I realised a couple of weeks ago that I’ve been wearing a lot of grey this summer. I know why I’ve been wearing those particular clothes – quite by chance, these seem to be the ones that don’t get tangled in my bicycle wheels, which is an important consideration these days – but how I came to possess quite so many is a mystery. Perhaps it’s a hangover from my black-and-white university days, during which I tried to look as much as possible as if I’d been designed by Sir Cecil Beaton. That was the time that I realised that I really could get away with huge, fabulous hats. Not only could I get away with them, I could leave the police baffled and live the life of Riley on the proceeds. Gloves, too. I only really wear them for weddings these days, but I used to wear them to chapel every Sunday. Occasionally I went all black, down to the nail varnish. And the leather trousers. I still wear a lot of black in the winter, usually with red or magenta.
Anyway, leaving the monochrome aside, I like really strong, intense, colours. Mostly I gravitate towards the extreme ends of the colour spectrum – bright scarlet, deep fuchsia, royal or Roman purple – but I have a teal blouse (I don’t wear it much because it’s a pain to iron, but it’s very cheering when I do), a turquoise dress, a couple of orange tops. I add red or green into the black and grey, when I can. If I can’t, I throw silver at it. I love silver earrings. Beads, too, of all colours. I have the most gorgeous shiny black belt with a chrome buckle, which improves everything.
At the moment I am making substantial alterations to a dress I made seven or eight years ago, black circles on a jade green ground, so that I can wear it again. I have a hat to match. It’s fantastic. What about my other party dresses? There is the chequerboard dress, the little black one (short, with long lacy sleeves), the going-away dress (soft folds of navy blue), the black-and-white-striped dress (very sixties), my bridesmaid’s dress from Freya’s wedding, when I was 14 (raspberry silk, and very grown up), the long bronze one that I’ve never really known what to do with. Under the bed is my wedding dress, in a box.
The leather trousers and the hats were perhaps the first manifestation of the I will wear whatever the hell I want and not give a damn about what anyone else thinks about it attitude that I so enjoy today. Recently I’ve added bright red lipstick to that. You know what they say about girls who wear bright red lipstick? I don’t give a damn about that, either. Likewise, red hats, black knickers, short skirts. Last summer, when we were stony broke, my big indulgence was frivolous knickers. I write ever so much better when I’m wearing fancy knickers. True facts. I think it’s something to do with being impossibly glamorous.
What do I have lots of? Waistcoats. I wear waistcoats when I am being a pirate, an Elizabethan playwright (usually on a Saturday), or a Victorian governess with a secret life (at work, when I wish to convey a general impression of don’t-you-dare-mess-with-me). I have lots of long-sleeved cotton T-shirts, mostly with wide, shallow necklines. They are bright and comfortable and don’t need ironing, but go smart enough to wear to work. Dresses: V-necked, full-skirted, knee-length or above. I like skirts that swish. Bright summer skirts; a couple of pink cotton tops that work with them. Walking trousers in all sizes from 12 to 18. I’m not sure which ones fit at the moment. And a drawer full of boring T-shirts, also for walking.
There isn’t really much difference between what I wear at work and what I wear when I’m not. The work culture is pretty casual, and I’m fairly smart. Or perhaps not smart. I don’t know what the word is. Not soignée. Not serious. Occasionally, but not always, glamorous. I think what I mean is, the only difference is that I don’t wear jeans at work. Other than jeans at the weekend, I don’t wear trousers much, having discovered that I have relatively short legs for my height, and find skirts more comfortable anyway. That’s a thought: I must get another pair of black jeans. And there’s very little that has writing on. Generally speaking, I don’t wear writing unless someone’s paying me to do it. Minimal synthetics, too; I find them sweaty and irritating. Really, I’m happiest in cotton.
I got rid of lots of clothes recently, when we moved into the new flat and things had to be put in places. Everything that wasn’t quite right, that didn’t fit (unless I really, really loved it, and didn’t think I’d find another in a different size), that was just not very interesting. I’ve dumped all my print wraparound skirts – they dated from my late teenage hippy phase, when I was desperately insecure about my body. I think the green crochet one needs to go, too, or at least be shortened substantially; I’ve never worn it much, because I’m always getting it caught in things when I do. The one surviving one, which I will wear until it falls to pieces, is horizontal strips of yellow satin and yellow-and-brown plaid. I wear it in the winter with a black top and waistcoat, and a red hat. That’s a kind of gypsy musician outfit, I think. Once I played the cello in the band at a barn dance in an actual barn. In Britain, in October. I wore that, and thick black tights, and fingerless gloves. My fingers didn’t quite freeze.
Shoes. Black patent Mary Janes. I’ve always liked Mary Janes – I vaguely remember seeing them in some picture book or other when I was very small, and concluding that they were the only proper shoes. And bright colours again – the deep pink ballet slippers with the gold toes, the blue suede boots, the red ones with four straps each, the plum velvet high-heeled boots.
What, in my wardrobe, feels most like me? That’s a tough one. The last thing I bought because it was so undeniably me was one of the pink summer tops, a floppy thing like an inverted triangle, with a low V-neck and ivory cutwork embroidery. But really, I think the clothes I love the most are the ones that make me feel a little bit more than me.