Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The Tale of a Marvellous Velvet Suit









I’ve always loved velvet. The last seven years of blog posts can attest to that. It’s one of my most consistent fabrics: forget-me-not blue velvet capes, bottle green velvet coats, plum velvet blazers, khaki velvet heels, navy velvet boots, deep turquoise velvet skirts, raspberry velvet waistcoats, and plenty of black velvet trousers, dresses and jackets. You name the garment, I’ve probably got it in velvet (sometimes in multiple permutations – I am the girl, after all, who rather obscenely owns four – four! – different blue velvet jackets). I’m always on velvet high alert: picking it out in charity shops, always ready to discern between the cheaper, nasty stuff, and that properly heavy, thick texture.

Recently, I went a step further, buying a whole velvet suit. Highly unusually for me, it was from Marks & Spencer. In a rather uncharacteristic turn of events, having spent a good half hour eyeing up all the satin bras and beautiful knickers (honest to god, the M&S underwear department is one of the most consistently soothing places on earth), I spotted the suit being sported on a mannequin. It was delicious. It was gorgeous. I wanted it to be mine. Half an hour later and I walked out with heavy bags and a much lighter wallet than planned.

It was worth it. Since that point I’ve hung out in it, danced in it – that swoosh of fabric adding extra rhythm to my hips – and sported it at events. I feel different whenever it gets pulled on: bolder, more assertive, more decisive, more glamorous, fully inhabiting my limbs. Like the best garments, it bestows a sense of both possibility and capability.

Angela Carter writes in ‘Notes For a Theory of Sixties Style’ that: “Velvet is back, skin anti-skin, mimic nakedness. Like leather and suede, only more subtly, velvet simulates the flesh it conceals, a profoundly tactile fabric.” I adore this essay, but I’m not sure if I’m entirely with her. Instead I wonder if it part simulates, part embellishes. Unlike silk, there’s less mimicry here – more a suggestion of something jeweled, something that, yes, does invite tactile appreciation, but also hides and clings to what lies beneath.

Anyway, velvet is most certainly back again. It’s all over the internet, the catwalk, and the high street  – people praising it left, right and, well, everywhere else too. This is unsurprising. Depending on the shape it takes, it has the capacity to be sexy, playful or deliciously understated. It’s also a fabric which manages that neat hat-trick of feeling good, looking good, and tapping into a particularly enticing set of cultural images.

Velvet is dusty red stage curtains. It’s green sofas at antiques markets. It’s the Christmas dress you wore when you were five. It’s Prince strutting his way around the stage. It’s vamps, harlots and femme fatales who know just how fabulous they look. It’s every person who ever felt suave in a plush black suit. It’s sixties minis, seventies maxi-skirts and Laura Ashley dresses at their finest. It’s stage costumes and cocktail parties. It’s Halloween high drama with lace aplenty. It’s medieval style sleeves, and perfectly cut trousers, and Pre-Raphaelites. It’s princesses, knaves, witches.

Of course, us commoners have only been allowed to wear the stuff in all its tremendous permutations for the last few centuries. Pre 1604, sumptuary law enacted plenty of weird and wonderful restrictions on who was allowed to wear what. Velvet, silk and “spangles” on sleeves and linings were for the upper echelons only (you can read the exhaustive list of rules here). Clothes were literal embodiments of power. They were coded messages – visibly marking rank and status. And the more luxurious the fabric, the fewer the numbers of people allowed to go about their day in it.  

Well, no such issue there now. We can all revel in velvet. And it seems that plenty are. I’ve chatted to several friends recently who’ve been enthusing about all things crushed, brushed and luxuriously textured. One had bought a red velvet suit. Another a gold velvet dress. And me? Am I happy with just possessing this navy suit? Yes. Mostly. I think. Though there is a small, illogical, wholly ridiculous part of me that wants it in green too.

I enjoyed giving the suit the full Rosalind treatment: an item not being truly mine, it seems, until it’s been worn somewhere entirely out of context. When I bought it, I didn’t expect to be trying to leap onto hay-bales without scuffing all that navy goodness. But there we go. A gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do. Here I styled it with second hand brogues, the Aspinal feather print box bag of dreams, a perfectly colour matched vest, and lashings of Revlon berry lipstick.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Skin Deep










Last week, in a burst of very exciting news, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was announced as the new face of Boots No.7. Before I write anything else, I suggest you go watch the video here. In the clip, she re-treads the ground of her Elle essay (which I seem to link to at least twice a year), pointing out that, “our culture teaches us that to be taken seriously, women should not care too much about appearance.” Adichie has no time for that. None whatsoever. What she instead stresses is the magical capacity of make-up to make her “walk ever so slightly taller.” She celebrates “the face I choose to show the world, and what I choose to say.” In a scant number of sentences she delivers a powerful message – one that positions an interest in beauty as something active, autonomous and playful.

As adverts go, this is both joyous and canny: highlighting the ways in which deep thought and surface appearance can happily co-exist. It hails this most articulate of writers for both the dexterity of her words, and her appreciation for a bloody good lipstick. Even better, it revels in the words, actions and appearance of a hugely powerful, accomplished woman – a woman whose skin colour is not always best represented in beauty advertising. There’s nothing patronizing here. No shame, no language of inadequacy and improvement. Just the potentially boundless fun to be found in a full make-up bag.

Add to this the fact that other women included in the campaign launch, like Sali Hughes (whose book Pretty Iconic is tip-top of my to-buy list – read this gorgeous excerpt on cosmetics and sensory memory here), Gemma Cairney (sunshine in human form – listen to her chat about green glittery dresses on Dawn O’Porter’s podcast here), and Louise O’Neill (a damn sharp, damn brilliant writer – take a nose at her columns here), all have a similar ethos: copious brains AND an interest in beauty. That’s what we need to see more of, in ads and elsewhere. Beauty advertising, very rightfully, is often critiqued for being reductive – promoting a hugely limited ideal, and reliant on the suggestion of make-up as a corrective rather than something inventive. The more ways we counteract that, the better.

I thought of the campaign again this morning over breakfast while listening to the PanDolly podcast: presented by the ever-excellent Pandora Sykes (ST Style wardrobe mistress, Instagram aficionado and super-smart blogger) and Dolly Alderton (all-round fab journalist with a dating column in the ST Style, and a newsletter called The Dolly Mail). In this episode, they touched upon advertising, discussing the relationship between feminism and the commercial world. It’s a tricksy one, but they both have some great points about the ways in which we can utilize the sales of clothes and cosmetics to promote more inclusive, encouraging messages – rather than constantly making women feel insufficient.

I think there’s a huge difference between companies being ‘feminist’ in name, and feminist in action (a single empowering slogan doesn’t wipe out most brands’ reliance on slender, white-skinned, glossy-haired youth as its ultimate ideal), but those who do actively try to change the conversation, as with No.7, deserve applause. Given the ubiquity of imagery, promoted products, beauty ideals and a hundred-and-one suggested ways to change ourselves via fitspo, green juice and clean eating (also go read this), anything within that realm which challenges the status quo is always welcome.

This morning I also read the latest installment in Ella Risbridger’s column for The Pool. Ostensibly, it’s a lipstick column: each piece framed by the particular shade she’s been wearing that week. In practice, it is a powerfully honest set of meditations on hospitals, hope, fear, getting through the day, and being a carer for her partner (referred to here as the Tall Man) as he experiences ongoing treatment for lymphoma. It’s possibly the only beauty column I’ve ever cried at. She is warm, thoughtful, and gut-hittingly candid as she documents the huge challenges and small joys of each week.

Her newest piece is full of liberal praise for a blue Nars number. She writes about its transformative powers with glee: “I was, in the six hours and twenty minutes in which my lips were blue, perfectly content: content with my own body, content with my own face, and my place in the world. I felt invincible. I felt extraordinary. I felt like I could fly.” Lipstick has always been an emboldening tool; a thing she describes elsewhere as “part armour, part warpaint.” Here it is also a form of ownership, a bright blue mark of reclamation.

There are so many meanings to cosmetics. They can be anchors, paint-boxes, disguises, mood-boosters, spot-coverers, mask-makers, rituals, a means of metamorphosis. They do not always yield satisfaction (and should by no means be an expectation) but when wielded with a sense of agency, they can be both bewitching and comforting. Whether it's an author looking and speaking luminously in an ad campaign, or a carefully weighted column in praise of blue lips during a difficult time, these are powerful moments: moments worth dwelling on and celebrating. 


The purple shade of lippy I’m wearing in these images is from Revlon. It’s perfectly autumnal. I went in search of something all juicy and dark after seeing a friend who looked so damn good with her berry-coloured lips. Here it felt especially appropriate against the storm light: bright sunshine and grey cloud behind, with my vintage dress and coat in the foreground. Certainly an embodiment of the way I love to do beauty – teetering around in massive heels, make-up reapplied half-way through a hike with my dad so that we could squeeze in a blog shoot on the hill's brow. 

Coat - liberated from my Mum's wardrobe - a 1940's WW2/Post WW2 "Utility" coat, with Utility label intact. The construction is extraordinary, as seen from behind in the last image.
Dress - featured numerous times here and elsewhere over the last 6 years - vintage, from a 'pound' basket at a vintage fair when I was in my mid teens. The mended rips have re-opened and extended, but it's a stayer.
Ridiculous heels - charity shop. They gather dust on a shelf, apart from the occasional foray in a backpack, to be whipped out for 10 mins before practical footwear resumes.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Words Galore







This has been the best kind of weekend: mellow, satisfying, and full of ideas. A weekend of coffee taken back to bed with a good book, as well as plentiful cooking, and long walks through landscape that would sit well in Wuthering Heights. I’ve had the company of my own thoughts, ideas brewing and bubbling, and the deliciousness of a Saturday night in with Nat King Cole’s voice on the record player, Katharine Hepburn’s arch tones entertaining me in her autobiography, and a glass (or two) of red wine to smooth it all out. I’ve also probably spent one too many hours on Instagram. Ah well. They’ve been fun. To top it off, I spent this evening with family friends, eating crispy potatoes and perfectly roasted chicken. We laughed and chatted and made sure that leftovers were minimal.

I’m sated, in every sense of the word. I’m also knackered: the good kind of knackered that comes from tired muscles and a mind that’s been given a proper runaround. I’ve been dashing all over the place recently. I’ve talked at Trinity College Dublin's Philosophical Society about beauty standards, gone back to Oxford for a poetry reading, as well as graduation (!!), done a shoot or two, and had many, many meetings. New things are afoot. Good things. Things I can’t wait to explore and feel my way into further.

So this last week has been the first chance in a while to properly settle into some kind of rhythm. I’m not sure exactly what it is yet, but it feels good. It’s a rhythm giving room for that burnished, crisp, autumnal thrill of new projects, as well as some space to just dawdle and learn and be (plus, finally doing all my invoices. Oops.)

The first of those new projects was properly kick-started on Saturday, when I decided to join all the other good people with newsletters. Mine is a tinyletter called Rosalind Reads, and - of course! - it’s all about books. You can sign up for it here if you fancy a weekly(ish) reading list, arranged by theme. Expect selections of books in areas from clothes to walking to illness. The first one – Telling Tales - went out yesterday. This feels like a very natural step, and a very fertile one too. I can’t wait to get stuck in.

Alongside the various ways in which I’m looking forward, if we’re talking all things words, I also want to pause here to glance back over my shoulder too. The jump from student to freelance writer has been pretty seamless. I have the time – the time! the time! such sweet time! – to pursue things I’d been pondering on and letting percolate for months and months. Some of these are journalistic. Others are longer form. But while those are in progress, I wanted to collate together the work I completed over the last few months.  

Some are very personal pieces, including this set of reflections for The Debrief on the bittersweet summer after university, and this essay for Buzzfeed on scoliosis, puberty, and curves in all the wrong places. Both were a joy to work on (with brilliant editors too).

In print, you can currently find my words in Suitcase, where I explored one of my favourite activities: wild swimming. And in the latest issue of Violet I interviewed the brilliant director and screenwriter Sarah Kernochan about Hollywood, sexism, and what it was like to be the first woman to wear a tux to the Oscars.

I’ve also (unsurprisingly) spent a lot of time writing about all things teenage. Alongside the For Books’ Sake piece looking at representations of young women in fiction, I also had the best fun writing this for the ever-ace ThandieKay in praise of free make-up samples and the power of playing with your appearance during adolescence. I talked about my teen style icons for Into The Fold, praised Hermione and smart women for Mugglenet, discussed the art of self-confidence on Howling Reviews, and dismissed any suggestion of there being a ‘universal’ teen experience for Maximum Pop.

Perhaps my absolute favourite though was this piece for Refinery29. It’s called A Brief History of Men Moaning About Women’s Clothes, and oh the fun I had! It contains modernist misogynists, medieval preachers, and kings pissed off at red lipstick. Also, it featured on Man Repeller, which basically made my month. As with the work I’ve done for Broadly, this is the kind of writing I absolutely relish. Getting my teeth into an idea like this, with plenty of research required (me? Missing uni? Well, maybe only a little) and the chance to analyse clothes and culture - well, it’s the dream. I hope there’s plenty more of that ahead.

These images were taken by my dad In Oxford the weekend before I handed in my dissertation, back in March. It was a rather fraught 48 hours, but I got there – and spent the rest of the day after hand-in elated and bone-tired, lying in bed by myself drinking buck’s fizz and watching Endeavour. About as perfect as it gets. That whole year is already receding into the distance astonishingly quickly. 

My dress is from Stockholm's Beyond Retro, and the boots are second hand. I'd forgotten about these photos until the other day when I pulled this greyish-blue beauty of a coat back out of storage. I bought it from my all time favourite place for vintage in Oxford: Charlie's stall at the Gloucester Green market (he is the most excellent man - the ritual of visiting his stall is worth a whole blog post of its own). I ummed and aahed over it at first, and he, fabulously, told me to take it home, give it a test run, and give him the money the week after if I wanted to keep it. By the time I'd walked home enveloped in fluff, I knew it had to be mine. It’s ridiculously warm, ridiculously joyous, with the bonus of making me feel like a stately teddy bear with a blue rinse. The weather is now cold enough to shrug it on once more. I think it'll be perfect for some of those long, rambling walks.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Walking, Wandering, Striding, and Stomping








I went out at just before 5pm, weaving my way through concrete until I finally hit grass. Grass became woods became ferns became hills and sky – so much sky, stretching gloriously wide and gloriously blue. The wind juddered at my ears. I climbed the final stretch, red-cheeked and out of breath, heaving myself onto a rock to stare at the town I’d just climbed out of. We over-use the phrase “on top of the world”, but here it was apt: capturing what it feels like to stand, elevated above everything, aware of scaling this huge mound of rock and earth that, from down there in the valley, seems boundlessly large; to know that to anyone in that valley glancing out of their window up at the hill, right now you’re a tiny dot – a match-stick speck on this spine of green.

Two days later and I was in London, weaving my way through the streets as I moved from Holborn to the Tate Modern to Embankment on foot over the course of several hours (later to skip on to Tower Bridge for an event with Red magazine and then on to see friends in Arsenal via tube: it was quite the day). I lingered in the LRB Bookshop, dawdled along Drury Lane, poked my nose through the door of vintage shops, and paced my way over Blackfriars Bridge. By evening my blistered toes were impressive, but it had been worth it.

On another recent trip I saw Clissold Park for the first time in bright Sunday sunshine, elated to be exactly where I was, observing and walking and reveling in all the people going about their weekend business. To repurpose Woolf, it embodied what I loved; life; London; this moment of late September. I carried on to have coffee with my friend Rosie. Together we spent an hour in Abney Park cemetery, scrutinizing the ivy-clad gravestones, before moving on to London Fields - chatting all the way about bodies, identity and fashion blogging. It was perfect, made all the better by London having her best clothes on: streets decked out in sunshine and the odd orange leaf.

As you may be able to tell, I like feeling out places on foot. It’s how I move best: connecting up things through motion, through that very simple action of putting one boot in front of the other (for it is, nearly always, a boot). If I can walk around a city, I will. I want to nose down side-alleys and duck into bookshops and work out where the streets connect. I’m slightly uneasy until I’ve got a vague understanding of the space.

This last month I’ve not only paced my way through London, but also Brighton, Oxford and Dublin: two well-known cities, two new. Each yielded up their own offerings: clothes rails, book stalls, racks of fabric, glimpses of living rooms, shop windows, beautiful buildings (and ugly ones), crowds shifting and ebbing. I’ve also spent time rambling around the much more sparsely populated countryside. Pavements and ferns. Streets and narrow, stony paths. Buildings lit up at night and trees with the slant of sunset on them. I love them all equally. Very different environments, but all experienced with the same set of principles: curiosity in the new, comfort in the familiar, and joy in the very simple process of being able to just stride and observe.

This last month I’ve also thought a lot about walking: mainly thanks to reading Lauren Elkin’s marvelous, marvelous book Flâneuse. It’s a delicious read, charting the history and implications of women walking around cities. Elkin lingers somewhere between memoir and cultural criticism, interlacing her own wanderings with thoughts on Virginia Woolf, George Sand, Sophie Calle, and plenty of other interesting figures. Most crucially, she wrestles back the narrative of urban exploration from the men: talking with wit and insight about the ways in which women have moved through space, marked it, made it theirs and, sometimes, been rejected by it (for indeed, who among us hasn’t felt that surge of panic while out by ourselves late at night; suddenly, frustratingly aware that it’s easier for men to stride around without thought after dark?)

Flâneuse is a glittering account of female street haunters, lingerers, ramblers, stompers, and marchers; an examination of looking and being looked at; a meditation on being lost, for better and worse (on that note – also go and read Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City similarly dazzling prose/ thoughts/ analysis); a celebration of being inquisitive and open to whatever lies beyond the next corner; and a manifesto for pulling on your shoes and just having a good old nose around. As she writes, the flâneuse is "a figure to to be reckoned with, and inspired by, all on her own. She voyages out and goes where she's not supposed to; she forces us to confront the ways in which words like home and belonging are used against women. She is a determined, resourceful individual keenly attuned to the creative potential of the city, and the liberating possibilities of a good walk."

Since reading it, I’ve made more of an effort to walk consciously – to not just gallop along listening to music (as much as I love having my own personal soundtrack), but to properly listen, and properly look. It feels different. It feels richer. I’ve been more willing to idle and move around without the little blue dot on google maps tagging along, to just enjoy the scenery and snatches of life caught in passing: or in the case of the hills, to enjoy the total and utter solitude for a brief while. As I said, I’ve been putting one boot in front of another. And sometimes – as shown here – my feet have been clad in gold.   

These gold boots are by CAT. They sent them to me more than a year ago, and I wear them with astonishing regularity. They've taken me through mud, grass, and Edinburgh streets. The dress is a brilliant vintage number my mum bought online and then (begrudgingly) gave to me. Maybe this would have been better illustrated with images of me wandering around a city - but, well, it wouldn't be a proper blog post without some gorse and heather in there. 

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Girl Trouble, Girl Up, and Girls Will be Girls: Books About Being Teenage







Recently, I’ve been devouring books. Funny word, isn’t it? Devouring. Part of the language we apply to reading: one of bookworms, delectable stories, bittersweet endings, sentences to savour, and novels gobbled up in a single sitting. I mean - it’s not a language exclusive to books. The imagery of taste and consumption can be extended in all sorts of other directions. But I like it here. It sounds (and feels) right. I’ve devoured book after book. It’s been delicious.

If we stretch this conceit out a little further, I’ve also been relishing a feast of great variety: poetry, essays, non-fiction, memoir, YA novels, contemporary literary fiction, classics, page-turners and slow-burners. Things I’ve adored and things that have left me unsatisfied (those ones have their own fun though: why didn’t they work? What was so irksome, or stupid, or dull?) Many of them have ended up on my Instagram - for, of course, has a book truly been read if the reading isn’t publicized and made visible? (I jest. Mostly.) 

I’ve sat in the sun with a coffee and nothing to do but revel in words (especially Jenny Diski’s words), stayed up until 2am as an ending gallops into sight (Frances Hardinge’s books, full of intricate leaps of imagination, are so very, very hard to put down), sat at the top of hills with wind juddering at my ears and poetry in my hands (Owen Sheers’ A Poet’s Guide to Britain was ripe for a revisit), and spent plenty of time on trains with my eyes firmly on the page (a strange but great mix of Roland Barthes and the joyously dazzling Katherine Rundell).

This summer, I’ve also been reading plenty of books about what it means to be teenage - well, there’s a surprise! Can’t think why… In all seriousness though, it’s a very good time for smart, entertaining books addressing adolescence in a variety of ways. As I've said before, to be a part of this growing surge is both a thrill and an honour. Notes on Being Teenage has been keeping me busy: school talks, book festivals, chairing events, and lots of articles. Next up is an event with Red magazine this Wednesday (the 21st), where I’ll be giving careers advice alongside incredible women like Cathy Newman and Nimko Ali.

Given all that, I thought it was ripe time to pick up on a handful of my favourite books on all things teenage – some new, some older, all wonderful:

Ctrl Alt Delete: I feel hugely fortunate to count Emma as a friend. She’s a whirlwind of activity and curiosity – running a brilliant podcast (listen to her episode with me here), newsletter, and blog, as well as giving talks. She’s the kind of person who always spurs me on to want to do more. AND she’s lovely. Anyway, her book is a warm, entertaining, very relatable memoir of growing up online. I found myself turning down page corners and nodding along as she explores the fumbling (sometimes stumbling) way we grow up and learn to negotiate the online world. 

Girl Up: I love Laura Bates. She’s incredible. An absolute force. A necessary one, too. Girl Up had me cackling on public transport, and snapping pictures of the illustrations to send to friends. If I’d read it in my mid-teens, I think it would have offered me those two crucial things: reassurance that I wasn’t alone, and courage to use my voice and make it a little louder. Give a copy to every teen girl you know. It is fierce, hilarious, very, very feminist, and guaranteed to leave you feeling fired up. Plus, it has dancing vulvas on the endpapers. What more could you want?

Mind Your Head: I interviewed Juno Dawson for my book (she mentioned Björk and David Bowie, so I was very happy), and did two events with her this summer at YALC and Edinburgh. She’s sharp, thoughtful and very funny, both on stage and on the page. This is lovely, comprehensive, and, crucially, properly honest guide to navigating mental health in your teens.

Girl Trouble: Teen girls have always been seen as vaguely dangerous – or, at least, vaguely likely to cause upset and push against expectations. Here Carol Dyhouse takes an in-depth look at the many and varied moral panics surrounding young women over the course of the 20th Century. Bringing together sexuality, gender, costume, work, class, the media, and plenty else, it’s a compelling (and excellently researched) publication that illuminates many of the ongoing discussions about teen girls we see today. Also seek out her other fab book Glamour

What’s a Girl Gotta Do? I also had the pleasure of meeting Holly Bourne this summer, and the chance to read the third novel in her fab Spinster series. Here the protagonist Lottie sets herself a rather tricky (but very brilliant) challenge: to call out every instance of sexism she witnesses for a whole month. Hilarity and chaos ensure. Very fun YA with serious undertones.

Girls Will be Girls: Got enough girl titles in here yet? Emer O’Toole’s book is a bit of a dream for me: about teenagers, dressing up, play, performance, and the roles we take on and cast off. I haven’t quite finished this yet, but it’s a pleasure to read – seamlessly swinging between memoir, theory and deft observations on our complex relationships with gender.

We Should All Be Feminists: A short and sweet essay (with a powerful message) for all ages, from the ever-fantastic Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Especially relevant here, however, because last year it was reported that every 16 year old in Sweden would be given a copy. Imagine that happening in the UK. Just imagine.  

There are a few others, not pictured here, that would make the list too. Both of Louise O’Neill’s books (see my review of Asking for It on the blog here) are difficult, daring reads, while the charmingly illustrated My Name is Girl by Nina Cosford (out next week) will strike a chord with many young women. Phoebe Gluckner’s Diary of a Teenage Girl – the graphic novel behind the film – delves into disturbing, unsettling places (more in the camp of being ‘about’ teen experience rather than ‘for’ teens), but remains an interesting, upfront exploration of sex and desire. 

Next year will also herald the release of both Hannah Witton’s Doing It, and Gemma Cairney’s Open; the former a no-nonsense sex and relationships guide that is really, really needed right now (go see Hannah's excellent vlogs here), and the latter a wonderful sounding toolkit for adolescence by the marvelously sunny, funny Gemma (who, at risk of sounding like a broken record, I also met this summer at YALC, where she chaired a panel I was on). 

Phew! What a brilliant bunch of books. If you want more recommendations when it comes to young women in fiction, you can also head on over to For Books' Sake, where I compiled some of my favourites. Includes Cassandra Mortmain from I Capture the Castle (of course), as well as work by authors including Helen Oyeyemi and Daisy Johnson. 

Now, with the sun still golden outside my window, it’s time to hop outside and dive into another one. I wonder what I'll pluck from the shelves next. 

My dress here is a vintage St Michael one that I bought before I realized that off-the-shoulder was the biggest trend of the summer – a fascinating phenomenon I wish I had time to properly explore here... The shoes are Orla Kiely for Clarks (in the Bibi style), and the necklace and belt are both vintage.

OH, and if you've happened to enjoy my book, I'd be hugely grateful for an Amazon review. They really do help. Thanks to all the gorgeous readers I've met and spoken with this summer. It's been such fun. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Here








We were on our first cocktail of the night. Many (too many) more were to follow. My friend made reference to the music playing. “This is Christine and the Queens. You'd love her.” As we drank and chatted, he occasionally broke in to comment on the songs. I did that thing each time of nodding, intrigued but dimly aware that I’d more than likely forget and berate myself later when I couldn't recall the name. I do this all the time: with books, with music, with films. Recently I’ve started putting them in my phone straightaway, my notes full of the flotsam of suggested reads, things to listen to, shopping lists, reminders and to-do’s and should-have-been-done’s, scraps of ideas. Sometimes I fish them out again, working up a line of poetry into something more substantial, or just actually bloody remembering to buy milk the next day.

Two weeks later I encountered Héloïsse Letissier’s stage name again in an article. This time I properly paid attention, immediately listening to her music. Then I listened and listened and listened some more. There’s a kind of magic in that moment of falling hard for an album. You impulsively tell people about it. You watch all the music videos you can lay your hands (or scrolling fingers) on. You don’t want to play anything else for a good week because it’s all a bit pale compared to this new, exciting set of sounds providing ideal company on the bus, in the shower, during cooking, while lying on a bed doing nothing but listening and thinking and relishing lyrics not previously noticed.

In the case of Christine and the Queens, a particular snippet kept rattling around my head from ‘Tilted’: “I’m doing my face with magic marker/ I’m in my right place, don’t be a downer.” You need to hear it to get the effect, the jaunty euphoria of (to my mind) looking as you want, doing what you want, being where you want. Those two lines have floated into my head again and again. Others too – not least her description of dancing as something “safe and holy” – but I keep on returning to this image. It pinpoints that superb moment of everything aligning, of all being bright, costumed, painted. To me, it’s the exact moment of feeling capable of facing down the world, whether in a minute grabbed in front of the mirror before a train journey, or an hour of twirling around getting ready in the evening, choosing clothes, daubing lips with red, assembling appearances.

Really, it’s in this suggestion of play, and dressing up, that my love for her work tips head over heels. Like many of my favourite singers (Kate Bush, David Bowie, PJ Harvey, Björk), it’s not just about the music here – but also the performance, and the personas shimmied on and off in music videos, or on stage. All that potential for toying with costume, the chance to embellish, enlarge or downsize posture and personality. In the case of Christine and the Queens, there’s something so totally enthralling in her suit-wearing, sharp-dancing, assertively physicalized act. She swaggers and swoops, a perfect pattern of limbs with her backing dancers.

It’s an act wrapped up in a deft negotiation of sexuality, identity, and spectacle: assembling a space for the audience in which anything goes, and all is accepted. It is deliciously queer and deliciously gorgeous; a graceful, hip-shaking suggestion of the way music should be felt from head to toe (Letissier won’t use songs if they don’t make her want to dance). It’s an exploration of gender at once joyous, subversive, and thoughtful, played out through some thumpingly good songs.

All of this is also played out in clothing choices. Here they’re decisive: blazers and trousers cut with room for movement (or, in the case of Paradis Perdu, with a gradual, gargantuan, parodic spread of fabric). They are agile clothes, practical clothes, clothes that fit the lyrics, full as they are with discussion of desire, bodies, appearance, and, in the case of iT, what it might mean to be a man.

I’m fascinated by the power found in suits. It’s part physical, part cultural. A suit weights you with a particular set of motions, a decisive way of walking and holding your hips. Suits also come with a weight of associations: of business and commerce and long hours in the office, of dressing for dinner, heading out on the town, straightening a bowtie before boogying the night away, of everyone from Don Draper to Marlene Dietrich. Many of these images are gendered. To be female and to shrug on a suit can still hold a subversive thrall, despite it now being a well-worn (in both senses of the meaning) path.

In fact, I set out here planning to write something about the history of the suit and the intrigue that comes with donning a garment we still deem ‘mannish’ (or, in the heteronorm-babble of fashion mags, as ‘boyfriend style’). But the relationships built up between fabric and the skin beneath – well, the more I thought about them, the more I realized just how interesting and complicated they are. It’d require an awful lot more words for them to be done any kind of justice.

So for now, I’ll stick with saluting the suit, and the singer who inspired me to spend a little more time thinking about crisp shirts and good trousers (among other things). After that first, feverish week of listening to/ watching/ reading many, many interviews with Christine and the Queens, I spent plenty of time eyeing up blazers in charity shops and vintage markets, nosing around in search of good tailoring.

What I guess I love most is possibility: the strength and potential found in different types of garments. When I slipped on the outfit pictured, I immediately felt my posture change. I wanted to stride around, to move, to dance away through the heather and across the hills, slithering across the rocks in my brogues. I stood differently. I stood assertively, in my right place, keenly aware in the breeze of how good it felt - this small act of magic conjured up in black velvet. 


The suit is second-hand - blazer and trousers bought separately. The brogues were also from a charity shop.