Fashion, Licentiate Columns

The Last Licentiate Column (For Now)

The view of the Lee from my old flat on North Main Street. Sigh. I wonder where that jacket is?

The view of the Lee from my old flat on North Main Street. Sigh. I wonder where that jacket is?

Alright Stevie G, you’re taking the piss. Just when I sat down to write this, my very last column, the veteran broadcaster, DJ and general nurturer of Cork’s creative talent, tells us that he’s leaving us. I didn’t have any thunder to steal, but if I did, I’d be rummaging through Stevie’s record bag trying to find it.

Cork has changed, lads, I can see it from all the way over here in London. It’s not the way it was when I first started writing for this fine paper in 2009. We were deep in the throes of a recession, the novelty only starting to wear off. Off in the distance was the cultural revitalising of a truly brilliant city; one I was immensely proud to call my home for more than six years. While Cork is perhaps better known in recent years for the flood of musical talent pouring out of The Pavilion, you can’t deny the creative output in other areas; film, art and, lest we forget, fashion.

When the Cork Independent’s editor Deirdre first suggested that I write a fashion column, I had my doubts. I knew that I loved clothes, but the problem was that I didn’t know very much about trends and definitely didn’t care about adhering to them. I still highly suspect that she only gave me the column to stop my aunt, confusingly also called Deirdre, from mentioning her fab writer niece every ten seconds in conversation. To both Deirdres, I will always be grateful. You gave me my first real leg up into the world of journalism. Without both of you, I don’t know where I’d be. Working on a building site in New South Wales, probably.

The Cork Independent is pretty unusual, in that it’s a free sheet that isn’t total crap. I was allowed to talk about pretty much anything I wanted, which is almost unheard of in print these days, doubly so for a writer with relatively little writing experience. I was allowed to be an honest voice, even if that honest voice was only talking about a nice hat that the writer saw on a woman on North Main Street.

I have been writing this column for four years, more or less. I have changed as the city changed and, while there is no way that I could outgrow such a unique place, there were unique opportunities presented to me as I learned more about my chosen subject and (hopefully) became a better writer. I would have been a fool not to pick them up. So, pick them up I did. I left. I moved to London, where I’m now doing stuff that I would never have thought of back in the days when staring at a blank screen, wondering how to talk about pink, was a weekly ritual.

I love Cork, I do. I still get sad when I think that I can’t just walk down the road and call into Miss Daisy Blue (still one of my favourite vintage shops ever) or order an Eggs Benedict at Liberty Grill. Sometimes I get so maudlin I even get nostalgic over avoiding the unsuitable boys I kissed, now almost a decade ago (!) in the Brog.

We change though, we get older. Cities change like people. Sometimes, the city you loved isn’t the city that exists anymore. It’s time to give up my corner of the newspaper, and by extension Cork itself. Thank you all for reading. It’s been quite a trip.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns, Outfit Posts

Licentiate Column 14/11/13: It’s the Emergency Outfit

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– A variation on the Emergency Outfit consisting mainly of a huge fun fur coat.

There is no internet in my house, it’s deadline day and I still don’t know what I’m going to write about.

Technically that’s not true. I did know that I was going to at least start off by stating that I had nothing to write about, but now I’ve done that and I’m left with very little to work with. It’s panic stations. Code Orange. And I’ve just found out that there’s no milk in the fridge. Better make it a Code Red.

We all have Code Red days, which usually kick in with the judicious application of a snooze button or the removal of one small element – like a ruptured internet connection or a forgotten ATM card.

Some women may not admit to this, but whole days have been ruined by just forgetting to put on a bra before going to work. It’s a very fragile structure. One wobble can essentially remove the support system (and we’re not just talking about the bra thing here).

Cue the Emergency Outfit. Emergency outfits are comprised almost entirely of functional clothing, with one optional or non-functional piece. The functional clothing gets you out of the house, keeps you moving, keeps you sane. The non-functional piece at best gives you a needed confidence boost and at worst reminds you that you’re a human being so maybe you should refrain from anxiously gnawing your fist in public. It’s not good for you. And it’s sore.

My Emergency Outfit is this – one big black jumper for its security blanket-type features and reassuring neutrality. It also needs to be slouchy and thick enough to disguise a no-bra day. One pair of high waisted Topshop skinny jeans. High waist = no muffin top and no fear of the jeans settling somewhere between hips and pudendum while running for the bus. One pair of Adidas trainers in black, in case I actually ever need to run for the bus (and I almost never do). A big, big coat with a monochromatic or animal print pattern – this will scare off predators. The non-essential item is red lipstick. It’s a shot of confidence as well as a physical reminder not to paw at my face lest things go horribly wrong.

That’s the outdoor Emergency Outfit. The indoor emergency outfit usually consists of pyjamas, a hair scrunchie and a sense of impending doom. This is true of all women, except maybe those sultry types who only own nighties. A woman who only wears nighties has her shit together. She has no need for the Emergency Outfit.

Of course, all women are different. One Emergency Outfit may be completely utilitarian, with multiple pockets to carry pens, money, tickets, keys and anything that could conceivably be accidental forgotten. Another outfit may forsake pockets for a well-loved, well-worn bag. The security of the jumper could easily be swapped for the comfort of a huge, blankety scarf. Trainers can be substituted for loafers, especially if you accidentally dropp a huge blob of natural yoghurt on your kicks (I am speaking from bitter experience).

The important thing, of course, is that you’re comfortable. And next time, remember to buy milk the day before.

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Fashion, Inspiration, Licentiate Columns, Subculture

Licentiate Column 15/08/13: Hindsight 1 – 0 The Zodiac

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- No no no, not THAT Zodiac…

It’s amazing what a bit of hindsight can do. That relationship that’s just not working out, the shoes you couldn’t walk in, that one drink that’s one drink too many… All are the result of foolish personal decisions that only come to light in your head after the foolishness has ended.

Still, it’s nice to look backwards, especially in terms of fashion and beauty. The bad advice of others is a million times more enjoyable than the bad advice you give yourself. It’s especially more enjoyable when that bad advice is recorded for posterity in print.

A friend of mine runs a vintage shop and amongst her stock is a massive pile of Irish women’s magazine from the early and mid-seventies. Mostly, the problem pages are a hotbed of extreme sadness; women who can’t leave their abusive husbands or women who have had seven children and physically can’t handle any more. Sometimes the problems are funny (‘Why do policemen’s helmets have to hide their lovely hair?’ was one particularly enjoyable one’).

The best features, however, are the zodiac-themed ones. What’s with Irish women and the zodiac? Did it just become a ‘thing’ in the Seventies? Anyway, the plethora of oddly specific life advice that stems exclusively from your date of birth is really a thing of beauty. It’s perfect in its kitschy inaccuracy.

I am a Taurus. According to one article, which was focused on the beauty regimes of the various star signs, Taureans are obsessed with being pretty. Not only are they obsessed with being pretty, they are so duplicitous that they can easily fool people into thinking that they are good-looking even when they’re ugly as sin. Barbra Streisland was cited as an example – poor Babs always got the bum rap. The only accurate part of the piece (which also talked about my ‘lovely full neck’ – do Taureans suffer from glandular problems?) was the part that said we’d try anything beauty wise – although I might forgo the suggestion of mauve eyeshadow.

Another friend is a Capricorn. Apparently, Capricorns suffer from the burden of ageless beauty. Marlene Dietrich was the example there – apparently the zodiac doesn’t account for facelifts and seclusion. Capricorns should also try to think outside the box with their clothes as they tend to stick with classic style – said friend looked unimpressed with that advice, but that might have been the (very stylish) ensemble of leopard-print pencil skirt and green vintage athletic top that she was wearing at the time.

Similarly, a Sagittarean friend was not cool with the advice that she should accentuate her ‘large but attractive teeth’ with a good toothpaste and a smudge of red lipstick. She was even less impressed with the suggestion that she spent most of her days ‘whinging balls about’. That’s a direct quote, by the way. Whanging balls.

So, if there’s anything to be learned from the zodiac, it might be to ignore it altogether – or maybe just keep making foolish decisions. Just hope that the stars will end up aligning.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 08/08/13: Talking Shit About My Ex

From time to time – specifically when I’ve run out of ideas – I’ll ask people what I should write about for this column. Sometimes, I put a call out on Twitter, sometimes I ask strangers, sometimes I ask friends. In fairness, a lot of people have total gems to offer; a seed of an idea that can easily be developed into something I never would have thought of. Last year, I wrote a three-parter on dressing for pregnancy – as a happily unpregnant person, this had, rather selfishly I might add, never occurred to me before

I talk to my ex on Viber quite often (for the uninitiated, it’s an app that allows you to talk to people for free via your internet service). It’s great.

Unfortunately, when you chat via text, you can rarely interpret tone correctly, especially sarcasm (and as both a naturally sarcastic and defensive person, that can be a volatile mix for me).

So, when I asked him what I should write about this week, I was greatly taken aback to see the following pop up on the phone screen. “How the f**k should I know? For f**k sake Sarah, it’s not my goddam motherf**king column, go wrote about horses**t for all I care! Jesus f**king Christ!”

He was joking.

However, his subsequent suggestion (some guff about Fred Perry tops and sports brands in mainstream fashion) was incredibly boring, so I’m going to talk about the mythical hidden contrasts in men’s attitudes to fashion through the men I’ve spent some, um, quality time with.

1) Being into style somehow makes men gay. Surprisingly, I have only ever had one ex (that I know of) who showed same-sex tendencies and he was quite well-dressed in a homogenous, Topman kind of a way. However, this is because, at first, it was me who was dressing him.

Unenlightened menfolk, homosexuality is definitely not about clothes; and you definitely don’t have to compensate for being stylish by being aggressively hetero towards women – that’s aimed at you, Stylish Guy who referred to me, nauseatingly, as ‘intellectual pussy’.

2) Being into style means that men have unnecessarily inflated egos. We Irish people love to use the phrase ‘Oh, he loves himself’ as an insult. It is patently not an insult – you’re supposed to love yourself.

However, this horrible attitude means that men who takes any pride in their appearance are seen somehow as more selfish and self-absorbed than others, so in an effort not to appear that way, a man must look like he doesn’t care that much, even if he does. This can easily be seen in the scores of exes who would happily wear their jeans out well after the hem had ripped, not stopping until one rainy day, when an accident happens and a sodden pants leg is ripped up to the back of the knee.

I called those days ‘good days’.

*At this point I should tell you that my ex is a very nice person and almost never comes across as a total dipshit.

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Fashion

Licentiate Column 28/03/13: Dress Like a Teacher

It's not quite as easy as this anymore...Pic via US National Archives

It’s not quite as easy as this anymore…
Pic via US National Archives

I have just returned from a lovely lunch with a lovely bunch of primary school teachers. Primary school teachers (along with librarians) are the real backbone of this country, because they encourage people to read – and if no-one in the future reads, then I can kiss my job goodbye, probably in an inappropriately lingering way. It also helps that members of my immediate family work in both a library and a school (Mom, can you get those fines wiped off my card? No? Never mind then).

These three teachers are celebrating the start of Easter holidays with a slap up lunch in a suburban roasthouse/pub.  We all know the kind; pub/eatery hybrids that are products of the boom years and have had to pull their socks up fairly sharpish in order to preserve some business.  It was very pleasant.  Instead of cutting corners, more money appears to have been pumped into the food and decor.  It was also very busy.

The saying is cliched and overwritten, but true.  You’ve got to spend money to make money.

There’s a comparison to be made with wise investment in restaurants and wise investment in the future of Ireland by not totally screwing the teachers over with poorly thought out wage agreements.  However, this is a fashion column, so we’ll talk about their wardrobes instead.

Dress codes are hard to interpret at the best of times, especially when you need to preserve a sense of order, mold young minds and wear fabric that can easily be washed free of snot, puke and the crumby remnants of the annual fundraising bake sale.

My lunch companions, it appears, had got their own formula down pat.  No-make up make up, no hanging jewellery that could cause an injury, natural, swishy hair that came straight off the old Herbal Essences ads, simple and colourful statement pieces and, surprisingly, the odd pair of jeans (which are apparently a no-no, but anything goes on non-uniform days).

Through careful observation – and by observation, I mean rooting through my primary school teacher sister’s wardrobe – a person can easily see that the teacher’s lifesaver garment is the cardigan.  It’s as authoritarian as a blazer, but you can easily move your arms.  When you are a teacher, movement is essential for emphasis, attention-getting and dodging the odd flying object.  When a job involves commanding respect as well as deflecting pencils and paint, a blazer or suit jacket will be of no use to you. Teaching is a surprisingly physical occupation.

Not that the teachers and I talked about clothes, though.  Nor did we talk about children, for that matter – the contents of that conversation must remain private.
When I said I had to go home to write this, I was asked what I was going to write about.  I didn’t know.

“You can write it about me”, one said jokingly.

“Maybe I will”, I thought.  Teachers don’t get enough good press.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 14/03/12: Who Run The World?

Beyonce KNOWS.

At time of writing this column (March 8th 2013 – fast fashion doesn’t apply in journalism, you know) it is International Women’s Day. For those who are opposed to such a thing, take a deep breath, then exhale. By the time you read this, International Men’s Year will have safely resumed and we women will go back to listening to Beyonce songs in private, like the Dutch and Belgians listening to the BBC World Service in their attics circa 1943.

The fashion industry can puzzle the most staunch of feminists. It’s a mind-boggler, a bamboozler. It’s an industry led overwhelmingly by women in all its facets, but that barely seems to count. A smart, stylish and very enlightened colleague of mine recently referred to the fashion and beauty section of every magazine or newspaper as the pink ghetto – it’s a place where smart women’s writing is dumped when editor’s can’t think of a better place to put it. In some magazines, that’s a definite reality. But, a ghetto? Really? Do I work in the ghetto? Does what I do disenfranchise women?

I don’t even like pink. Even that’s a bit disingenuous though – I am typing this while wearing pink pajama bottoms as I wait for my black shorts to dry on the radiator.

Does fashion empower women? It’s a tricky one. It’s a bit like asking if books empower women. The right books will, but the wrong ones can make idiots of the best of us. It’s really up to the consumer to decide for herself.

Now that corsets are no longer de rigeur, the empowering effects of fashion are much more apparent – and manipulable. As long as people have opinions and the ability to create, it will never be perfect. Nothing is ever perfect, save for art and the math equations you learned for the Junior Cert. Fashion will never be fully feminist or misogynist as long as there are two people around to disagree on the subject.

Let’s look at the figures, shall we? The majority of fashion designer are women. That’s pretty good, isn’t it? It’s rare than women will lead the way in a creative path in any industry. The majority of garment workers are women. That’s pretty cool as well. Ah. Wait, no, it isn’t very cool really. An awful lot of garment workers actually work in sweatshops, in subhuman conditions for long hours with very little pay. The majority of CEOs, well, that’s an interesting one. The majority of fashion CEOs are men.

Women in first world countries often forget that women are actually not equal to men in personal, economic or social terms. Due to the ongoing debates about abortion rights, Ireland has been in the unusual position of being a developed country that is also a birthplace to a new boom in feminism and activism. The debate will rage on. Let’s hope that, for the sake of women everywhere, it spreads further out than from the confines of my pink ghetto.

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Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 24/01/12: Me Dress Sexy One Day

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The search phrase ‘dress sexy’ brought up too many depressing options so here’s a picture of a kitten that looks like Ed Sheeran instead.

I’ve been single for almost a year. For a serial monogamist like myself, it’s an interesting, if slightly alien feeling. I feel as if I should throw a party – but, then again, ‘party of one’ has been the leitmotif of my 2012. There’s no point in dragging it out into 2013.

It also seems pointless to divide progress and setbacks in as arbitrary a timeframe as a year. Why should the last day in December mark the end of one regimen and the start of another? And why (I shout at no-one in particular) should the start of a new regimen be marked by the coldest month of the year?

It’s bloody freezing. I want nothing more than to stay in bed, slurping Ovaltine and developing an insulating layer of blubber while the vibrations caused by my younger sister as she pounds on the treadmill directly below send me to a reassuring sleepytime.

Being single is a positive thing. It has taught me the wonder of mid-heeled shoes and t-shirt dresses as well as the wonder of sleeping smack bang in the middle of a king-sized bed, surrounded by books yet to be read.

However, like my secondary school math skills, both my flirting and sexy dressing skills have atrophied. Gone are the plunging v-necks and pencil skirts. The last time I wore a pair of high heels was in May. As I type this, I am disturbed by that discovery. I love heels and pencil skirts and plunging v-necks. I make no bones about this love or how ridiculous it is to reduce women to ‘slutty’ stereotypes on the basis of how much skin they choose to reveal, bobble-fleshed, into the cruel January air. It’s all a matter of choice and consent.

I suppose I started really thinking about sexy dressing today, when I described a denim shirt with pictures of Bart Simpson all over it as a ‘man magnet’ on my Facebook profile. Of course, the only men who would be attracted to such a shirt would be either ten years old or still living in the nineties, which would make me either a time traveller or a paedo. I am neither, by the way.

So, why, if I love sexy stuff, did I stop wearing it? When did I stop with the sexy? It’s a question a lot of women ask themselves as a new regime begins – it’s also a question women ask as we commence the rather annoying march towards Valentines Day. Bring on Lent, I say.

There are many reasons we do this, and none of them have anything to do with ‘letting go’ or whatever new phrase glossy magazines have invented to make women feel bad about themselves. They are the following: 1) It’s too cold. 2) I’m not very interested in looking sexy at the moment. 3) I deliberately dress like this to deflect unwanted attention. 4) Binding clothes are uncomfortable. 5) High heels are sore. 6) I’m doing a Sarah Silverman and am only slovenly in order to properly wow people with my designer clobber at awards ceremonies.

I’m going with reason No.6.

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