It would be very easy for some to class me as entirely ‘anti-woman’, in various ways: I do not identify with feminism in any of its major ‘waves’, I can’t think of anything worse than going shopping (my man has to think of ways to trick me into going clothes shopping!), sweet cocktails disgust me, my makeup repertoire is limited to a range of about four tones and never includes lipstick, I never visit a beauty therapist or hairstylist, and the thought of getting my nails done makes me shudder at the notion of just how much of a chemical imposition it would be on me. And yet, she says, and yet – I have an uneasy flirtation with fashion.
The house in which I grew up was, for lots of my childhood, filled with the sounds of sewing. I couldn’t begin to count the number of afternoons and evenings I’d balance on tip-toe around and past mum on the way through the dining room to the kitchen for a glass of water, trying not to stand on pattern pieces, fabric, pins, measuring tape and those magnificent (because of their sharpness) scissors. Hundreds of evenings as a kid I spent drifting off to sleep to the sound of the sewing machine. I love that sound to go to sleep to, even now. Once mum bought her overlocker, it was a toss-up which sound I preferred. Yes, I did think about this consciously. The old Janome used to bang along; but the overlocker had a soft purring sound that, while a household industrial noise of greater modernity, seemed to just fit more gently into the psyche.
I recall mum making green satin evening dresses for herself; exquisite, woollen, perfectly tailored and fully lined pantsuits which for some reason that I couldn’t see had pants that didn’t fit “properly”, although they looked fine. She made my summer uniforms in primary school, the dress in which I endured my catholic communion and confirmations, my dancewear when I was a little tacker, shorts, jumpers, you name it.
Unfortunately, the fitting process never sat well with me and I was an impatient child, and in the end I told mum I didn’t want any of her homemade clothes any more because they were “never right”. After that, mum stopped sewing and has barely sewn anything since. It’s shocking, as a grown-up, to realise the profound sadness that that would have caused her – and still does. I’m sorry, mum. I wish I could take it back.
Anyway – I was always fascinated by the sewing process. I could never quite grasp how these flat shapes with nicks out of them here and lines on them there, that were cut out of a huge sheet of paper so swiftly, could turn into anything like an evening dress. The straight lines that appear curved when worn; the magical transformation of fabric into a warm jumper. It always fascinated me, but I never had the patience to do it. I could watch for hours (usually at a distance lest I interrupt the concentration and get an earful), but taking part was such a bloody chore for me.
I also learned during this time how painful sewing can be. I saw and heard mum curse about elastic, hems, pleats, darts, necklines, cuffs, sleeves that didn’t sit in properly, uneven armholes, uneven crotches, zips that weren’t quite invisible, zips that didn’t quite close, clasps that were too close together, notches cut in the wrong place that damaged the fabric. And so on. You get the picture.
Sewing was something I avoided wherever possible. Until I got older and started to gain this irresistible urge to create my own garments. The trouble is, looking through pattern books is, for me, as painful and tiresome as spending an afternoon on a mall – and just as annoying. All hail the internet: once I discovered Burda online I was set.
And yet, fashion and I don’t sit easily together. I’m a girl who would prefer to wear long boots, a skirt and a metal shirt than a pair of jeans; the one pair of “jeans” I own is a green pair, full of pockets, baggy legged, fitted at the hip, and came from a hiking store and not a fashion store. The classical sort of person I am, dresses really appeal to me. But at the same time, shoes have to be flat or with low chunky heels (and yes, I’m a short-arse – but I don’t have short-woman’s syndrome at least) and sensible, jewellery has to be black or silver and absolutely minimalist – earrings or necklace, not both; necklace or bracelet, never both; all three at once? Yuck.
Pants need pockets, absolutely have to fit well, and have to be able to withstand an afternoon bashing through the Aussie bush. So, where I can’t do ‘fashion’, I absolutely, definitely do ‘fit’. I could tell you where a good cuff on a men’s jacket should sit, how long a hem ought to be, and how to tell if a pair of pants or bra fits properly – and generally I’m quite unforgiving about it. Hypocritically so: most of my own clothes don’t fit properly, but I plan to remedy this through making more.
“Fashion” as a thing, as an industry, as something to engage with on a formal level, is something I find incredibly inane and boring. But when I discovered The Sartorialist – how terrible it’s taken me this long to find that blog! – I felt rather at home. As a writer, I’m a people-watcher, and the notion of ‘watching’ people in what they wear and taking it as an entire package really appeals to me. It’s the grassroots, doing-it-independently sort of thing of which I’m such a champion. If you’ve not visited The Sartorialist, go and have a look, and make sure you’ve got the time to really indulge in the depth and texture of the photography.
The point of this rather long blog post – illustrated perfectly by The Sartorialist – is that style wins over ‘fashion’ any day of the week. You can’t buy style: you develop an eye for it, or are born with it. But it’s not something that you can acquire simply by spending six tortuous hours going from store to store in which everything is nearly the same as everywhere else.