Dress sense

‘My own red carpet days have long since mutated into brown lino nights, but looking back at the times I borrowed a designer frock for a nomination, I usually spent the evening feeling faintly immoral’

With the coming of cuckoos and crocuses, cometh the catwalks. Bringing breathless news of culottes and cut-offs from Aix to Ghent, not to mention Paris, Milan and Shoreditch. I gaze at the Denim Holey Grail with a mixture of envy and disdain. Would I really want to be sitting straight-backed on the front row, all camel swagger and boot-cuts, next to Dame Anna in her Wintour shades and Gwyneth of the fragrant you-know-what (one can only imagine  how the sisters would howl if a chap brought out a scented candle called This Smells Like My Cock). So would I turn up my aquiline proboscis at a gold-rimmed invite? Yes, of course I wouldn’t.

On the other hand, do I want to take styling tips from Vivienne Westwood, Zandra Rhodes or Donatella Versace? I mean, it’s not like they’d take any guidance from me . . .

“Hey Donatella, why not ditch the peroxide, babe, and let the lips melt down to the size of a human mouth? Er, Zandra, you’re lovely but, in my opinion, the magenta bob is just a smidge Baby Jane . . . And, Vivienne, if you don’t mind my saying? I could never quite fathom the pink hair, aubergine mouth and asymmetric tartans. Oh, and while I’ve got you all, have you any thoughts on how I should play that scene with Roy in the Rover’s Return?”

I understand that a fashionista has to have a startling appearance for PR purposes, and I recognise that the tailoring itself does the talking. I rather like the way Victoria Beckham puts herself together because it actually reflects her designs . . . classy, muted, smokey, wearable, THIN. Likewise Stella McCartney, who looks like a glossy, ethical enigma. But most of what appears on the catwalk will never make it to a normal wardrobe, not least because of the price tag. Even with my regular work on the Street, a season of Stella’s creamy cashmere and faux-fur would leave my grandchildren with scant inheritance bar a coughing Basenji and a Slo-cooker.

It physically hurts me to see an £800 open-to-the-sternum wisp of a blouse or a pair of wide-leg jeans for the cost of a camper van, or a £8,000 designer handbag from those ethical people in Bond Street who care. Personally, I prefer to spot something in the window of an obscure boutique on my way to buy a red onion down a side street in Buckinghamshire—screech to a halt, race in and shout “That’s got my name on it!”—throw 40 crisp ones on the counter and take it away without trying it on.

The last time I actually visited a major shopping hub, the Trafford Centre in Manchester, it depressed me so much that I sat down on a strange-shaped bench and let my friend Rula mount up the carrier bags whilst I sank my sensitive molars into a fudge ice cream. I was finally moved to buy a small houndstooth jacket and matching flares in Next, for my granddaughter’s eighth birthday, which, 10 minutes later, was shoplifted from under my nose while I was forcing my feet into a pair of knee-length boots.

Because it appears that knee-length is on trend this year. For boots. Now that I’ve just donated my last pair to the local hospice shop. I thought it was all about ankle boots and bought three pairs to prove it, but apparently that was last year’s fashionable boot length. In the same misguided vein, I lately had all my best trousers shortened to an uncomfortable Norman Wisdom length only to see Ms Beckham sporting a pair that drowned her platform stillettos and trailed along the catwalk behind her like Babar’s ankles.

My own red carpet days have long since mutated into brown lino nights, but looking back at the times I borrowed a designer frock for a nomination, I usually spent the evening feeling faintly immoral and hoping I didn’t have to go up and receive the award. Be careful what you wish for . . . I rarely did. But even in the giving of awards there is a fashion, dictating that for three years everything winnable goes to the same person. Never does one hear that person’s name again until you spot them dying testily from a lentil allergy in a curtained bed in Casualty. Fashion, let’s face it, is a madness.

Fashion similarly dictates that these days there will always be a celebrity on TV finding 20 per cent Neanderthal in their DNA, or answering questions on the life cycle of an otter to win a thousand quid for Distressed Lollipop Ladies, or auctioning off rosewood-and-pewter bellows in a stately home in Burton Constable or plugging an LGBTQIA+ production of Pericles whilst cooking minced gnu and shiitake mushrooms in a sarsaparilla velouté.

It’s now the fashion amongst the young to say “like” before every phrase, pronounce the H in Aitch and upwardly inflect the end of every sentence; to pound walking machines in darkened gyms and swig Irn-Bru from the bottle or to abstain from everything apart from mindfulness and vegan steak. Fashion decrees that you wear big white trainers with your organza ball-gown, tattoo a chameleon on your head, sport a padlock through each nostril and visit a brow technician so you can be a dead ringer for Groucho Marx.

The only comfort, the only consolation of all this insanity is that all of these fashions will soon pass. It will all go away. What is long will be short, what is gathered will be straight, what is funny will be sad and what is cool will be tepid. Farthingales and periwigs will sit in the V&A alongside Sweaty Betty leggings and holes with jeans around them. And our great-grandkids will have a bloody good laugh at the fashions of their forebears. “Trendy,” said Karl Lagerfeld, “is the last stage before tacky.”

Still, if that gold-rimmed invitation arrived . . .

An autumn note

“For many, the end of this uneasy year cannot come quickly enough”

An ordinary killing

Ian Cobain’s book uses the killing of Millar McAllister to paint a meticulous portrait of the Troubles

Greater—not wiser

John Mullan elucidates the genius of Charles Dickens
Search