Clothing Advice That Nobody Asked For

I’ve just come out of two days of ‘my migraine hell,’ and am feeling frail and blinky and extremely out of sorts. I am sure it’s down to the effects of my menopause jab wearing off. I should have been having another jab today, but I can’t do anything until the 26th when my appointment with the consultant rolls around. It had better not be cancelled. That is all.

I have a million ideas in my head for nonsensical blog posts. I have no time to write them. I am woefully behind this week due to two days of vomiting, sweating and crying over the fact that my skull bones were trying to squeeze themselves out of my ears and I couldn’t keep any pain relief down.

Here’s one of the things that I’ve been thinking about this week on my bed of pain.

I have been avidly reading Esther Walker’s (Coren for Instagram) capsule wardrobe posts from On The Spike this week. I find the whole site compelling in a strange way, given that it bears no relation whatsoever to my life, style, budget etc. I feel rather like an anthropologist when I visit. The capsule wardrobe thing is a wonder to me, a veritable wonder.

I am not criticising in any way, by the way. If you are the sort of person who believes that they need a capsule wardrobe, then this stuff is probably gold. Judging by the responses to the posts, it is what a lot of people want/need. I’m genuinely intrigued by this. I’ve never had a capsule wardrobe in my life. I’ve never had a capsule anything come to think of it.

I thought about what I would write if someone asked me my advice about wardrobes.

Like that’s ever going to happen.

Let’s ignore the fact that it won’t and theorise that someone has asked me for my words of wisdom on clothing. Let’s not say fashion. I have never been in fashion in my life and have no plans to be so now.

My best advice is to start charity shopping. Posh people call this vintage shopping. Call it what the hell you like, I don’t care, but do it.

Seriously, get over your squeamishness and just do it. It’s better for the planet, you don’t have to feel so guilty about stuff coming from sweat shops because the money you pay is going to charity, not big businesses, and your money goes a hell of a lot further.

When I say a hell of a lot further, I mean stupendously far. Shopping with my friend Kim the other day I bought a Noa Noa raw silk kimono with the tags still on for a tenner, a Monsoon sun dress that is my favourite garment ever (flattering, washes like a dream, doesn’t crease) for a fiver, brand new 70 denier tights for £2, a black silk Wallis shift dress with emerald birds and leaves all over it for £4, and that’s just for starters. The list goes on.

If you’re patient, you will pick up the most wonderful items for a song. I have a vintage Hugo Boss tweed jacket I bought for a fiver. I have a vintage Jaeger smock smothered in poppies I pushed the boat out and paid £15 for. My wardrobe is crammed with labels and fabrics I could never afford if I were to shop in the actual shops, but I buy by the cart load from charity shops.

If you’re really hung up about these clothes having been worn by dead people, do bear in mind that lots of charities have deals with big clothing companies these days and often sell their seconds/old stock, brand new but at a fraction of the price. Oxfam is in cahoots with M&S, which is a sadness to me as I hate M&S, but it might delight you to know that most of their shops are at least 50% brand new stuff now. One of the shops near me has a deal going with Boden on the same principle. This excites me much more, although they seem to have stopped doing the shift dresses I lived and died in for a while, which upsets me. There are also way more people than you think who buy clothes they never wear and just get bored of them taking up space, so they give them away. There are lots of times I have bought stuff which still has all its original labels attached.

The great thing about things being inexpensive is that you can afford to experiment. You might always secretly have hankered to have a gold cat suit, but decided that the latest one from Dior is too expensive to risk. If you find one down the local chazza for a fiver you can snap it up, wear it once, decide it’s not for you and then give it back to the charity shop. It’s in this way I found out I am not a natural shape for a body con Herve Leger knock off (I look like a snake who’s swallowed a sofa). I also look like an absolute tit in jodhpurs. I cannot wear Twenties style flapper dresses no matter how much I love them, because ‘bosom’, and for me, jeggings are the work of the devil. But I also found out I love halter necks and they don’t make my tits look as saggy as I thought, and I am all about the Fifties silhouette.

The other good thing about charity shops is that if you, like me, are not that bothered about fashion trends, but are very interested in certain shapes and styles that you know work for you, but which may not be in trend at the moment, the charity shop is your friend. I have a particular penchant for: A line smock dresses, military style coats/jackets, slash neck striped t shirts with long sleeves, t shirts/tops that are long and cover saggy belly overhang, ball gowns and jeans that are already worn in by someone else. It doesn’t matter if these are in or out at Top Shop, you’ll find what you want in charity shops if you search hard enough.

So charity shop till you drop. It’s no good doing it half heartedly. My advice, ask someone in the know where is good and go there. Take your time, rushing is the worst in these places. It will not work if you walk in, skim the rails and walk out. You need to look properly at stuff. Know that if you have a wish list, it might take time to fill it, but you will get there. I am still searching for a particular cut of baggy dungarees. Their time will come.

The quality of fabric is something I swear by. I usually feel everything as I browse and if it feels nice, regardless of size, pattern etc, I’ll pull it off the rail and inspect it. If I still like it, I try it on.

Ignore sizing. I am, and have been all my adult life (apart from during pregnancy) a size ten. I have in my wardrobe everything from a size six to a size 18. If you like something, ignore the label and try it on. You will already know sizing is random depending on brand, but also learn from me that ball gowns, no matter who makes them, always seem to be cut small, so don’t dismiss something if you think it’s going to be too big.

Also remember you can pay for alterations. I once bought a pair of Alexander McQueen trousers for £20 that were far too long. £20 of alterations later and they were perfect, and £40 was a steal for those trousers. They were magnificent.

Ignore all advice that prohibits you from trying something on. Stuff like; ‘large girls should not wear stripes.’ or rules on colour or clashing, or whether you should show your knees over the age of forty or whatever the hell it is. Christ on a bike, if we were to follow all this advice, all women over size six and over age 25 would be going around like Uncle Fester with a sack on our heads apologising for taking up valuable space and oxygen.

Here’s the deal. If you like it, try it on. It won’t kill you to try it on. Nobody will actually shoot you in the face for it. You’d be amazed at what you feel good in if you let yourself, actively amazed. Really? You want to wear hot pink and silver with gold disco pants? Go for it.

Remember that clothes are just bits of cloth. They’re not gendered. It’s us who decide if they’re boys clothes or girls clothes, colours, shapes etc. I have stuff in my wardrobe that is labelled for children.  I have stuff in my wardrobe that is menswear. Menswear is particularly good for decent shirts and slouchy jumpers.

Esther is big on accessories. Me too, only all mine, as you would expect, come from charity shops. I am dreadful at keeping jewellery nice. My wedding ring has had two diamonds missing for 18 months now. I had a diamond replaced already three years ago and have now given up.  It’s no good buying me nice stuff. I lose it. I break it. It mysteriously falls apart. Instead I always check the jewellery/scarves and bags in charity shops. I have beautiful, vintage hand rolled silk scarves by the bag full, that cost me pennies. I have costume jewellery up the yin yang. I have a Mulberry bag that my husband bought me (because he is the best husband in the world) that is my mainstay bag, but every other bag I own has come from a charity shop, and I have some nice ones, some really nice ones.

Esther says you should wear clothes, clothes should not wear you. I get what she’s saying, but my advice on this is to basically always wear what you feel good in, regardless. That’s the real test. Do you like it? Does it make you feel good? It’s the Marie Kondo test of clothing.

Thinking about my own wardrobe, which as those of you who are now following me on Instagram will see, is pretty extensive, I can attest that many of my clothes are more like costumes. I often have an idea or theme in my head when I wake up and get dressed, and  the good thing about owning nine million items is that I can generally service that desire. I quite like the idea of clothes wearing me, particularly on the days when I don’t really want people to see me. People think it’s brave to wear wild clothes, but it isn’t. I can quite believe that burglars often get away with daring daylight robberies because they dress as policemen or milkmen. Nine times out of ten, if you’re wearing something wild people will only ever remember the clothes and not you in them, and some days that suits me very well indeed.

So do this. Wear what the hell makes you happy, every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a party dress and you’re only going up the Asda. It doesn’t matter if you’re digging the garden in raw silk. It doesn’t matter because it’s just cloth and it’s all good. I swear we would all be happier if we treated every day like dress up day, like we did when we were children. Wear an anorak and hot pants if that’s what dings your bell. Just do it. I swear it will take all the stress out of buying and wearing clothes forever no matter what size and shape you are. And if you want pure chazzing/vintage genius you need to check out Vintage Vix. She is my idol. One day I’m actually going to organise myself to meet her and buy all her stock. She is amazing.

I’m going to start Instagramming some of my charity shop finds from today to be ‘inspirational’ and because I love to brag about a good bargain. I’m at @thevoiceofboo if you’re not already amazed by my fuzzy photographs and inconsequential chatter over there.


12 responses to “Clothing Advice That Nobody Asked For

  1. Noreen Marshall

    And having a well-stocked wardrobe and a charity-shop habit means that, with luck, you’ll never be in the unhappy position of scouring the high street clothing shops till the last minute for that special outfit for An Occasion. In all likelihood, it simply isn’t there, anyway – and the shoes certainly won’t be. And yet people still exhaust themselves trying…

  2. Huh, I thought – fashion. I’ll only read it because I always read Katyboo before anything else.

    Well, I feel inspired – I’m pencilling in my next trip to Oxfam (and not just the bookshop).

    • Do it. It’s really enjoyable shopping with a fuck it attitude. Proper liberating. p.s. I did buy a huge amount of books on my charity shop trawl yesterday as well!

  3. I haunt Oxfam Online – and my new favourite, Everything Five Pounds – because I rarely get into town. Brilliant service, and free returns from Oxfam.

  4. Migraines: I d these for years, so sympathies. They faded after menopause and I felt reborn. More recently I had a bout of viral vertigo with similar vomiting effect. A brilliant doctor at emergency walk in clinic gave me anti vomit tablets that sissolve on gum so bypass stomach. How I wish they had given me these for migraines. If you haven’t tried them ask GP see if they might help. B Hell anything is worth trying.

  5. Re. Charity shops: I wish, size 18 and boobs to match, not a hope. In our area I donate cast offs and it immediately upgrades the stock!!! I do shop at Marks, and Next, and occasionally Monsoon but more often in sales ex they closed our nearest so saved ££. But stuff from there is ageless so classed as investment . And like their philosophy. Also only had shapeless cast offs as a kid ( we were poor and NOT happy) so really really like nice clothes. I don’t do fashion I do what suits me and makes me feel good. m learning if something doesn’t make me feel fabulous, don’t buy no matter how much I want to like it!!!

    • Sales are definitely good. I don’t know why I hate M&S. It’s a thing! Next do great trousers for short arses like me, fit is always good. Monsoon is a label I love, although recently I think they’ve gone bit off their game. Also definitely if you don’t feel good in it don’t buy it. Sometimes it makes me sad though, that there’s something I know I should like and which doesn’t do it for me.

  6. LOVE this. I started trawling charity shops about a year ago and am amazed at what I’ve found: a Ted Baker dress for a tenner and the PERFECT military blazer that fits like a dream for a few quid, to name but a few. Also, do you remember when that bloody Trinny and Susannah were famous for telling women what they should and should not wear? It’s unbelievable that such a piece of tosh was broadcast in the early noughties, isn’t it?

    • It’s so satisfying when you find something that is just perfect AND a bargain. Also, I used to love Trinny and Susannah, but for all the wrong reasons!

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