - none of which were going to fit. OK perhaps two. Stop. Somebody call the Fashion Police. Inform them that the straight-up-straight-down shop has a suspicious couple of entities apparently providing clothes for women. Yes, affirmative, the conventionally curvaceous kind.
So there I am stood in Topshop, dumbfounded and trying to decide between a slinky off-the-shoulder number or a slightly unusual chequered cotton number. The first was a little bit cheeky, but no more daring than the usual deemed appropriate for New Years Eve. The chequered dress was definitely different and not really what one would class as the standard choice of New Years Eve outfit. It came on and off at least three - maybe four - times. What with the heat of the changing room and the pressures of the repetitive changing, sweat broke out - making the clothing-on-off process all the more pleasant. No pressure Jenny, you've got loads of time to be faffing around being indecisive. Something kept bringing me back to the chequered dress. I haven't a clue why as normally I would steer well clear of anything remotely resembling a chequer pattern. It harked back to being forced to wear a horrifically uncomfortable, tight and scratchy hand-made kilt Granny had kindly made for me as a child - an experience capable of putting anyone off tartan for life. But there was something very comfortable about the dress, not only in its kind round cut and soft cotton fabric. Something about it said home.
The base colour was a blue-grey with aubergine, white and royal-blue tartan, though the dress screamed 'rich purple'. The curved neck-line was modest dropping just below the collar-bone, and the cut was flattering as it came in at the waist. Falling from shoulder to just above knee-height there was no hem at the bottom. Instead the fabric folded back under, joining up at the thin cord where it came in at the waistline, creating a double lining in the skirt. The effect was apparently trendy, but simultaneously ancient - the bottom of the dress was pleated, and represented what I can only describe as 'Paned Slops'- you know, the puffy, pumpkin-like skirt worn by men in Shakespeare's era. Sounds sexy? Well it was - in a controlled, formal way. As opposed to, well - the more diligent way. It was definitely warm and would be teamed perfectly with the cracking pair of suede shoes I passed on the way into the changing room.
Conceivably I'm getting to the stage in life where practicality overrides the temptation to freeze on a street corner in the early hours of New Years Day. And I guess that somewhere was the subliminal hope that the check pattern might even possess the ability to attract a burly Scotsman. Maybe? Or perhaps I just liked the checked dress. I am presently going through my discombobulated twenties - where decision making is hard at the best of times. But the woman staring back at me from the mirror was a woman who had it together, a decision maker, she knew what she wanted and she was going to get it. The first decision she made - buy the chequered dress.
So there it was. The woman who walked into Topshop 2008 would be walking out into 2009 another person. Organised and in control, she was a woman looking good and feeling fine. Now my check dress is deemed my decisive dress - it demands respect and is to be reckoned with. Stand that extra inch taller and the lines fall into place. Whether I'm weaving down Oxford Street at 3 pm or skipping up Upper Street at 3 am, my chequered dress is my world-embracing dress. When the wind blows filling the space between the pleats and the lining, I am Mary Poppins floating over London.
Unbelievable what the façade of identity can do really. Now, I suppose the real question is whether or not this action makes me liable for identity fraud or not? Had I really left the disorganised Jenny at the shop door or would she still be hanging on to the lining of the dress? Well no actually, because I believe you make the dress just as much as the dress makes you, so ultimately it's about being conscious of the decisions we make and knowing why we make them. I believe that the principles of choosing an outfit are parallel to those of a good diet - give your body what it needs; remembering that each day we may need something different. We all have those days where we can't decide what to wear. More often than not these are the disorganised days, the days where the pressure is on and all is being held together by a very thin thread.
I've learnt that by understanding the rules of dressmaking, you can use its tools to tailor the dress to your needs. Don't be boxed up by your wardrobe. Choose the box you want to be. For days when I need something a bit more substantial to kick-start the day, I know I can pull out the Scott's Oats and put on the chequered box.
(c) Jenny Glithero - 27 March 09*** *** ***
H&M is my family's favourite store. Ignoring the brother and sister-in-law - more into, and able to budget for, cashmere - the rest of us love it. Hennes, as we like to call it - not only does it sound less like much of the staff's time is spent dragging the knitwear around the floor, but also implies we were regulars before that extraneous 'M' got involved (anyone know what that stands for?) - is a paradise of cheap short-term-wear, and some pretty scrummy wardrobe staples.
I daren't check the percentage of my hanging space that came from an H&M. Certainly more than came from my less financially-friendly fashion addiction, Per Una. Hennes helped my little sister stay 'yummy mummy' throughout her days with a bump, and I don't doubt my nephew has some of their specials in his now-toddler-height closet. I also suspect my 'baby' brother of cutting short his international travel just because he was missing browsing for a cheap shirt. Although they are global - I have a Hennes hat bought an easy walk from Lake Geneva. Plus, everything you buy lists US sizes more boldly than UK - currently wearing an 8 - gotta love that.
Clearly, time spent in H&M pondering a purchase is invariably good. Today's buy makes me especially happy. It's a purple cardigan with a big black bow. I know, I know. I'm in my thirties, I really should be over bows by now. And mostly I am - but a nice silky ribbon does change that just a touch, doesn't it? It's a deep purple - my favourite kind - and has hidden poppers to do it up. Overall, the look is in the jacket direction, but more smart-casual than overtly smart. And mostly, it's warm.
As someone who feels the cold, and also coaches badminton, it's easy to live in fleeces, fleeces, and more fleeces. I'm damn picky on those: bold, deep colours, no text or logos, slightly-tailored - now that I have a waist, I'm not hiding it - zip-front, with pockets, which should ideally be zippable too for effective confiscation when pre-teens are messing about. But sometimes I want to look smart, not as if I'm about to blow my whistle and yell 'Twenty press-ups, right now' at anyone who looks at me oddly. And I still want - need - to be warm. And able to remove a layer on the off-chance of going somewhere too warm. The equator. If I go there, I'll still take my smart purple cardie with a bow. I might carry it. I won't tie it around my waist - that risks stretching, and this already has the perfect arm-length (fully covering my wrists, but not in the way of typing). But a girl should always have something lovely. And I do.
(c) Gill Smith 6 March 09*** *** ***
Think of a number and multiply it by a hundred. Think of a colour and multiply it by the number. Think of all those colours and make them brighter. Imagine them on all sorts of shapes and on a fabric and you'll get an idea of how my new bag looks.
Being from Latin America I was used to compliments and people whistling at girls in the street. I've been living in London for over two years and I think that I can count with the fingers of my right hand the times someone has said something nice to or stared at a woman. So when three men - yes, that's right - complimented me on this almost childish bag, I knew it was special. And in case you were wondering, they weren't gay.
I didn't even buy it. My sister got it in a cheap Hong Kong market a few months ago. When she found out she was going to be transferred there by her company, she decided to give it to me as a reminder of the things I could buy if I went to visit her.
So for all women who are starving themselves to fit into a size 6, or wearing loads of make-up to cover insecurities, or squeezing into a short backless dress with a revealing cleavage trying to get men to notice them - Stop It. It seems that what they're looking for lies somewhere else.
(c) Gabriela Scavuzzo 24 February 2009*** *** ***
Naughty! School girls in mini skirts, tanned skin, bleached hair. Mainstream fashion tries to show Japanese girls posing lady-like, bodies discreetly arranged. Gyaru magazines have them every which way, chests out, legs splayed. Ellen Andersen on the trend that's shocking middle Japan. Full article is here Japan's Fashion Radicals: The Gyaru Girls
(c) Ellen Andersen 15 January 2009*** *** ***
Dressing for black tie? Go for a little black dress. As a woman, it's a wardrobe essential and you can wear it year in, year out - just make sure it's classic and well cut. To keep it modern and fresh, accessorise with the season's on-trend accessories - at the moment that could be a chunky bangle worn half-way up the fore-arm and a scarf. The scarf doesn't have to be black - try going for silver or gold to match your jewellery. And especially if you're petite, don't over-accessorise or go for anything too frilly; too many frills can look busy.
Hamlet wasn't a woman, but if he had been it would have been: 'Tights or no tights, that is the question'. If you have a tan, show off your assets. But if don't like your legs or it's too cold, go for black opaque tights. Be careful the denier isn't too heavy, and be wary of skin-coloured tights. One firm rule: never wear tights with opened-toe shoes. It looks ridiculous, and as if you're too lazy to paint your toes.
High heels are a fundamental. Shoes shouldn't match accessories, or you'll look like a Christmas tree. Wear black high heels, and make sure they are not too high - people don't want to worry that you might fall over. High heels make you look a little bit taller, and always complement an outfit - they make your calves look long, lean and lovely.(c) Rebecca Talbot - 12 December 08 *** *** ***
I love everything about sunglasses. It's staggering that so many people don't. They are the ultimate fashion item - functional at particular times, and otherwise pure image-enhancers.
Nothing seems to annoy people more than seeing another human being wearing sunglasses when (a) there's no sun, (b) they're indoors, (c) it’'s night. It drives people crazy. Surely it's not just the impracticality?
Partially. There are so many images associated wearing sunglasses. The most instantly hit-upon is 'cool kid' imitating celebrity. The celebrity wannabe is probably loathed so much exactly because the wearing of sunglasses seems to show an aspiration to 'I am cool'. Why is the problem? Perhaps it's something to do with concealing the eyes.
Sunglasses let you view the world without being viewed. That's why they are such (forgive the pun) polarising accessories. Concealing the eyes gives the wearer a mystique, and it may be that this grasping for mysteriousness turns people off. Hiding the eyes, particularly behind dark lenses, puts a barrier between the wearer and the rest. It sets them back, removes them from the immediacy of everyone else, puts them aloof. While all the other people are expressing themselves and their mental states through the windows to their soul, the sunglasses-wearer hides. You could be drunk out of your gourd, but provided you're wearing dark glasses and standing perfectly still, no one will ever know.
Then there's the secret-service / man-in-black / military-dictator-type fellow. Secret service people wear shades so people can't tell where they are looking. Perhaps military dictators wear them to hide emotion. A figure with an emotionless face, eyes concealed behind impenetrable black, brown or polarised lenses, can be a pretty imposing one. Especially when announcing the revolution.
But there's a contradiction in our loathing of the lack of functionality of sunglasses and it's a simple one. Very few people complain if someone wears a jacket when it's warm or indoors. Very few get annoyed with someone wearing gloves in warm weather, or a hat without rain. So why is it that people are so eager to tell someone 'You look stupid' if they wear sunglasses when there's in no sun?
Controversial maybe, but never mind. They soften things. They cover up imperfections seen in natural light. They can brilliantly set off a look. And they make everything seem a little bit more beautiful.
(c) Miles Weaver 9 December 08*** *** ***
I wear boots. I don't wear shoes. I don't wear trainers. I only wear boots. It's a totalitarian statement, but I'm sticking with it. And only ankle boots. Anything else becomes a fashion minefield for a man. Women have a much easier time and a much greater set of options - eg they can get away with ankle boots and shorts, and no man can ever hope to do that. Men have limited boot options: cowboy boots, biker boots, wellies, riding boots, ankle boots. Displaying your boots as a man is a very, very dangerous thing to do - it makes a bold statement about you, and sets a rigid image.
Take cowboy boots. Worn under trousers, they're fine. But over, they say something: you're a wannabe cowboy or going for the cowboy look. It's unarguable, especially when worn with jeans. The men's cowboy boot craze of 2003-4 is long dead, and anyone now wearing cowboy boots regularly will be stigmatised. Women can still get away with them as accessories to an outfit: they look great and they're never questioned. Men have no hope of this, especially if the colour is anything outside black, grey or brown - the safe range that men can always wear.
The Wellington boot has two connotations. In summer, it's acceptable festival wear. The rest of the time, it's OK for labourers and fishermen.
The military-style / riding-style boot is interesting. While it's a lot harder for a man to carry off, depending on his image and look, it can be done. I've seen Karl Lagerfeld himself rocking a pair of knee-high, alligator-skin boots - they looked amazing. Men can get away with this style - again, only really in the safe colours of black, brown or muted grey - I've seen them. It may be to do with the historical rigidity of men's fashion, and that riding and military items have long been accepted parts of it. Today, men can draw on that safety, but mix in a very rock 'n' roll attitude. And there are more qualities and styles available now, making them safer bets for confident men. There's the echo of skinhead and punk looks, mixing with that very military - in a totalitarian / fascistic sense - almost fetishistic mood. Perhaps it's because they have such cross-referential ability that they are more acceptable. The current trend of finger-less biker-gloves on men and women similarly references that dangerous road spirit, while drawing on very Gothic and sexual themes - as well as tried-and-true rock and roll.
There are some situations where men are never able to get away with boots. Ankle boots have to be under long trousers. Ankle boots and shorts are an immediate fail. Worn over the top of jeans or trousers just looks like the poor unrefined gentleman has got his trouser-leg tucked into them by accident. No man should ever take the sexual mood of boots too far and try to get away with a boot past the knee (except waders for work). That's well away from style and into transvestite - bad move.
Limited boot options maybe, but they give a nice shape to the foot when it's seen under the cuff of a trouser leg. Tapering on upward instead of ending abruptly at a lip, they're also slightly edgy. Sometimes, especially when well-heeled, they can even be a little intimidating. The riding boot / military-style worn over the trouser leg can make things a bit more fun than the standard shoe. And they don't cut into your ankle in the way that hard-lined shoes do. For skinny people like me, that's one hell of a plus.
(c) Miles Weaver 8 December 08*** *** ***
Several people have mentioned how much they like my glasses. It's funny - I never really think about them. Of course I liked them when I bought them, otherwise I wouldn't have, and I still like them otherwise I wouldn't wear them, but it still makes me smile.
They're by Calvin Klein. They're plastic, black with a thin white line running over the top and underside of the frame - my favourite colour couple. The lenses are rectangular. Though the angles are fairly soft, they look a lot more severe in the fairly thick black frames against my pale skin. I suppose you could say they fall pretty directly into that indie/geek-chic kind of style. They suit my personality quite considerably.
I hate having to wear glasses – because I love sunglasses, and don't like being near-blind in off-the-shelfs or near-broke in prescriptions. I wouldn't switch over to contacts - I like the way my face looks when framed with specs. I look too young without them, and after having worn glasses for ten years, I'm too used to them to forsake them. And I don't like jamming my finger in my eye.
Men are slowly starting to appreciate glasses as the fashion accessory that they have long been for women. In the last ten years they've finally shed the stigma of the socially-inept poindexter with which society used to associate them. They've ascended to the mainstream. Men are experimenting more with specs, playing with clear lenses the way they did with tints. It's about time.
(c) Miles Weaver 7 December 08*** *** ***
Call me a snob but the one thing that I can't stand is women on their way to work dressed to the nines, but wearing the female equivalent of the boot - the trainer. Having arrived, they reveal their office persona through a subtle switch to stiletto. They transform from comfy-and-frumpy Nike chrysalises into gorgeous heel-wearing butterflies - successfully crossing the line between office-sexy and 'take me seriously' pit-bull.
Practicalities aside, what really galls me is the hypocrisy. If you're going to wear an outfit, it should work at every level. If comfort isn't one of them, lump it - or change shoes. So mostly I wear flats. A shame? They're stylish and comfortable. I'm not hiding to-and-from in bulky trainers, only to unveil when it matters. And I'm over five foot six, but that's beside the point.
Dressing is an expression of you, and changing shoes seems insincere. Dressing well takes determination. I'm not saying that you can't have slobby days. Using a trainer for what it's meant for (exercise) is fine. But if you commit to a smart look that involves heels, wear heels. Wear them, and the pain of them, with pride - from work, at work and back.
I can see why people do it. Physical impressions are important and a heel-wearing woman has undoubtedly got kick; sadly it's a recognised barrier for working women everywhere. A new charity called Dressed For Success hires outfits to women who can't afford them. It's to help them get jobs which they otherwise couldn't, all because of appearance. They aren't dressing in heels and suits to impress in an already attained position, and it's not through choice. They're from shelters or even prison, with no means of buying one pair of trainers - let alone one to substitute as a bearable foot alternative on the way to work.
It's about being sincere in what you present. It's about integrity within what you wear. I love vintage, second-hand and charity-clothes shops. As another Fringe Report writer puts it: 'polyester screams cheap'. I got fed up buying deceivingly expensive retro versions of 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s (no one touches the 90s, yet) clothes - when the real things were cheaper, classier and heavy in a history adding to their allure.
A while back I passed a couple of Americans in Shepherds Bush looking at a second-hand clothes shop. They were disgusted that people were putting on shoes that had belonged to someone else. But walking in someone else's shoes is part of the appeal. A second-hand item is not cheaply-constructed over-priced tat, it's a piece of clothing with a story - and an original and stylish cut.
It's great not pretending to be something you're not. Go against the cheap imitation, the short-cut to sexy, visual society. Invest in something wholeheartedly. If dressing is an expression of yourself, it shouldn't involve shifty comfort-seeking shortcuts. I don't want to be a New Look, Topshop clone. It's great when someone takes their past (or borrows a maybe-like-minded-some-one-else's) and puts it together to express their individuality, their own future.
And if people compliment or ridicule, you can be happy that you are who you are, and dress as yourself. In all weathers. For all distances. No sneaking around in the shadows - wear your second-hand flats in the sun.
(c) Honour Jane Bayes 25 November 08*** *** ***
I could fritter limitless amounts of money away on jewellery. I love jewellery. Specifically, I have a weakness for rings (no puns please). I love collecting rings, I love every finger to be obscured by rings - like miniature sheaths of slightly violent, slightly S&M medieval armour. Silver, chunky and detailed. Particularly gothic designs. But I draw the line at skulls only. No dragons heads, silly crosses or pentagrams, thank you very much.
At the moment I wear five rings all the time: three on my right hand, two on my left. I'm always looking to expand my collection, but I'm afflicted by thin fingers, and being a man. If you're a man, unless you're paying good money for good rings, you'll end up with a circular piece of nickel which will stain your finger as green as grass after the fourth wearing. It annoys me beyond words.
Which is why I have to save up and buy quality. One top brand I particularly like is Chrome Hearts. What I like about their rings is the intricacy and look of the designs, the fact that they're hand-made, and that they use high-end silver. I'd buy the lot if I could afford to; that not being the case, I have three. One is a silver band reading 'CH Forever' around the top of the band, with four small medieval-style crosses beneath it, and 'Chrome Hearts' etched onto the edge of the ring. I wear that one stacked on the same finger as another of their pieces with a vine-like pattern. I wear the one I like best on the other hand - it's a chunky number with a knife design on top of the band; eye-catching, unique.
Yes, I love jewellery: bracelets, belt buckles, necklaces, rings. It sets off a look, expresses and accentuates aspects of your personality. It looks great. Men! Wear and experiment. Find a design that works for you. Viva the revolution!
(c) Miles Weaver 20 November 08*** *** ***
One of time's most unsolved mysteries - along with the location of the lost Colombian city of El Dorado and whether the Loch Ness Monster exists - is why women need more shoes. I know my dad asks himself that question when he sees my mum's neatly-piled-up shoe-boxes on his side of the wardrobe. And my boyfriend - when my shoes are everywhere: under the sofa, behind the mirror, beneath his desk.
Shoes are powerful. They're not just fetishistic or status-providers. They make us feel special. A pair of high-heeled black boots makes you feel as if you own the world. Stripey sandals make you feel the sexiest kitty in town.
Shoes and me are love and hate. I love looking at them and trying them on; I hate walking in them. And I channel my passion for them through my sister. I make her buy all the absurdly high-heeled shoes that I don't even dare to touch - but finding them for her in size 8 (41) can turn into an epic quest.
My shoe collection is not as vast as I would like. Finding the right shape, a walkable heel and the right shade of colour is not an easy task. Why settle for anything else?
I'd looked for an exciting extra-ordinary pair of shoes for ages. I was about to give up. Suddenly, looking provocatively at me from a window, I saw a pair of black, multicolour-starred flat shoes. It was love at first sight. An irresistable force pulled us together. I tried them on. A spell was cast. We were meant to be together.
They make me feel like a rock star. (More exactly like Pizzazz from The Misfits - from the 1980s Jem & the Holograms cartoon). I'm not going to let it go to my head - I'm keeping my feet on the ground.
Just wearing better shoes.
(c) Gabriela Scavuzzo 27 October 08*** *** ***
Mixing practicality with fashion is always hard. There are a few set pieces in my wardrobe that I always stick to - one of these items is flat boots. This season I chose to buy some Biker Boots. I know you're thinking 'why would you buy an out-of-season-and-last-year-must-have?' And I say - you can simply dress them up or down and I'm in no doubt that in a year they will be retro and back in fashion.
These black leathered beauties look great over a skinny jean or denim shorts and tights. Both these outfits help accomplish that rock-chic look (which only Kate Moss can really pull off but us normal folk can have a damn good try). To achieve this look further, add a crisp white vest, mess your hair up bed-head style and - hey presto - you have a Kate Moss and Peaches Geldof glow. The other great way these boots look good is with this season's on-the-trend jumper dress. If you are a petite lady you look short and sweet; if you're taller you won't tower over anyone, and still look sophisticated.
As much as we love wearing heels, we secretly love wearing flats more. These flat boots mean an evening won't end with you walking bare-footed on a nasty pavement. They have practicality, comfort and a fashionable look. Can a heel compete? (Yes, but let's pretend.)
(c) Rebecca Talbot 6 October 08*** *** ***
My fake white Ray-Bans do look tacky and cheap - even kitsch - but my, do I worship them. They were given to me by a very close friend who understands my love of daft and impractical accessories. I have a Deidre-Barlow-sized pair that are green and canary yellow. I have some Jackie-O-style glasses that are so ridiculously big my child-sized head is almost lost. And I have a pair that wouldn't look out of place in a club in Ibiza. But none lives up to my fake Ray-Bans.
These white lovelies make me feel as if I could live a lifestyle where I could turn up to see a Nu Rave gig dressed in skinny red jeans, gatecrash the stage and play a ten-minute guitar solo. I put my hands up and admit that this is a very childish and deluded sense of reality from a pair of glasses. And they've become mainstream this season. Everyone from festival goers, models, actresses and rock stars have been wearing them - but if they get the average person to step out of the fashion box, I'm all for them.
I predict the popularity of multi-coloured Ray-Bans will be out by next year. Paris Hilton and Kate Moss will be wearing something more sophisticated and classic that will become on trend. But I'm secretly hoping not, so we can all still be wearing silly glasses and 70s throwback jumpsuits.
(c) Rebecca Talbot 28 June 08*** *** ***
I love clothes. I love the play, the sheer theatricality of them, which is one of the reasons why I also love London, for London is above all a place to dress up. We all do it; we wear our clothes like badges, like uniforms, from the City Boy's pink shirt (there can be no other explanation for such a vile garment's popularity), to the Camdenite's Mohawk and leather and piercings, or the soft skirts and thickly jewelled eyes of Upper Street fairies who skip along boho-style in used Versace; or the elaborate hats and vacant stares (usually from starvation) of Shoreditch lads and ladies.
In a city where functionality is irrelevant, style and self display swiftly becomes all. After all, one can quite comfortably spend a day in six inch heels when one need totter no further than the nearest tube station, one might breeze about in chiffon safe in the knowledge that midwinter will never penetrate one's environmentally controlled offices, homes and playgrounds.
Even I, who flop about the parent's rural abode in hiking boots and dog-drooled cagoules, change delighted into unnaturally tight pencil skirts and patterned stockings with no thermal value the moment I head for the great Metropolitan adventure. We are blessed in London, for we can play fancy dress even when we do not notice. We have an entire city as our wardrobe, our stage, and we change persona simply by pulling out the body glitter or slipping relieved into an old hoodie before heading out to mug a granny.
Although I am a traditionalist when it comes to assembling an outfit - if it ain't black, don't fix it, say I, yet I love to watch the bright colours and patterns which garland other London butterflies. I see those around me flout every rule in the book and look fabulous; redheads in purple, stripes alongside spots; sparkles in the hair and on the arms on girls and on boys; sequins and camp beneath pinstripe suits.
Thus I have developed a simple rule for anyone trying to decide what to wear, and that is to do what you like. Ignore those hideous programmes full of hideous women who bully perfectly nice folk into becoming coiffured poodles and Just Say No. The number of well intentioned friends who have tried to squeeze me into something either pink or fluffy or both does not bear consideration; suffice to say they failed. Remember, this is London where anything goes, from peasant tops and stilettos to full body rubber, or even dungarees.
The next simple rule of dress is to wear your proper size. Embarrassing as it may be to ask the six-foot stick of a shop assistant for an Extra Large, proper fitting clothes stop one from impersonating a sausage about to pop. However, baggy items are an equally bad idea because they just look - well, baggy - and baggy is depressing. While beautiful people pull it off, we mortals should do all we can to exploit what we have rather than cover it up. I for one revel in clothes which roll across my buxom bits like waves in the sand; I like them just as much as I like the things that bag the flab.
Which leads me on to my final rule for putting together an outfit, a rule summed up by music-hall-queen Marie Lloyd when she sang 'If it shows my shape just a little bit then that's the little bit that boys admire'. Or, to put it another way, suggestion is everything.
True, we have all seen wraith-like boys in drain-pipe jeans and second-skin shirts oozing androgynous sex appeal; or Soho girls in boob tubes and miniskirts oozing - well oozing Soho - but in general baring this much flesh only works if you are miniscule and confident and out for the night. I opt instead for a full-length tops and skimpy bottoms or vice versa. A bustier and trousers, for example; or long boots and little dress. It is all about finding the balance, about insinuation.
London is an exotic land of accessories and potential; of presenting ourselves to a city of strangers in any way we see fit. Attire has neither reason, nor need here, it is pure symbol and possibility made tactile. It is a scintillating instrument for us to use. Clothes can be a way a way in or a means of escape, and constructing an outfit sometimes feels as complicated as answering the Sphinx's riddle, but it is not. It is a game for us to play, it is imagination.
(c) Philippa Tatham 28 January 08*** *** ***
Sometimes it doesn't occur to me how beautiful something is until I really need it. I believe this is how the Ugg phenomenon swept fashionable cities the world over. Inexplicably, and out of nowhere, these clunky, chunky, frumpy shoes were hot to trot right alongside Manolos on the tootsies to be seen around town. Shock! Horror! What? Why? How?
I jumped on the Ugg bus along with the rest of the fashionable female population, but I never really loved them until I moved to Chicago. Here they are dearer to me than some ex-lovers have been. I finally understand - they keep your feet really warm! In addition, their heels don't dig into the snow, or slip on the ice. And if they get kinda dirty - so what? - they are humble-looking to begin with. Moreover, unless you get the fancy pink kind, they are brown, so the Chicago winter grime blends right in. I know there have always been sane people who have made the choice to wear shoes with comfort and ease in mind but when has it ever been cool? I suppose occasionally throughout history, fashion and practicality come together in a cosmic eclipse of sanity - kaftans seem to come to mind - but since the hippy era the two have rarely met.
I can go to a job interview in Uggs and nobody thinks it is strange. I must note that the job in question is usually either as a bartender or as someone serving someone else something (like vichyssoise). But even so, I can tromp my ass across town while keeping warm and not using my car - because global warming and such - and boy do I need the exercise after this Christmas - but, none the less, I can walk proudly into even the snootiest establishment and nobody will snoot at my footwear. My boots have made it into the cannon of cool and I am soon to follow them there.
Sometimes I even wear them around the house like slippers!
(c) Sarah Shavel 10 January 08*** *** ***
My Primark dress rocks. Therefore, whenever I wear my Primark dress, I, too, rock. It's a love/love relationship.
Listen, I'll describe my dress to you. It's one of those full-length maxi dresses that everyone's been wearing this summer. Nothing special you might think? Don't I look like a hippy? Ok, my flatmate calls me Earth Mother whenever I wear it, but stay with me. Imagine ... thin straps join the fabric as it wraps across the bust, forming a slightly scandalous neckline that drops into an empire line cut, pulling me in at the top of my waist and flowing out over my hips, skimming all the bits I want to hide, and showing possibly more-than-is-decent of the bits I don't. It's the perfect dress.
Men look, women envy. If I'm lucky – given that this dress is, don't forget, from Primark – I don't bump into anyone else wearing the same dress (oh the angst - who wears it best? - these things matter). It cost £16, and it's given me a summer of priceless fun and attention. And if this dress could talk - it could tell a few tales.
(c) Anna Bewick 15 September 07*** *** ***
It is a well-known fact that a woman, in possession of a strong desire for something, must be in want of Ebay.
The quest for a laptop bag that is stylish, interesting, has pockets for everything I could possibly like to have a pocket for, plus easy to carry made for quite a challenge. High street names such as Debenhams and M&S failed to impress on one - or several - of the key criteria.
So, Ebay - although other web-based auction sites may well be equally suitable - and an infinite supply of patience.
This is not because you'll need to wait for your dream bag, other than a little delivery time, or frustratingly lose out time and again. It's because 'laptop bag' brings up a huge range of options from a number of suppliers - from complex back-pack types, to briefcases, to the usual bags made by computer-makers. The website's facility to save a few for detailed checking later is paradise for the indecisive. Colour? Carrying method? Flowered, or not too flowered?
Getting it right mattered more than price. My laptop bag needed to be different, suit me, and not look too much like a laptop bag and attract thieves. Having found my dream bag, I'm not sure whether the loss of bag, or the precious running-my-life laptop, would distress me more.
It's red Italian leather. Scarlet is actually the only word that really works. It has shoulder-straps like a handbag, but in this bright shade, is perhaps a bit less subtle than most of my bag choices.
I adore it.
And it has pockets. I mean, really. Majorly. There's the section for the laptop itself, complete with Velcro straps and space for the power-supply. There are big pockets inside that almost swamp my numerous journalist's notebooks, comedian's gag book - even my in-case-of-boredom magazines. There's a small zip compartment where the more girlie things sit side by side with decaf coffee sachets and a small supply of paracetamol. There's even a pair of elasticated pockets where my teaching whiteboard pens live - with an underused highlighter - plus low-cal sweets, lip salve, lots of slots for pens, a place for business cards. And that's just the inside.
Outside there's a flat pocket for carrying A4 papers smoothly - and a disappointingly black umbrella (free with the bag) safely stashed at the bottom. And at the top there is a pocket that fits everything.
By everything, I naturally mean my phone, huge bunch of keys, wallet, glasses-case, hankie, PDA / GPS. So maybe not everything, but everything that I could possibly need urgently. And really, that's all a girl needs from her bag. To look good, while carrying everything, yet only use a tenth of it.
(c) Gill Smith - 4 April 07*** *** ***
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