As a child I wanted to be a fashion designer. I didn’t have a very clear idea about what that would involve as a career, but I knew I loved drawing clothes and figured that was the most important thing. When I drew a backless strapless evening gown and my mother asked me how the bodice would stay up, I realised that perhaps there was a little more to it than I’d first thought but resolved to persevere anyway. By the time I reached secondary school, my interest in fashion was becoming more of an obsession as I began to research designers with almost as much fervour as I did pop stars. Fashion magazines helped with my knowledge of the styles of the day, while GCSE textiles helped me gain a better understanding of the practical aspects of cutting and sewing fabric to make garments. However, by the age of 16 I was pretty sure that I would only be making clothes using patterns designed by experts as I really didn’t have the creative skills and practical understanding that combine to make an expert. Although I was still a fashion fanatic, the dream of being a designer was fading away.
In sixth-form we could wear our own clothes although, being an all-girls school, the rules stated that we were not allowed to wear trousers. This was a rather arcane dress code that we all assumed was kept in place to help us appear more ladylike to the outside world but, instead of simply stopping us looking scruffy in jeans, it meant that we had to be a bit more creative with the way we dressed. Whilst expanding my wardrobe to include more garments that would be acceptable to wear to school, I chose items not because they went with something I already owned, but because I loved them. This, inevitably, lead to some rather peculiar outfit combinations but, as it was ‘only’ school, I didn’t feel that I’d be stared at for dressing oddly and so I gained the courage to wear what I wanted. I also remember rummaging though bags of clothes that my aunt no longer wanted, taking a particular liking to a blue and white vertical striped ankle-length mutton-sleeved dress from Laura Ashley. I’m pretty sure it was a maternity dress, but I just nipped it in at the waist with a wide elastic belt and it quickly became my favourite outfit. Needless to say, this was not the sort of thing my friends were wearing in the early 1990s so I’m sure they found my dress sense rather odd.
Three years at university studying textiles while keeping my eye on trends and new designers did nothing to sway my faith in the fashion industry and, up until the summer of my graduation, I was convinced I wanted to work as a buyer for a large retailer. A great many knock backs from potential employers’ graduate training schemes then led me to realise that was not the path for me and I lost interest in fashion for a while. It wasn’t until the opening of a beautiful vintage boutique called Rags to Bitches in Manchester’s Northern Quarter several years later that my passion for clothing returned. I still remember my excitement on first visiting that shop, with its beautiful dresses and fairy cakes baked by the owner’s mum, but it took me a few more years of the vintage revival to really find my own style. I now realise that being interested in fashion doesn’t mean having to wear the latest trends yourself, so my 17-year-old self wasn’t quite as peculiar as I thought she was. I’ve always dressed to suit my figure and my mood, rather than getting swept up in what’s current with little or no thought to how it’ll make me look, and it seems like I was right all along.
Moving to London helped me to realise that a true sense of personal style is a wonderful thing to have. In a lot of towns and cities you will see people on the street wearing lovely clothes, but they will mostly follow what is fashionable at the time. In London, however, absolutely anything is possible. I was apprehensive before the move as I didn’t think I’d fit in here, but no one really does which is precisely why London is so exciting. It’s filled with interesting people from all over the world who have brought their own individual sense of style with them, but when you factor in the abundance of quirky clothing stores you realise it’s no wonder that there are so many London folk who have chosen to wear whatever the hell they like. Whether you want to make people stare, or whether you go out confident in your favourite slightly quirky outfit because you realise that no one will give you a second glance, London really is a great place if you want to experiment and find your style. I may be back where I was as a teenager, wearing garments without a thought on what others will think of me for it, but I am happy to have finally found my way. Style for me is about trusting your instincts to put together a collection of outfits you love, and then wearing them with confidence. Perhaps London taught me that, or maybe deep down I knew it all along.
I wrote this article as my entry for the Elle Talent competition a couple of months ago. Have not heard anything since, so I am assuming I've not won. Thought I'd pop it up as a blog post so the time I spent writing it didn't go to waste.
Lovely article, and totally agree!