How to dress happy – with Zoë Coleman

Hey, look! It’s a blog post that isn’t a listicle. Yesterday, I had an article published in the Irish Times about the link between well being and being well dressed and by far, my favourite part of working on the article was reading back over vintage enthusiast and all around stylish lady Zoë Coleman’s interview. When it comes to healthy body image, style and happiness, Zoë’s your gal. She has great dress sense too.

You can read the original article – and see Zoë’s outfit – on the Irish Times website.


1. What are you wearing in this photo?

I’m wearing a 1950s cotton dress with an Alfred Shaheen print in gold and royal blue. The tights are by Tabio, purchased in their Soho store and the red Mary Janes are by Melissa. The cardigan I picked up in a charity shop.

2. What makes it a happy outfit?
The strong shades of blue and red are uplifting, I love the contrast between the tights and shoes, they’re inspired by an outfit I once saw in a documentary about the British boutique movement of the 1960s and 1970s. I don’t usually wear full skirts but I love the fit and print of this dress – its very well made, and as a result I feel ‘put together’ and inevitably, very happy when I wear it! Wearing vividly coloured tights and socks never fails to lift my mood, living in the city can be so grey, its reassuring when I catch those flashes of colour as I’m walking and find that I don’t fade away into the grimy pavements of this city, I feel vibrant and alive.
3. What do your clothes say about your personality?
I’m rather introverted, and can be shy on first acquaintance. Instead, my clothes make a strong personal statement. I studied Art History to a Masters level and am enthusiastic about good design, the integrity of materials and the social history of fashion, especially twentieth century youth culture – which informs my own personal style. As a young queer woman, my lifestyle choices aren’t conservative and by extension, my clothes aren’t either. I don’t fit in with any crowd, I never have, and my happiness isn’t dependent on conforming. My clothes celebrate my difference. Film has always exerted a strong influence on my personal style, especially films like The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and camp 1950s Technicolour musicals. Marc Bolan is my ultimate style icon, who had a very eclectic fashion journey, from a teenage Mod to a modern Dandy.
4. Do you think, objectively, that clothing can influence people’s mood?
Absolutely, we all have days when we want to pull on inconspicuous understated clothing, go about our business and not see anyone we know. People watching is a hobby of mine and I love seeing people’s personal style, especially in the city where it tends to be more daring – the brighter the better! People seem to dress a little formulaic these days, more than ever before – partly owing to the rise (and peak) of fashion blogs. I wish that people didn’t conform so much to trends as they change so quickly. But the internet has also allowed us to be more playful with what we wear, by giving us instant access to online and independent boutiques, which is especially great if you grew up in a small town like I did.
5. Do you ever use what you wear as a mood elevator?
I dress for myself and no one else, so its OK to not to be in the mood for dressing up when you’re not feeling 100%, like most people I would dress in a way befitting my mood that day. However dressing up when you’ve had your loyalties betrayed is a great way of lifting your spirits, as well as looking and feeling amazing when you bump into someone you don’t want to. On my days off, I take my sweet time over choosing what I want to wear for an event, or for meeting a friend, it makes me feel confident, ready for the world outside my front door. I usually plan my outfit by delving into my treasure chest of hosiery (ok so not an actual treasure chest, but a chest of drawers) and literally starting from the legs up and inside out – wearing colourful hosiery is a definitive mood enhancer! I made one New Year’s resolution this year, and that was to not save things ‘for best’, to wear my clothes and appreciate them, and to feel great in them even if I’m just going to the cinema by myself. You’re worth it, so believe it!
6. Do you have an item of clothing/accessory/etc that you turn to to help you feel happy or positive?
I’m not attached to any one item of clothing in particular (I love all my vintage pieces), but I have a collection of nail polishes that cover every possible colour on the spectrum. If I’m feeling low, I tend to pamper myself, and painting my nails is part of that self love process. Metallics and garish shades of oranges, greens and pinks are my favourites to make me feel happy and dolled up, even if I’m just staying indoors in my PJS. I have a grá for 1960s Welsh wool coats which come in some of the most fabulous contrasting colours, I have two that I wear regularly, and I always feel great when I slip them on. They’re so unusual and I’m always complimented on them, which is gratifying to hear sometimes.
7. Can you think of any instance in which clothing has made a person’s life better? Someone you know personally – it can also be yourself.
Yes! I began collecting vintage clothing when I started uni, eight years ago. It evolved into quite a passion, and through the internet I’ve had the opportunity to cultivate this interest, by joining online communities of people who share my interests, Twitter and Instagram are great for interesting people to follow! I’ve attended events in Dublin where I’ve met people with shared interests in the clothing of the 1940s – 1970s and whom have become great friends. I occasionally sell some of my clothes that have outgrown my wardrobe at markets around Dublin (Dublin Flea & Smithfield Market), and I established the Sligo Flea Market in my hometown. I have a friend in New Zealand that I’ve known for eight years and when we catch up across the timezones, amongst the usual twenty something chatter, we talk about frivolous things like vintage novelty print dresses – she’s got a very enviable collection of 1950s dresses, and lives in a beautiful pastel coloured house in Wellington.
8. Do you have any tips for building a happy wardrobe?
Be brave! Stop admiring and start wearing! Start small, wearing colourful accessories can brighten up more neutral, muted items of clothing, especially if you’re a little shy of colour. Don’t be afraid to contrast colours, dressing yourself should be fun, not daunting! Don’t play by the fashion rules, or wear what is ‘flattering’ for your shape, wear what makes you feel good, you’ll be happier if you do what you like, instead of trying to squeeze into that seasons latest trend that in reality only suits about 5% of the population. Hosiery, brooches and scarves are excellent, inexpensive ways to brighten up your wardrobe – take it from there! Advanced Style is a fabulous life affirming documentary that will almost certainly inspire you.
9. Anything to add to the subject or that you want mentioned?
My instagram is and twitter is – I love having new people to follow!

Licentiate Column 17/10/13: Fringeadelic, Baby.

As fringe as fringey can be – after a week it is now down past my nose and near impossible to trim.

I just got a fringe cut in after a good two years of having what can only be described as not-a-fringe – and the only thing I can think about right now is whether or not an intrepid sub-editor will title this piece ‘Fringe Benefits’. As headers go, it’s not too bad.  However, a pun only works if it makes sense both ways; so far I can see no benefits to having this particular fringe.

Some people are fringe people.  I always thought that I was a fringe person, having been the proud wearer of a bowl cut for the first twelve ears of my life.  My sisters and I looked like three primary school babushkas in navy school pinafores and identical 1920s shingle cuts.  In retrospect we might have even looked a little bit trendy – my parents did always have a very interesting sense of aesthetics.

Now, however, there are only two fringe people worth talking about; Alexa and Zooey.  Alexa Chung has a flippy, messy, grown out fringe.  Zooey Deschanel has a retro 1960s thick fringe to compliment her retro 1960s thick glasses.

What happened was this.  I asked for Alexa, I got Zooey.  I only have myself and a suspiciously cheap Groupon voucher to blame.

I can’t remember what the stylist’s name was.  I do, however, remember that he wore a baseball cap (bad sign), was a DJ in his spare time (he spent a good ten minutes telling me how his sets were drum’n’bass with funky drop, but not too funky if I knew what he meant – I did, mercifully) and he noticed, mid-cut, that a massive clump of my hair had gone missing at the back (I later remembered that I burned said chunk of hair off a week previously in a mishap involving a tealight and a can of Elnett).

The fringe looks ok, fine even.  But, and this is a Capital B But, it’s not what I asked for.  I am used to low maintenance hair.  I am used to pushing my hand through my hair and having it fall into place, not pushing my hand through my hair and having it stick up at multiple angles like the bastard child of Sid Vicious and Alfalfa from The Little Rascals.

Properly washed and brushed, it looks nice.  Five seconds in the rain however, and it looks like I have given up on functioning as a human being.  It mats itself into interesting shapes and takes root on my forehead.  Unsurprisingly, that is not a good look.  Not a good look at all.

I’m not too sure who the original wearers of the fringe were.  I know that the Ancient Egyptians wore them, usually on wigs.  However, the Egyptians had two fundamental advantages over modern, European fringe wearers: 1) There’s little to no rain or humidity in Egypt causing said hair disasters and 2) The Egyptians could removes their fringes.  That, I cannot do – no matter how hard I try.

Licentiate Column 29/08/13: The Night of the Short Shorts

– Courtney Stodden, age 19. Courtney, I salute you as a sartorial inspiration to teens everywhere. I really do. Pic via a website called ‘Hawt Celebs’ – yes, really.

There’s a lot to be said for female permissiveness these days. Actually, wait, there’s a lot to be said ABOUT female permissiveness these days, the loudest bleatings often coming from men and women who still think that society at large is the boss of the female body and not the female herself. Similarly, parents can and will police what their children wear, with varying degrees of success.

I’m from Tralee, a fact that I don’t shout about in this column because a) It’s not Cork and b) It’s really not Cork. Everyone knows the Rose of Tralee. It is the original version of Father Ted’s Lovely Girls competition, except with drinking on the street, a blanket bar exemption and an overpriced, oversubscribed funfair in a carpark.

I’m an old hand at the Rose and don’t really partake in the festivities anymore. Still, I like to wander around the town and indulge in a spot of people watching. Observing people opens your mind to a lot of new ideas. One walk around the funfair and all I came away thinking was, “How the hell do all those teenage girls get through the parental barrier and out the door in those shorts?’

Hot pants. Proper bum-baring, arse-out, hello-world-this-is-my derriere short shorts. All the kids are wearing them. I’ve never felt so out of touch in my life, except maybe for the time I tried to engage a friend’s daughter in a conversation about my favourite member of One Direction (It’s Liam, by the way. So underrated).

I felt a little disconcerted and not a little bit scandalised, in a sort of conservative, reactionary Daily Mail sort of a way. They’re so young! Why aren’t they gambolling through verdant green fields instead, like sheep?

It’s hard to be a teenager. Your brain goes all fuzzy and you can’t do what you want and the slow dawning realisation that no-one truly understands you makes choosing what to wear a matter of little consequence. You wear something because your friends are wearing it, despite how uncomfortable it might make other people feel.

But really, it’s not the fault of these girls that we feel so uncomfortable. It’s our own fault. We’re so, so uncomfortable as a society with the notion of young women wearing provocative clothes and maybe, just maybe (deep breath) becoming sexually active (employ the smelling salts) that we push logic to the back of our minds and say that they’re scandalous, they’re slutty, they’re going to get themselves into big trouble if they go out dressed like that.

That’s ridiculous, really. Women don’t get into trouble because of their clothes, except in practical situations – you wouldn’t wear a bikini to work in a coal mine. Young women are especially vulnerable to criticisms so, in the future, if you see a child of yours going out the door dressed like THAT, maybe just tell her that she’ll get a cold in her kidneys.

Licentiate Column 09/05/13: Bill Cunningham New York – What a Lovely Fella


Photo by The Sartorialist.

There are days when you feel restless and annoyed, unsure of yourself and bored with everything. Nothing is right. Everything is limp. The brain feels overstretched and chewed over, like a discarded piece of chewing gum stuck to the sole of your shoe. I call those days ‘Sundays’.

Sundays are made for couples – providing, of course, that they both have the same opinion on football. If you’re single, Sundays are usually made for the television.

In moments of laziness and indecision, it’s often a good idea to pop the TV on. The Spurs match not being entirely enticing, I flicked onto the hard drive to see what treasures were stored there. A Beyonce documentary (nah), Gone With The Wind (tempting, but too long) and three BBC4 documentaries about women’s issues (that I doubt I’d process very well after a glass or two of wine). As you can tell, I live in a very pro-woman household – that or someone spontaneously deleted all my brother’s carefully recorded episodes of Family Guy and American Dad again.


I ended up watching ‘Bill Cunningham New York’, a lovely feelgood documentary about the well-respected New York Times street style photographer. It’s a study in integrity, passion and the insane capacity for knowledge that a love of fashion – indeed any art or craft – can inspire. If you have not watched it, I beg you to go and do so. Even if the thought of fashion trends makes you want to vomit, watch it. Even if you’re only using this page to clear up dog poop (I applaud you for recycling, I really do) and this sentence manages to catch your eye, watch it. You will not regret it. Put the paper in the bin first though. Or frame it. Whatever, I’m not bothered.

Bill Cunningham is one of those rare important people in the fashion industry who simply reports style instead of dictating it. Every day, he puts on his cheap blue smock, loads his camera with film and cycles the street of new York on his Schwinn, looking for something beautiful to photograph.
In ‘Bill on Bill’, a rare autobiographical piece that Cunningham wrote in 2002, he said, “Back in the 60’s, I remember that Eleanor Nangle and I were sitting at one of Oscar de la Renta’s first shows in New York when she heard antiwar protesters down in the street. She said: “Come on, Bill, we’re leaving. The action isn’t here.”” We got up and skipped out of the show. I knew from photographing people on the streets that the news was not in the showrooms. It was on the streets.”

This was written a full ten years before street style blew up – some might say right in our faces. And yet, whether you are aware of street style or not, Bill Cunningham remains, unchanging. He’s one of the most important chroniclers of our time, and has been for several decades. He’s a burst of warm sunshine – the perfect person to get to know on a self-conscious Sunday.

Licentiate Column 25/4/13: Thinking About Tattoos

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about various things. This is good because a) if I didn’t, then the space where this column usually goes would be occupied by a picture of me shrugging and b) if I didn’t have any brain activity, I would most likely be a dead person – and I’ve heard that’s not much fun.

This week’s thought space has been disproportionately concerned with tattoos. Tattoos have been around for thousands of years, existing in almost as many social contexts. Only recently has the tattoo been floated as a fashion statement, despite that fact that only clothes and tattoos are specifically designed to be worn on the body.

Is a tattoo a valid fashion statement? My first reaction is no. When it comes down to it, fashion is fleeting and temporary; it exists in a series of moments, preserved only when there is a pen or a camera around to capture it. A tattoo is much more personal – and much more permanent.

I’ve been thinking about getting one particular tattoo for about five years. It’s a book illustration, very small and very personal. I know where I want it to go. I know who I want to do it.

I can never find the motivation to book it.

People wear clothes to express who they are, but tattoos express the essence of a person. While an outfit says a lot about a person’s occupation, values, likes, dislikes and social status, the tattoo tells a story often burdened with feeling (I am now remembering, shamefully, asking a man I had just met what his tattoo meant, only to have him dissolve into tears over the death of a loved one).

A tattoo is a personal statement, not a fashion statement. It’s a shame that the underlying reason people give for not liking the tattoos on other people is because ‘it looks cheap’. It’s an amazing world we live in, when we are raised not to judge people on how they naturally look, but make blithe assumptions of a lack of class when we consider a change in look that a person has planned his or herself.

A tattoo is ownership. It is a person assuming autonomy over her body. Because tattoos are so personal, they transcend notions of class or taste. A tattoo belongs only to the person whose skin bear its marks. A person who passes judgement on the tattoos of others passes it in an invalid way. It won’t hold up in court.

A good friend of mine has been itching to get a tattoo on her chest. On first telling me this, my face immediately scrunched up into confusion and distaste. ‘Why would anyone want to do that?’ I wondered.

Then, of course, I realised that it didn’t really matter. Not my chest, not my place to stick my oar in. Ink will not change a person. The mark that can do that, you can’t see on the skin.

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.

The Reading List: The Language of Clothes

Well, well, well.

For the first time in, well, ever I don’t have a new book to review. So, this is the perfect opportunity to showcase a few books in my collection that aren’t particularly new or popular. As voted by Facebook friends, this is The Language of Clothes by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alison Lurie.


Before we start, have a think. What do your clothes say about you? If you don’t know, then Alison Lurie is about to tell you.

The subtitle to this book is The Definitive Guide to People-Watching Through the Ages and that, basically, is what it is. As it was published in 1981, the book is a little bit outdated and doesn’t really take into account how fluid and easy identity-hopping would become with modern day dressing. It is, however, a very enlightening read for anyone interested in semiotics, clothes or general people skills.

The book is split into sections dealing with clothing and age, clothing and signals, clothing and time, place, sex, gender, status, opinion, pattern, sex… Almost everything that can be read into a person’s outfit is read into.

By no means the last word on how clothes are a communication tool, The Language of Clothes is very comprehensive. The outdated and (even by 1980s standards) ignorant language is quite off-putting. ‘Blacks’, ‘queers’ and ‘retards’ are casually dropped in, transvestism is confused with transgender and there is one interesting mention of a ‘coolie hat’.

Just what is a ‘coolie hat’? Actually, don’t tell me. It might make me sad.








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


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.

Licentiate Column 13/12/12: The Curse of the Christmas Jumper

This is me the last time I wore a Christmas jumper. Note 1) the lack of tinsel and 2) How drunk I am not.

Christmas is not a time for class and tact. Goodwill to all men perhaps, but a rough-hewn version of goodwill, all mince-pies and Twelve Pubs of Christmas, not cocktails and canapes and elongated vowels (“Merry Christmas, daaaahling!”).

Perhaps that’s why the Christmas Jumper has become so popular. It’s well on its way to becoming one of those festive staples that is done ironically at first, but after a few pints of mulled wine, becomes an excuse to act like a total and utter ass. How unrefined.

I may be biased. Last night I spent a much-anticipated few hours with a group of fellow female writers in Dublin. The company was great, the monster nachos I ate were also excellent and the two pubs were well-chosen hangouts. However, the last late bar we went into was typical of those often block-booked for office Christmas parties. You know the kind of party; peppered with Sexy Santas and men wearing well-pressed suit trousers and cheap Christmas jumpers from Penneys.

The Christmas jumper is a justification for acting like a complete and utter prat. A person looks ridiculous, so it is obviously becoming to act ridiculously as well. If it’s something as inoffensive as skanking like a loon, a person can be forgiven. If, however, you wish to project your Christmas cheer onto others in the form of vomit, word or otherwise, I’d advise you to get your act together. It’s a long way from here to New Year’s Eve and mass-produced holiday woollens, like a person’s liver, can burn out very quickly from overuse.

Clothing can be used to express many vital things – your job, your personality, your preferences in terms of almost everything. A Christmas Jumper in a pub, in my experience, expresses the following – “I will invade your personal space in the name of holiday fun, then I’ll get offended when you assert your boundaries by talking loudly to your friends about Mooncups and period pain. Finally, when I cop on that you don’t want to entertain me, I will tell you that you have undefined but incredibly serious ‘issues’, which will piss you off so much that you’ll just have to go away for a bit”.

Men of Ireland (just the obnoxious ones) – let not your Christmas Jumpers define you. You too can pop on a funny hat and a red pullover with a penguin on it without becoming a tiresome boor. I believe in you.

The Christmas Jumper needs to be rehabilitated. We need to go back to the days of unironic, begrudging jumper wearing. Think Colin Firth as Mark Darcy at the turkey curry buffet in Bridget Jones’ Diary, not Colin Firth in Fever Pitch.

Just in case you were wondering, I do own a Christmas Jumper. It has a picture of Garfield wearing a Santa hat, saying something very pessimistic. If the jumper fits, I say wear it.

Mama Said Knock You Out…

… with her sartorial nous.  My mother couldn’t punch her way out of a recycled paper bag.

I keep yammering on about my mother in columns and post, so it’s high time you saw a picture and put a face to the name (well, the name being ‘Mom’).

Paisley shirt from Zara, fairisle jumper from my mother’s own fair hands, lack of wrinkles a result of decades of Ponds Cold Cream use and no vices whatsoever – because I know you were wondering…