Licentiate Column: Christmas Jumper Hangover

Is it Christmas yet? The festive season has taken an unexpected turn and all my reserves of jolly have broken in my bag, making the bottom soggier than a reject cake from the Great British Bake Off. Less ho, ho, ho. More boo hoo hoo. This former lover of bedecked halls is having yet another allergic reaction to the Christmas Jumper.

I’ve written about the Christmas Jumper and my hard-to-place distaste for them before. Predictably, that column was written last Christmas and not during a particularly blazing day in July, though that would give me another reason not to like them.  Woolly knits don’t go down well at the beach.  You’ll be all hot and itchy and sand will get stuck in the wool, scratching the living daylights out of you.  We’re just so lucky that the existence of a warm summer isn’t usually a problem for Irish residents.  Truly, we are blessed as a nation. Truly, truly blessed.

Last year I went for a few drinks with some colleagues at a women’s website. It might be the fact that we’re all screeching, hardcore, dungaree-wearing, card-carrying feminists (read this sentence with a touch of irony, if you will) but the men out en masse in the festive jumpers were bothering us, in many senses of the word.

I went home that night, drunk and angry, with a sore bottom from most definitely unwanted pinches. I hated Christmas jumpers.  Hated them. They were evil. They made the people in them do terrible, terrible things.  Christmas Jumpers were sexism in a garment.  I had cracked it!

The resulting column was terrifically angry. It was also very, very wrong. If men in jumpers acted like drunken festive idiots, then surely it was the jumpers that made them so, right? If my argument was correct, it could also be argued that wearing a nice pair of running shoes makes the wearer an Olympic athlete.

I am fantastically ashamed of my old argument, and even more so now that Christmas Jumpers are getting such a bad rep. I still don’t like them, but I no longer think that they are endemic and an indicator of everything that is wrong with Christmas excess. I just think that they are kinda crap.

Correlation does not necessarily equal causation. I needed to wake up and see that the Christmas Jumper wasn’t the disease. It was only a symptom.  The real disease is the craziness that people go through when festivities and free booze are forced upon them.

Don’t get me wrong; I still hate Christmas Jumpers with a deep and abiding passion.  At least now I know that, like my hatred of flying, this particular dislike is almost totally illogical. It might make me feel uncomfortable, but I know it won’t kill me.

If only I could say the same for everything else I hate.

Licentiate Column 28/11/13: Christmas Party Dress Guilt

HELLO,  stock photo for 'guilt'!

HELLO, stock photo for ‘guilt’!

So, here we are again.  Together we stand on the cusp of Christmas party season, facing bravely into the bitter wind that is trying to find the perfect party dress in a world that is jaded and blind to our sequin-wearing ways.

One of the things that pains me most at the moment is Party Dress Guilt, in which you go to find the perfect shiny/sparkly attire and find yourself buying nothing because it just so happens that clothes cost money, and money is something that you feel you should be spending on something more worthwhile than clothes.  Like the electricity bill. Or gin.

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re rich or poor, whether the party dress is Penneys or Proenza. The festive season has always had the tendency to remind the more neurotic people amongst us that the time period from early December to January is based on spending money on the Worst Thing Ever.  Fun.

You go home, and you don’t buy the dress, and still you feel bad for even thinking about buying the dress, because there are people suffering in other places.  Your best friend lost her job, your brother’s dole was cut, you’ve lost your medical card and there’s a new government levy on wine.  It doesn’t matter that you give money to charity.  It doesn’t matter that you can easily afford the dress (or in my case, a sequinned, on-sale pair of Topshop jeans), what matters is the frivolity.  Frivolity is bad.  Enjoying yourself?  BAD.

I never really understood Catholic guilt until my first financially independent Christmas. You feel absolutely terrible for buying a crushed velvet minidress with a ridiculously low cost-per-wear when you’ve only budgeted ten euro for family gifts. Maybe you settle, and buy something cheap and cheerful and wearable.  Then, you are subtly shamed when the family member with the good job buys you a present at five times your budget. Christmas is a minefield littered with good intentions and expensive eyeshadow palettes.

We feel like this for a good reason.  We should feel a bit guilty.  Christmas and the New Year is the time period for conspicuous consumption. Whether that consumption takes the form of food or clothing or slightly more illicit substances, it doesn’t really matter.  It all boils down to money anyway.  At least the clothes consumption won’t give you a heart attack, but ask me that again when I get my next credit card bill.

On the flip side, we need to slough some of the guilt off.  If, like me, you’re feeling guilty despite not actually buying anything, a reality check might be in order.  Can you afford it?  Good for you.  Maybe you should buy what you want without feeling bad. Your money is yours. However you decide to spread it around , at least make sure that this Christmas it’s money well spent.


Licentiate Column 06/12/12: Buy Irish (and Make a Better Christmas)

Even though I’m writing this column a week in advance, I think that I can predict with eerie, Nostradamus-like skills that it is cold, it is wet and it is utterly miserable outside. As temperatures drop and shoes made of natural fibres begin to degrade due to extreme schlepping through slush, it becomes more and more convenient to shop online.

I don’t need to extoll the many advantages of shopping online; if you have an internet connection and a credit card, then you’ll know what they are. However, buying presents from the safety of a small screen poses one quite distinct problem.

Buying online usually means not buying Irish. Not pumping money into the local economy means less money for everyone. I’ve skipped a few logical steps there, but this is not an economics column and I am not John Maynard Keynes.

Buy Irish, if you can. This is easy when it comes to fresh produce; we’re very lucky in Ireland in that respect. When it comes to fashion though, we literally are floating out on an island on our own.

But, and this labours the metaphor further, there are a limited number of life preservers to grab on to.

Craft fairs. One of the unexpectedly great things about a recession is seeing the reserve of strength and creativity being mined by an ever-increasing amount of people in Ireland. Stalls at craft fairs are no longer loaded with tat and fake-turquoise necklaces; now we can buy jewellery that isn’t self-consciously ‘crafty’ or homespun-looking but slickly executed. The democratisation of fashion makes professional techniques and materials more accessible, so your crafts are going to be of a better quality. Many designers and vintage sellers can be found at craft fairs. I quite like the The Fair Alternative, which is held in the old Unitarian Church near the English Market (next date – 8th of December).

Shop locally – online. I know, I know I said earlier that shopping online was the devil, but there’s always a loophole when Beelzebub is involved. Etsy ( is a global marketplace but you can search for shops based in Ireland.  The new kid on the block, Prowlster ( is an online magazine-cum-boutique that sell the best of Irish designers, including jeweller Merle O’Grady and designer Emma Manley. If you can’t choose just one thing, Prowlster also offer gift vouchers.

Local boutiques. If you have to buy that British-label dress, think about buying it in a local shop instead of online. While it’s important to shop for the best price, don’t immediately expect things to be cheaper online – you may be pleasantly surprised. You’d also be surprised at how many boutique owners are willing to haggle, which is more than can be said for online high-street retailers (trust me, I’ve tried).

Buying Irish this year isn’t just an easy way to give something unique to the person you love. It’s also a way for use to sew a tiny thread of confidence back into a country that has been torn, socially and economically, into shreds. If everyone does this, we make the first step towards mending ourselves.

Licentiate Column 29/11/12: Vouchers for All, and to All a Good Night

Vouchers don’t always provoke this response, you know.

It is now the last week of November, so we have reached the third stage in the hellish Advent calendar titled ‘The Run-up to Christmas’. This is the part where you start to feel guilty about not having bought any presents yet – surprisingly, this is a good place to be. We still have another three stages to go, the final one culminating in fighting with panicked Secret Santa-ers over the last Ted Baker sock set in TK Maxx.

I am duty-bound to tell you what kind of party clothes to wear (sparkly over sheer) and what kind of lingerie to buy for your significant other (sheer over sparkly) but, in truth, the best Christmas present to buy pretty much anyone is a voucher (my preference is Amazon, being mercifully bereft of sheer or sparkly stuff).

It is hard to wrap a voucher – or surprisingly easy, depending on your outlook. On asking my sister for an Amazon voucher, she instead asked for a list of books that I wanted so she could wrap them herself. It seemed like an awful lot of effort to me when I could have just bought them myself with my voucher. Then again, I probably just need a Christmas special to warm my cold, dead heart.

They may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but I love getting vouchers as gifts. I am such a persnickety, contrary person that it’s often hard for loved ones to choose something for me. I also suffer from a condition known as ‘Weird Boob and Leg-itis’ which means that I’m such a strange shape that clothes rarely fit the way they should. If you need help with which vouchers to buy for who, I’m here for you.

The Cover All Bases Person – The Secret Santa person, the person who has eclectic but decidedly mainstream tastes, the vaguely trendy male cousins, the friend who is so worryingly preoccupied with her dress size that you are now scared to ask what it is – get an ASOS voucher. For those not in the know, ASOS is a global shopping platform with its own mainline range as well as a glut of other retailers. You can also support vintage sellers and just-got-started designers in their Marketplace section.

The Person Who’s Always Banging on About Needing Thermal Underwear – Marks and Spencer. People who think about thermals also think quite frequently about comfort food (I am one of these people) and Marks has an admirable selection of both.

The College Student – Topshop. Is an explanation necessary?

The Person Who has Recently Decided to Dress Like a Grown-Up – There is a crossroads in a woman’s life at the intersection of ‘Good Quality’ and ‘But I don’t Have Any Money’ and Cos is the recently-constructed bypass. The Swedish label sells its wares in Brown Thomas, so buy a BT voucher and point her in the right direction come January sales time.

For everyone else – a book token. Fashion can’t be the solution to every problem (but God knows at least I’m trying).

Sarah SMASH! A Christmas Wishlist

I am having one of those days where everything irritates me, so much so that I want to do a Dr Bruce Banner and ‘Hulk SMASH’ every minor obstacle.

I can’t believe that I burned ANOTHER batch of peanut butter blondies! AAAAAAAGH SMASH!

PRs not getting back to me? SMASH!

Finding out a horrible thing about an ex on Twitter, of all places? Oversharing SMASH!

Wireless keyboard breaking down mid-post and having to use the mother’s dinky laptop instead? DOUBLE SMASH!

Chris Brown’s latest tirade of misogynistic abuse against a woman he’s never met, again on Twitter? SMASH! SMASH ALL OF THE THINGS!

I knew I was getting a bit too worked up when I read about F. Scott Fitzgerald lifting parts from his wife’s diary (in the excellent ‘Zelda’ by Nancy Milford) and spent a good fifteen minutes wishing to SMASH! Sarah SMASH! Fitzgerald’s plagiarism and flagrant disrespect of his wife’s privacy! SMASH! To be honest though, I think Scott and Zelda probably put each other through enough without me ripping off my stretchy vest Hulk Hogan-style and demanding to be tag teamed into one of their brawls.

When I get worked up like this, I am at least thankful that I’m not passive aggressive. Not like SOME people I could mention…*

When I’m done congratulating myself on that, I like to look at pictures of nice, usually unattainable things. This is my calming, life-saving fantasy Christmas wishlist.

Mape Petite Black jacket from Acne

But I’ll settle for… A copy of Acne Paper

The ‘Edie’ gift set from Nars’ Andy Warhol Collection.  It comes in a film canister!

But I’ll settle for… Kate Moss for Rimmel Matte Lipstick in 113 (an Edie-ish nude shade)

A trip to Thailand to hang out with my friend Nicola

But I’ll settle for… A Thai green curry and a well-timed Facebook chat.


Licentiate Column 08/11/12: Christmas and Glitter and Sparkles, Oh My!

Last year’s Christmas Boots ad. Hopefully they’ll top it this year by with a combi gift box/snowball fight set to a bangin’ dubstep remix of ‘Here Comes The Girls’.

Hey girlfriend! Christmas party season is just around the corner and… um, sorry, I think I might have had a bit of a brainstorm there. All the Boots ads have got to me. Looking at the Brown Thomas Christmas window displays has flash-frozen my brain. The scent of the Plasti-Kote trees in Woodies have given me leave of my senses, like a modern shaman on a voyage of hallucinogenic, sequin-studded discovery.

I look down at a piece I’m supposed to be writing and I realise that it has somehow turned from five hundred words on fashion to a festive gift guide. You want, inexplicably, to buy fashion books for everyone in your family? Then I’ve got the list for you, friend. I don’t care if all Uncle Kevin knows is home brew and rearing greyhounds, he’s just going to love the new Carine Roitfeld fashion book. Tres chic!

It is far, far too early to think about the Christmas season. It seems as if it’s timed to coincide with the weather; when it gets incredibly dark and grey we think of hurling ourselves into a bath filled with spangles and all the inventive things we could do with leftover turkey, only a handful of which actually involve eating it.

Over the past few years, I have talked about how to dress for Christmas parties, how to dress for Christmas Day, how to dress for New Year’s Eve. The truth is that there is only one crucial difference between Christmas dressing and everyday dressing, regardless of occasion. That difference is this – more glitter.

The next two months shall henceforth be known as The Spangling (also an excellent name for a horror movie/Rob Schneider vehicle). Drifts of discarded tinsel and hexagonal foil shapes will shore up outside The Savoy each weekend. Eyelids will droop languorously with the weight of all the sparkly stuff.

I will be among these soiled, droopy doves. If there is a season in which one can look like Coco the Clown in Studio 54, it is Christmas – who am I to argue with that? It is much too cold to go out baring legs and breasts; a woman has to manufacture her own personal glamour somehow – that somehow is sparkle.

Without sparkle, clubs and parties would be full of wannabe Captain Oates’, men and women not wearing enough clothes and solemnly intoning, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time’ whenever a cheeky fag is in order. We will then find them frozen solid, Silk Cut Silvers glued to their frozen lips, or perhaps not at all (probably because they’ve got sick of the cold and went to get a Burger King before hailing a taxi home).

I salute these brave, glamourous people. if it was not for the people who celebrated Christmas too early, what would we have? A gloomy, grey few months without any sparkle.

Festive Outfit Post. I went there. Again.

I thought it was high time for another festive outfit post and where better than the Brown Thomas Christmas windows? Almost anywhere else would have been better, as it turns out – not because of the windows, which were spectacular as usual but because of the drunk homeless person who took it upon himself to be the after-hours custodian.

Thanks you for that shower of abuse, homeless man.  I was not aware that, as a woman, I am inherently worthless and that I am somehow managing to siphon off MILLIONS from the good folks at Brown Thomas by taking photos of their lovely Christmas windows.  The hat may have made me look like a burglar but burglars tend not to wear conspicuously fluffy, leopard print coats.  I sincerely hope that you find somewhere nice to sleep and that you make an active decision to stop drinking lighter fluid in the near future.*

Outfit photos by the lovely Margaret – Christmas window photos by me.

Coat, necklace – vintage, hat, gloves – Penneys, shirt, tee – Topman, jeans – Warehouse, Boots – H&M

*How weird would it be if he was reading this? If you are, my real message is ‘Chill out, homeless man. Pick your battles maybe?  Sorry I didn’t catch your name but you were slurring a lot*

Licentiate Column 08/12/11

Christmas shopping, eh? Does anyone ever enjoy it? The thrill of going into a shop on Christmas Eve, carefully selecting boxes of socks for forgotten cousins and Kris Kindle work mates, all before enduring several elbows to the face and negotiating a queue for the tills that brings to mind the lunchline in a Gulag.

Worry not, because here’s a super-handy guide to making it through the Christmas mire without bruised arms and pulled hair and (hopefully) with lots of gracious smiles for all the lovely presents you’re about to give.

1. Make a list of several possibilities for each person. Do you hate her? If yes, buy her a box of socks. If you really hate her, buy an incredibly passive-aggressive present. One year, my Gran bought a tub of glutinous ‘bust-firming cream’ for my mother, who ever so thoughtfully gave it to me the next year. Thanks a bunch, mom. Keep passing on that torch.

2. There is no shame in buying a person a voucher. Incredibly useful is the One 4 All voucher, which covers bars, hotels and restaurants as well as many shops. It covers literally hundreds of places, so it’s ideal for the person who has everything but really wants a cocktail in Captain Americas after a heavy session in TK Maxx. This has been a paid endorsement for the An Post One 4 All voucher (TM) (it hasn’t). Book tokens have also gained a sort of vintage, quaint cachet, so if you’re the kind of hipster who wants to give an ironic voucher for an incredibly convoluted reason, then this is your best bet.

3. Shop early. Through intense scrutiny by shopping at all times of the week (oh, the things we do for research) I’ve determined that the quietest time to shop is on a Wednesday morning. Sundays can be particularly deceiving. Because everyone thinks that the shops will be quiet, Sundays in a large chain store will eventually devolve into a massive free-for-all to the soundtrack of a million crying toddlers. The toddlers have the right idea. Hit a shop up bright and early and you’ll be in a calm environment where shop assistants will be able to help you efficiently without steam coming out of their ears. Plus, you’ll get the very best bargains and can peruse rails of beautifully neat dresses with no problems.

4.Stocking fillers are tricky. The aforementioned socks are only a good idea if the gifted has said ‘You know what I need? Some socks. Not just any socks, no – I need a box of socks, preferably tied up with a fancy ribbon’. If you’re really stuck, a nice pair of gloves, a scarf or a pair of cufflinks will do just as well for your homogenous present needs.

5. You definitely know the kind of woman who always has a cupboard of spare presents for ‘just in case’ situations. She has a coin purse and a shopper with wheels. She is probably your great aunt. Take a leaf out of her book. Great aunts are the Wise Ones. If you’re in a bind, it helps to have a spare gift or two lying around. For women and men, coffee table-books are an excellent cover all – cooking, fashion (but of course) and photography being the two most likely culprits. This is where the great aunts fall down – one year I was given the APPENDIX of an encyclopedia, the other volumes being passed out to unsuspecting cousins a la Joey from Friends. One cousin instantly became an authority on sloths, synesthesia and Edith Stein – which made the family New Year’s party just that little bit more interesting.