Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 10/03/11: Too Poor to be Stylish

This season’s fashion weeks have drawn to a close. Catwalks have been dismantled in New York, London, Milan and Paris, models are now eating something other than cotton wool whorls dipped in orange juice and editors are now retreating to their desks to tell us what we’ll be wearing next winter (polka dots, plaids and an obscene amount of fur, apparently).

I shall be wearing none of those things. I might indulge in some dot action, but they’ll be Penney’s polkas, not Prada’s. Unless a Euromillions win is imminent, I’ll never own anything hot off the catwalk. This isn’t for lack of wanting. If wanting was a currency, I’d be richer than Warren Buffett.

But wanting isn’t a currency. I am poor – the kind of poor that makes passing church mice think, ‘there but for the grace of God’…

I am poor partly by circumstance and partly by choice. It’s a trade off; either I work a job that I really don’t want and have spending money or keep working towards something that will bear dividends only in the future. Looking at some of the people I know in the former situation, I feel as if the right choice has been made (especially when they buy me a slap-up dinner).

This kind of decision is not made lightly and it has an effect not unlike living on a faultline in a treehouse built of glass. The aftershocks are frequent; every small jolt affects your life.

As I grow less and less solvent, my means of spending become less and less. I’ve gone from frequent high-street buying, to infrequent, to charity shops, to a total clothing embargo. Now, due to a very large, very nasty bill, I am forced to sell the contents of my wardrobe.

You’d think that fashion would suddenly become less fun, wouldn’t you? But, in reality, the less I have to spend and the narrower the sartorial leeway, the more interesting getting dressed becomes. Being poor opens you up to new horizons, new ways of dressing, new modes of expression.

Women with a higher level of disposable income might find that they don’t know how to take up a hem or let out a jacket. They might not know how mix packets of machine dye to turn that shirt from white to the perfect, jewel-tone, deeply-hued magenta that can only be seen on the racks at Gucci. They might not know how to wear a maxi skirt as a mini-dress or even how to sew on a button. Necessity is the mother of invention and when there’s no necessity, you get lazy. Trust me, I’ve been there.

It’s not a new phenomenon either. Frugality has been an admirable trait since the austerity years of the Second World War, when ‘Make Do and Mend’, a pamphlet on stretching your clothing allowance, was first published. It is still in print today.

British Vogue recently resurrected their ‘More Dash Than Cash’ feature, which shows readers how to reimagine catwalk looks with a mixture of canny high-street buys, ingenuity and a steady hand with a pair of scissors. It maintains that a self-aware, resourceful person can always look stylish.

Some people will inevitably think that it’s shallow to contemplate personal style when living below the poverty line. I think that it’s essential for living. Being poor is debasing; it makes you feel inadequate, that you’re not a real part of society at large. Dressing well is an outward declaration of your dignity. It tells a world that thinks otherwise that you will not be cowed, that you have integrity, that you will not compromise.

Expressing yourself is a basic human right. It’s harder to do that without money – that’s why getting dressed is so important.

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5 thoughts on “Licentiate Column 10/03/11: Too Poor to be Stylish

  1. >Once again, your words ring true. This past year has been the hardest year for me financially. I gave up a good job and financial security to start my own business. Being a total shopping addict, the lifestyle changes have been severe. I cant afford high street or Penneys for that matter! Still though, Ive been quite pleased with what Ive managed to come up with in terms of style, perhaps even dressing better than I did when I had the cash.

  2. >Me too- its been a struggle the last couple of years and i too do shop in pennys but then i always did as im a sucker for a bargain, thats bang on trend or something you were looking for for ages pops up on a rail for a measly €3 or in vintage shop the feeling i get from that- priceless. Ive also started to customise things more often again something ive always done but the self achievement and the award reaping from the comments and effort put into it is better then something you just bought! makes it all worth while.Also you appreciate these things alot more.And thats nice.sinead (fashion house/herstylediaries)

  3. >I couldn't agree with this more. And i think it's great to see so many super thrifty bloggers out there who look amazing. It's not what you've got but you do with it that countsx

  4. >As somebody whose been unemployed for months and was financial unsolvent before that ie. student, I have become the mother of reinvention, I hand embroider my clothes, scarves and embellish cardigans, it costs a pittance but looks like a million dollars. So easy and what I can't do on a machine my mum or kind seamstress nextdoor does for me, so uninteresting. I haven't brought much new this whole year, except for sales!

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