Josie writes a blog, called ‘sleep is for the weak’. On it she has a writing workshop which I gingerly read and occasionally toy with entering posts to. My reticence is a remnant of the 6th form – all hanging at the back not feeling cool enough with my still too shiny DMs, my embarrassing Springsteen crush and my black tea (pretentious, moi?).
This week she’s asked her readers to write about an item of clothing, and what it means to them. I am at a clothing impasse. I have a new chest of drawers to try and stem the flow of clothes which engulfs me. Having this new war chest has forced me to acknowledge that though I have a lot of clothes, this is mostly to do with hoarding and having no idea what I like, or what I like to look like, rather than having a passion for fashion or any particular style.
I met friends today and discussed my current frump slump. God I feel loathsome. No longer able to hide behind a proper newborn – what with him growing so beautifully and starting to have a personality – I am revealed in the occasional sun and I’m not sure what I am. I’m not the person I was when I was pregnant, I’m about to rejoin the world of work so I’m not a maternity leave mum any more, I’m older than I think I am, but I’m not that old. I (sort of) fit in the clothes I had before I had my children. But I’m not thatwoman any more either. I look at outfits and can’t work out what or who she was, what I was going for, who those clothes would suit at all…
Part of my trouble is just the resources I have. Not money, but my body which really belongs to another century. The sort of women I’d like to look like or dress like (girl crushes like @laurenlaverne and Cate Blanchett), they have bodies from now and work them so beautifully – sophisticated, sexy, playful, classical. Mine is far too curvy and solid for their chic combination of high street and designer. Perhaps the last time I could have looked ‘on trend’ would have been pushing little tiny ships across a map of Europe in Churchill’s secret underground bunker. I could definitely have worked the red lipstick, uniform and the suggestion of black market stockings vibe.
So as I rifle through my bags of clothes, the summer ones ready to be folded, and the newer ones I’ve accumulated over the last couple of months in preparation for hitting the streets and the office already in place, I just can’t find an item that would work for a post. Mostly because I think the item of clothing that means most to me is in my head. It is a cardigan. The cardigan. The perfect cardigan I’ve been searching for my entire adult life, and which I’m beginning to think I’ll only find neatly folded next to the perfect pair of boots as I arrive at the pearly gates.
I have a lot of cardigans. Boyfriends, Granddads, two buttons, all buttoned, no buttons. I have skinny fit, stripes, plain colour, silk, oversized, chunky knits, lacy cap sleeves. I’ve gone cardigan coat, buttoned jumper dress, I’ve done one disastrous bolero. I’ve bought from charity shops, designer labels (well, TK Maxx), high street, vintage. I’ve gone long, and short, and long again. I’ve even tried ponchos. The closest I’ve come to the perfect cardigan is a Scandinavian blue and white massive affair. More of a coat. I do love it. It fits into the latent festival spirit I wish I was more confidently part of. But it isn’t quite right. Not least as my perfect cardigan would probably be black, and long-ish, and be thin enough to show its age (in a good way) but not have holes (like the nearly perfect cardigan I had when I was 17). Which is perhaps the heart of the matter, being 17, not clothes with holes.
You see, I’m beginning to wonder if when I was 17 might have been the last time I knew who I was. To be sure, I was filled with self-doubt, ready to quash my own ideas, uncertain of whether I believed in God, tribally political, angry and shouty. But hey, I had a pretty strong sense of what music I liked, what books were brilliant, how I wanted to change the world, and I wrote without the legacy of fear and self-loathing going to university gave me (ie I wrote about art and books and numbers and social theories with the passion and freedom of someone who’d never been laughed at in a tutorial). I liked poetry, I read the ‘papers, I’d never been dumped, I’d never gone mental, I had so much to mess up ahead of me but only hopes and tapes of Suede and The Beatles. And I had no grey hair.
So maybe I can’t find the right cardigan just because when I try one on the person who looks back in the dressing room isn’t the person I’m secretly hoping to see – a girl with purple tights and a black velvet hat, long brown hair, a patterned dress and big boots and an old, slouchy, slimming, black cardigan (with a Winnie the Pooh badge on it) which could have been bought in Miss Selfridges or stolen from her Grandfather. Which leaves me with a dilemma. Do I put away a search for childish things, or dig out the mix tapes and see if there is any of her left which can be upcycled for the life and body I live with now?