Saturday, April 04, 2015

This Woman in Clothes

I rediscovered  a blogger I used to know as No Signposts in the Sea.
You can find here.
I stole half of her haircut ;)
Recently she wrote :

"Living in the countryside has changed my clothing choices a lot more than I'd like to admit. I dress more cautiously, because people stare. I never thought that I'd become that person whose style is dictated by others.

I've always had two style identities: one that's clean, somewhat androgynous, the other romantic and dramatic. My work-self has no style identity. It just tries to survive the daily grind."

I read this shortly after tossing India Knight's latest book across the kitchen table in disgust.  At 50 plus she tells me that the aim above all others is not to appear ridiculous, to fit in.

There is a wonderful made-up Old Norse-ish word which I came across in my reading of Beautiful Wreck:  “Beiskaldi”, which Larissa Brown translates as:  "bitter-cold-griping-bitch".  It is an expression that I see in the faces of so many women (let's face it - the RBF).

I desperately do not want to become that woman, but the more time goes on (and I have been back in Smallsville for almost 11 years now), the more I feel my face freezing over, giving nothing away, giving nothing

Occasional flashes of human kindness take me by surprise. Most of the time I feel trampled, squashed and kept in my place.
But I do not accept that this is my place.
Until I can escape again, I need to have the courage to be myself.
Photo by Christine taken at the Edinburgh Yarn Festival
My new haircut has variously been described as: "like a prisoner of war", "edgy", "daring", "brave" and "terrible". 
It seems to inspire hostility, fear, or derision. 
There was nothing to lose by dye-ing the fringe lilac because I had already tipped the balance of what is tolerable.

Reading "Women in Clothes" is deeply therapeutic.  It reminds me that there is a whole diverse world out there. 

There are women who choose to dress as men and vice versa.  There are women who work in garment factories who can't afford to buy the "cheap" clothes they are employed to mass-produce.  There are women whose hats smell of strawberry shampoo and others who are so squeaky clean they do not leave a trace:  robot women!  Women who choose to wear the hijab because they feel it grants them freedom.   Women who believe it is "more punk" to wear conventional clothing and devote their creative energies to something other than dress.

I have started to write a review of this book so many times, but it is very hard to summarise.  It began as a survey of a handful of women and expanded by word of mouth / email connections into something much much bigger. I have read reviews which doubt its quasi-anthropological approach to how women dress, but I love the  insights it gives me into other women's approach to life and their appearance.

It is a  mistake to view the interviewees as "representative" because what this book does more than anything else is celebrate difference.  And it does this through an incredibly diverse range of responses to the survey questions. I use the word "response" as an art teacher would.  Some of the women have presented their "collections" of white sneakers, bobby pins, even stains!

One of the most interesting sections is a series of photographs of interviewees' mothers, taken before they had children.  Each interviewee describes the person they see in the picture and talks about the woman their mother later became.
Another photo essay presents six women wearing each other's clothes - without comment.  Which one looks comfortable in their own skin?  Who has on their armour to face the day, their own uniform, their costume?
The other side of my haircut, emptying the compost pail after work

In my fiftieth year I find myself somewhere I do not want to be.  This book is a point of reference, a reminder that the possibilities for reinvention are endless.
That my age does not have to dictate my appearance.
That I do not have to bow to convention.
"Fitting in" is not the only way forward.
Two more bags of clothes went to the charity shop today.  They included the interview suit I wore 11 years ago, now hopelessly out of date and fragrant with mould.  That says it all.
Whichever direction I choose next, I  am clear that it will require a simpler, cleaner version of me.  I am no longer interested in novelty prints or girlish details.
My notebook is full of longer skirts, solid colours, stronger lines.
It's all a bit more grown-up looking.
Maybe it's time.


poppyinstitches said...

one of my colleges at work, while I was brousing sewing patterns and deciding what to make this summer just said MUTTON loudly - so I've bought the pattern. We are all individuals who can do and be what ever we want - can't wait to see your new wardrobe emerge.

Have a wonderful Easter!

ravelledsleeve said...

I like your haircut! And I love what I can see of what you wear on the blog. Fitting in is massively over-rated!

Lorna A said...

I wish I had your courage. x

I love that (lavender?) jumper.

Anna said...

I think that our style does change as our life changes. I hated working in offices because of how I was forced to dress, but even when working in the media I wasn't 'me', I found myself dressing to fit in with what everyone else was wearing. Living in the countryside does change you too, when the other mothers at the school gate are in horsey or office clothes I feel very conspicuous in my bright hand knits!

Having been a stay at home mother in jeans for 10 years or so I'm now finding myself standing in front of 15-20 students in a lecture theatre, that has seriously made me think about how I dress and what I want to look like!

You know I've been asking the same questions about who I am, where I want to be and what I want to look like doing it alongside you for years now. I look forward to seeing what you make and how your style develops, and conformity be damned, I'm currently searching for a good pair of vegan creepers that don't cost a fortune and considering buying another pair of DMs (what colour though, green or basic black??) as my new style is evolving!

Have added the book to my wishlist, sounds fabulous!

beate grigutsch said...

since i live in "the country" - 4 years now - my style got actually bolder then it was in berlin.... maybe its because the life i live now is the one i´m happy with - finally :-)

Alexandra said...

I love your haircut, and I love this post.

violicious said...

I love these posts of yours. I have been finding myself over and over again via my clothing. Your hair is lovely. And I get it, we moved to the country nearly three years ago. I think I'm the lady in town with all the kids and that wears the wacky hats. I'm cool with it.

Stitched Together said...

Such an interesting post. The book sounds amazing and I have marked as one I want to read. I don't think I've ever had a particular style. I had such a limited choice of wardrobe in my teens and early twenties because I was rather larger than average. I only had one or two stores I could get clothes that fit. When I lost weight in my late 20s I was so delighted to be able to get clothes that fit and looked vaguely interesting. Of course, by then I'd had to give up work because of poor health. Now I am in my early 40s and my style is very limited by what is comfortable. I wear yoga pants or leggings and baggy tops or tunics and they are all in very ordinary colours. BUT, I wear loud and crazy hand knits as accessories and love how they make me feel when I face the world. I feel wrapped up in my own regard, the time and effort I have spent clothing myself in something warm, soft and beautiful fills me with confidence. I still do not have a style, but I have clothing that covers my body to an acceptable level and if you want to know the way my mind works you have to talk to me, rather than judge how I think by the way that I dress. I kind of like that.

Unknown said...

Don't let anyone knock your haircut - I think it looks great on you. Maybe that is because I have been wearing a version of that same haircut for the last few years and I am 8 years older than you - most people like my haircut.

If you are comfortable with your hair/clothes/accessories than that is all that matters (of course, if your workplace has a strict dress code you might have to blend in at work).

I have been watching the Advanced Style blog lately ( and while I probably wouldn't be caught dead in some of the outfits each and every person photo-ed looks like they are comfortable in their skins/clothes.

There are so many "shoulds" in this world and some of them are made-up rules by people who think they know-it-all. Live the way you are comfortable with and ignore the naysayers, they really shouldn't have any say in your life (unless you get to have some say in theirs?).

I have really enjoyed your clothing choices (will need to start to sew more for myself). Have a great day. Beth

Jen Forsythe said...

Great post Roo. So many things CAN influence the way we dress & what our style is, where we live, age, shape, size, trends and peer pressure, but as time has gone on for me, I've realised that you feel so much better when you do your own thing. It may be shallow, but to me, the way we dress is very important to our own well-being. If you feel happy and have a sense of freedom wearing a particular item/outfit or having your hair a certain way then you do it. Life's too short not to.

sewtyrpical said...

You look great! and I enjoy reading your thoughts. Thanks for pointing out the new blog from No Signposts in the Sea. I used to like to read her blog before they moved to Finland, so it's fun to find it again.
:-) Chris

Julesy said...

I think you're fabulous just the way you are. I love checking in with you and seeing what you're wearing and how you've styled your hair. I love your aesthetic and you inspire me with your choices. By all means change your style if YOU want to, but don't do it for others. You're a beautiful, unique individual; stay true to yourself. xx

Sarah said...

Good for you, Roo! I love your haircut! As the great Dr. Seuss said: "Why fit in when you were meant to stand out?" Be yourself. Anyone who has a problem with that is not worth your time.

Charlotte said...

Funny -- I live "in the country" too and don't feel those constraints -- although to be fair I'm in a small town that's full of artists and writers. I'm sure if I was in one of the other nearby towns that are more conservative, I'd feel the ... disapproval.
My big revelation upon turning 50 was that I wasn't going to wear anything uncomfortable every again. So I started sewing -- lots of Japanese pattern book tunics, smock tops, little skirts. It's been such a relief not to have to shop, and try things on, and have them not fit. Nice linens and woolens, fabrics I like. A big liberation.

Lilly's Mom said...

Hello, I just discovered your blog and I so enjoyed reading this post. Sometimes I think society does dictate how we should dress according to our age. But, I don't feel 61 so I'm not going to dress 61. A few years ago, I moved to a new place and met new friends. I changed my style a bit to fit in. I realized that I'm not going to do that in order to fit in. So, I pulled out my long skirts and birkenstocks as I am happy with who I am. I love your haircut, by the way. It looks great! My best to you.

Spikeabell said...

Hey Roo,

I love your haircut, looks fab on you. That picture of you knitting, that makes me think, there's a woman I would like to get to know!

Unknown said...

I saw a similar haircut years ago, where the layers on the short side were dyed in different colours, orange through to grey, natural tones. It looked cool! I always wanted to do that. I'm now 62 and haven't had the courage yet, but, who know. Maybe when I'm 72? Don't let shoulds and oughts define who you are. You are treading your own unique path, and what you wear and look like will be defined by that. Pity the naysayers. Rock on Roobeedoo!

Palava rakkaus, pikkusydän said...

I noticed that there was a huge jump in my blog stats - and I traced it here. :)

First, awesome post! I love Women in Clothes - absolutely love it - for its focus on simple narratives. It reminds me of the good ol' times of Wardrobe Remix on flickr, of the way style blogs used to be: women telling stories about the clothes they wear and what the clothes mean to them. No staged photos, no professional photographers, no ads. I loved the style blog genre back then. It just seemed more... honest. It was a time when it was okay to not be sure about one's style, it was okay to experiment, to go nuts, to change one's mind. These days it annoys me that our styles are supposed to be so put-together, so defined, so thought-out.

The haircut looks wonderful on you, so don't listen to the sillies - they don't know what they are talking about. You look beautiful.

Scruffybadger said...

Your haircut is awesome Roo! And I loved reading this post, as always, since your thoughts on personal style and self expression are always so inspiring. Your quest shows that it can be an ever moving feast for some people (me included, although I am sure there are people out there who know what they like and stick with it). And as it's an ever moving feast, for me that fills me with positivity on so many levels, but on a base level, I'm happy that I am unlikely to ever run dry of things I want to sew ;-)

Kestrel said...

Very interesting post. It certainly makes sense for your style to change over time as life circumstances change. As long as it's a change you want and intend to make, rather than a slow squashing of style by circumstance. I think your haircut looks great and you have the perfect delicate features to carry off such a cut. I feel like I will probably have a bob for the rest of my life but that's fine because it's always the style I come back to and it feels perfectly like me. I definitely am shifting in my style of dress though and am enjoying getting rid of things I don't wear but felt were like a burden through being in my wardrobe

Stephen Greene said...

You're edgy and daring so wear it... Screw the 'grown up' thing.

madeinoxford said...

Love this post, although I've been struggling to work out what I want to say beyond "YES! THIS!" :)

I love your haircut, and hey, even if in three weeks you decide you don't want it any more, it's *hair*, it grows (like magic!). That's the joy of style, I think, that you're free to change your mind.

My own style thoughts are complicated, but I am about to undertake a wardrobe overhaul, that fills me with equal parts dread and excitement. But it really, really helps having pieces like this, that remind me it's about *being me*, not the person I was ten years ago, or even five.

And Women in Clothes has gone straight on my wishlist, thank you :)

Jennifer Hill said...

Hi Roo, Bit late commenting but feel I must respond to this fab post. For reasons I won't bore you with I've never really felt good about who I am and what I wear, tho' now (I beleive we share the same birth month) I feel I'm getting close. I decided a few months ago that I really want to create a totally handmade wardrobe, mostly sewing, plus knitting. I had a huge wardrobe clearout recently and it felt so good to get rid of all that stuff I didn't like or didn't really fit! I'm SO looking forward to a wardrobe of clothes I love, that suit my style. I love your hair! When I was younger for some time I had very short, razored hair, and may go back to that again in a few years, possibly coloured? Maybe to coordinate with my handmade clothes? (Looking forward to my brother-in-law's face - hehe). As Oscar Wilde said 'be yourself, everyone else is already taken'. All the very best and kindest wishes, Jen

Magpie said...

once i decided that it really was okay for me to wear jeans Every Single Day, with a t-shirt and cardigan, i got a lot more comfortable in my skin. it's like a uniform.

i love your hair cut!