I was just thinking about all the clothes I have worn in my life. I don’t regard myself as a great consumer of fashion – I try to make things last and I always donate; the idea of throwing a garment into a bin fills me with horror – but even so the collection of clothes I have worn would fill a clothes line longer than Hadrian’s Wall.
When we were children our mother used to make all our summer dresses and the rest of the time we wore jumpers and ‘slacks’. These were the forerunner of leggings or track-suit bottoms and were the relaxed, liberated woman’s choice for home and garden. All the women in my family wore slacks which were like jodhpurs in that they had a strap under the foot which made them in my opinion terminally uncool. They stretched where they should relax and relaxed where they should hold. Our mother also wore loose flared stretch trousers which picked up dirt and dog hairs better than any hoover. To work she wore plaid skirts and tights or smart trousers and waxed indignant that we schoolgirls were not allowed proper winter coats. In fact the school uniform in winter was completely inadequate: a thin v-neck jumper over a blouse (one of those stiff blouses that sticks out like a bomber jacket) and a thin scarf and raincoat for outdoors.
I don’t recall ever wearing a t-shirt until I was a teenager – since when they have been a staple of what I am pleased to call my wardrobe, along with jeans, cords and the occasional floaty summer dress. I did once have a smart suit for interviews but it was like wearing a straitjacket. I have never liked formal wear but it’s interesting how even when people are restricted to a uniform they always find ways of individualising it; in my school the cool girls wore their blouses untucked and their ties really, really short.
Our mother also had an outfit for special occasions which consisted of a long woollen skirt worn under a blouse and cardigan. On Christmas Day all the women in the family would ‘change’ for the evening’s activities (you’d think we were having cocktails and canapes but it was just parlour games and sherry).
Nowadays women can choose from a huge range of styles. You can be a hippy one day and a businesswoman the next or you can wear jeans and t-shirt almost anywhere. This makes me happy.