I can remember these clothes, but not this event.
I’ve been re-reading The Thoughtful Dresser by Linda Grant lately. I love this book. Not only is it beautifully written, it’s a passionate defence of the love of clothing, the love of fashion, the power of clothes to transform, and women’s biggest paramour – shopping.
In the Victorian era, Grant, points out, the great department stores were the first places that respectable women could go out and about without a chaperone. Denied entrance to the bars, universities, clubs, coffee houses and brothels that constittued men’s public life, women took to shopping (for the first time as a gerund) like ducks to water.
And yes, shopping is trivial, says Grant – so much more trivial than male interests like driving enormous cars very fast around a track or kicking a pig’s bladder from one end of a bit of grass to another, activities that doubtless are weighty and important and worthy of note.
One thing she mentions that strikes home very much with me is how, when you look at a photograph, you may have forgotten the people, the place, the event and everything else about it, but you usually still remember the clothes you are wearing.
This happened to me recently when an old work colleague from the 90s posted some images that included me on Facebook. I loathe Facebook and am not especially happy at having unsolicited images of myself up there, but that is by the by. What I did notice is that I have absolutely no memory of the event – but I remember very clearly the clothes I am wearing, just as I remember my old hair style and colour and my old, rimless spectacles.
In one picture, another colleague, L (clearly a bit hammered) is snuggling up to me (clearly slightly taken aback). Now I remember that L and I worked in the office, but I would have sworn that we scarcely overlapped and if pressed, would have denied that we ever went to a social occasion together. And yet, here we are.
But the sweater I’m wearing – now that, I remember clearly. I can feel it between my fingers even now. An Aztec pattern in shades of brown and rust and green and ochre, purple and blue and yellow and black, it was made from dull rawsilk that looked like cotton, with embroidery in chenille. It came from Jaegar, and – like many of my best things – it was a present from my husband. I wore it absolutely to death, until my endless patching could no longer stitch its multiple holes together, and even after that I kept it in the sewing room, periodically searching for a solution. It had the most perfect drape and came down to just above my knees. I have never again found a jumper I could wear so readily and in which I felt so comfortable.
I can even tell you what I am wearing under it. Although not visible in the picture, I know that it was almost certainly my brown jeans from Fenn Wright and Manson’s sale shop in Clerkenwell, in thick cotton jersey brushed like moleskin. I had two pairs of these, one in brown and one in taupe, and again I wore them absolutely to death. So much so that one day at work when I went to the loo, I looked down at my ankles and realised I could see daylight through the crotch of the trousers.
Garments, like lovers, are enjoyed and loved and lost, and it is lovely, in photographs, to meet with them again.
But who WERE those other people?…