Finding myself suddenly hooked up with a man I first met when I was seventeen is an interesting experience. Unlike meeting someone new and discovering gradually all the little things that add up to make them who they are, there is a lot of stuff you are aware of already. Of course there are things that may have changed – maturity (hopefully), previous relationships and children will make sure of that – but the essence of who they are will have invariably remained the same. And that is probably why you bothered to attempt the sometimes tricky transgression from friends to more than friends. I say tricky mainly because my own particular transgression started with my car battery running flat outside my soon-to-be-special-friend’s parents’ house at 2 o’clock in the morning. He had no front door key as it turned out and I had a full bladder. You would have thought both of us, at our combined age (don’t ask) would have known better. In his defence, he didn’t know he didn’t have a front door key when he left the pub that night. I however, did know I needed the loo. In that respect (not going before I leave the pub, over-useage of brackets) I haven’t changed a bit in the twenty years since he and I were at school. In others (having my own car, my own child and a burgeoning obsession with dental health) I have.
1990 – in a top belonging to my friend Hannah’s mum
Inevitably at the start of a romantic liaison there are all sorts of things one attempts to keep hidden in the interests of preserving the mystique and maintaining the facade of being the perfect woman. Who hasn’t pretended to know lots about football, awake naturally beautiful first thing in the morning and to be an excellent cook? If you have known someone in a past life, the chances are they know quite a lot of your weaknesses as well as your strengths. It’s a time saver that’s for sure, and handy if you’re no spring chicken. Those things that have evolved over the years – I’m physically fitter and more confident – tend to be positive things and that’s useful too. No-one wants to have appeared to have deteriorated over the years after all.
1988 – striped tights, elasticated corset belt & a scrunchie
So while thinking about all this, the wardrobe belonging to my seventeen year old self started to come back to me. I realised fairly quickly that this was an area of improvement (not difficult) for me since those heady teen years in Wimbledon and thanked my lucky stars I didn’t take any notice of the teasing that came my way during the height of my fashion victimhood. Because I did wear some pretty daft things back in the day and while I still do from time to time, nowadays I don’t wear them all at the same time. The male of the species simply don’t see fashion through the same eyes as us gals. Other than possibly Jean Paul Gaultier and Eddie Izzard but they ruin my point so don’t dwell please. Where a trendy young female might see a dungaree as an edgy alternative to boyfriend jeans, a bloke will see it as maternity or plumber wear. Suggest a flatform or so-called ‘ugly’ shoe and you’ll be deemed barking and/or in need of a chiropodist. It’s not so much that men don’t get fashion, a lot of them do, mine certainly does. It’s more that they see it literally and without the sense of irony that is occasionally required. Need an eye-catching outfit to stand out from the crowd? You see a bit of colour blocking, he sees a giant Licorice Allsort. Effortlessly updating your spring wardrobe with one simple piece? You see the oh so versatile midi, the skirt of the season, he sees a frumpy lampshade. ‘Twas ever thus.
Lovely dungarees £35 by Next
As a teenager I was constantly questioned about my choice of outfits by one male friend in particular – he didn’t have sisters – seemingly fascinated by what he saw as dreadful clothes. I think he thought I should dress more like his mum because he once suggested that I shop at Next rather than wherever it was I was currently sourcing my wardrobe. My own mum shopped at Next which at this time (the late ’80s) was a newish phenomena, but it was also quite clearly a mecca for the over-35s, as indeed it still is. This friend, with whom I am still in touch, is now a father of two daughters and I often wonder how he deals with the current fashions for girls of their age. He will certainly be in the Jack Wills and Fat Face camp, let’s hope for their sake they are too.
Midi skirt £79 at Hobbs
My own dad couldn’t have been more easygoing and open minded about how my siblings and I dressed and this is perhaps why I struggled to deal with the criticism I received from my male peers. I didn’t exactly go for the full blown hooker look, but in the ’80s, what with the influence of an early Madonna, it was definitely veering that way. There were mini skirts, finglerless gloves and coloured fishnet tights and if my dad thought it was bizarre, inappropriate or unacceptable then he never said so. Don’t get me wrong, he gave an opinion and occasionally cracked a joke (“That’s a very nice dress you’re nearly wearing darling”) but he never mocked and the unsaid rule seemed to be as long as you’re not going to get cold, you’re good to go. We were all for freedom of expression in our house and that, within reason, is no bad thing. I only hope I am as accepting of my own child’s whims. He currently favours dinosaur t-shirts and superhero pjs, not my thing but whatever, I’m breezy. For now. For his part, this particular three year old takes an active interest in my outfits. It’s a simple approach and one that doesn’t differ hugely from my boyfriend, some forty years older: if it’s a lovely colour, is not black or grey, there’s a little bit of sparkle and your shoe of choice is a bright and cool trainer then it’s OK by him. I should probably clarify here that my boyfriend hasn’t actually stipulated a preference for sparkle but he did buy me a gorgeous sequin dress for Christmas so I’m basing it on that.
It’s a rare woman who dresses solely for men, and thank goodness, because I think we girls have a lot more fun getting dressed up if we’re not worrying about blokes accusing us of wearing too much make-up or using their Granny as inspiration. I sincerely hope I don’t ever go to a 21st birthday party in a men’s trouser suit with a swimming costume underneath again but if I do, I hope I do it with confidence, humour and an empty bladder. And I also hope I have the good grace to leave the party before we all start swinging from the goalposts on the football pitch at Wimbledon stadium.* How very fortuitous that stadium is now a very long way from Wimbledon.
* I have a picture of this, of course I do, but I’m far too vain to actually post it on my blog.