Fashion, Licentiate Columns

Licentiate Column 01/11/12: Baby, It’s Cold Outside

What I think I look like in pajamas. The reality is more heffalumpish. Pic by Nina Leen for LIFE

Are you cold? I’m cold. I’m bloody freezing. My toes have turned to icy nubs that jolt me awake in chilly shock whenever I shift about in my sleep. Two hot water bottles and the occasional hot port have no alleviating effect. The fuzzy pink Penney’s pajamas I discovered in the airing cupboard make me a little warmer, not that that’s any consolation to the people in hot countries who slave away (in some cases literally) to make us our cut-price winter warmers.

I have taken to working in bed. The pajamas stay. I lump on brightly coloured shawls, hats and jewellery – the jewellery is a smokescreen to make me believe that I am making some kind of effort. It’s like aspirin – I don’t know quite how it works, but it really does. I look like a person who has gone on a gap year to Peru and decided that the locals know where it’s at, wardrobe-wise.

I think that this is perfectly acceptable. I still get my work done, I get to stay warm and no-one sees me looking like an ersatz bag lady/Olsen twin. It’s not my priority to look nice, or even presentable, when I’m at home by myself – the priority is to be cozy or, as a friend of mine who lives in Copenhagen says, hygge. ‘Hygge’ is a great word. It may even be a cozier word than ‘cozy’.

When I step outside the house, though, I am less ‘hygge’ than ‘hyggledy piggeldy’. I have yet to master the gentle art of layering that comes so easily to tall, sylphette women and less to to shortish, vaguely lumpish ones with, y’know, curves n’stuff.

Still, we shall struggle valiantly on, trying to strike that balance between beguiling and well-swaddled. Until the average person’s social life revolves around wearing pjs and never, ever going outside, we will have to spend our time socialising, running errands and attempting to have some semblance of a romantic life wrapped in several layers of fuzzy fibres, making a person look like a less jolly Sta Puft man.

It’s not a lot to ask to want to look both presentable and be warm during the wintertime. Here are a few tips.

1) Take care of your bod. Your face is the one part of your body that will repeatedly be exposed – and the elements we are exposed to are harsh ones. Take your multivitamins, change to a richer moisturiser as the weather will dry out your skin and invest in a few hot oil treatments for your hair. A healthy, glowy person wrapped in a soiled blanket will look better than an unhealthy sniffling one in Burberry.

2) Embrace technology. More specifically, embrace the new generation of thermal underwear, which adds no bulk but is still soft, breathable and snuggly warm. Best of all – it’s available in most high-street stores.

3) Proportions are key. Wearing a lot on top? Keep it slim on the bottom. Skinny jeans (with thermal leggings underneath) tucked into mid-heeled ankle boots will nicely balance out whatever millefeuille duvet-like concoctions we can come up with.

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Licentiate Column 11/10/12: Do as the Natives Do

Last week, I went to Malta. It was hot. Ridiculously hot. I got on the plane in Dublin in six degree weather wearing a metallic biker jacket and grey marl sweatshirt flecked with silver thread. I got off to twenty eight degree heat and enough accumulated sweat to power a desalination plant.

My make-up immediately slid off my face on to a puddle on the floor and started mocking me for not knowing that metal is a conductor of heat and polyvinyl fabric is not breathable. I was either extremely dehydrated or in possession of a subconscious that is so self-loathing that even my slap talks back to me. It could be both, but if that’s true, it turns out that my subconscious is easily soothed with a glass of water and a change into a fresh cotton t-shirt.

The native Maltese women are different creatures altogether. The next day, while taking a coffee break in the island’s capital of Valetta, I noticed that it was very easy to distinguish the natives from their tourist counterparts just by clothing alone – although it would have been just as easy to identify the tourists by their (and my) wheezy, sweaty honey-glazed ham exteriors.

The Maltese women I saw out and about had impossibly shiny hair and were wearing some great tailoring – breezy white shirts, and pencil skirts the ended a few inches above the knee. Colours were light, silhouettes were flattering and any perspiration, presumably, was absorbed into nothingness like total magic.

Dressing for a holiday is difficult, especially if you come from a temperate (read: my toes have frostbite) country into a slightly sweltering one. Tourists dress like, well, tourists. To call the way we tourists dress ‘predictable’ would be far too predictable, but why call a spade a gardening implement when ‘spade’ will do just as well? We ARE predictable.

I blame the media. I blame fashion journalists and, to a lesser extent, I blame myself. We think we’re so smart, writing and reading articles on how to dress for certain occasions without ever thinking if the context is really correct. The pictures in the magazines tell us to buy floaty maxi dresses, thong sandals and khaki shorts – which is only really just as well if these are the kind of things that you’d wear anyway.

We shouldn’t be reading articles about what tourists are wearing on holidays, we should be reading articles about what the women who live in our holiday destinations are wearing (especially if what you pack will be weather-dependent). Going to Paris? Make it black and expensive. New York? Have impeccable hair and nails and the rest will follow.
Next time I go to Malta, I will be thinking about dressing like a Maltese woman. Not in a weird, cultural-appropriation, ‘I’m going to wear your traditional embroidered costumes’ way, just in a normal, everyday way.

How many times have you seen a tourist in Ireland struggling to deal with the constant oscillation between rain and sun? Irish people know to always have an umbrella and sunglasses on their person if they’re going to be on the street for more than a few minutes. It a reflex that is the product of years of conditioning. For once, we’re out on top.

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Licentiate Column 02/08/12: I Swear I’m Not a Prostitute

Furtive, shameful hand shandy in the back of a van, not pictured

A funny thing happened to me on the way from the post office today.

Maybe that’s not the best way to start a story, but the rest of said story is sufficiently entertaining that the mediocre introduction can be forgiven.

It was a drizzly day, the former part of which I had spent in my pajamas. I had to go run a few errands, so I threw on a pair of black jeans with salsa stains on the left thigh, a ratty t-shirt, scraped my hair back in a bun and popped on my twenty nine euro Specsavers glasses. The post office was only a few hundred yards away, so I figured that it wasn’t a big deal.

I was standing outside the post office, sipping from a can of pop and waiting for the drizzle to make up its mind about whether it wanted to be a downpour or not when a man in a white van pulled up and nodded at me. I ignored him the first time, then the second, then on the third go I gave a tentative, confused nod back, because in my hometown any middle-aged man who nods at me is more than likely to be my second cousin.

Gentle reader, I married him. No, that’s not true.

I decided to stop the nodding and crossed the road behind his van, heading in the opposite direction. Terrifyingly, he did a U-turn, parked right in front of me and tried to initiate a conversation.

To cut a very long, very creepy story short, he mistook me for a prostitute. An actual prostitute. The women who have sex for money. And not the ‘high-class’ kind of prostitute; the ‘furtive hand shandy in the back of a van with a man who looks like Onslow from Keeping Up Apprearances’ kind of prostitute. I ended up doing an increasingly panicky speedwalk home, terrified that I was going to be abducted.

There are outfits that teenage daughters wear that can worry their parents. And then there are outfits that are more dried tomato and herb than actual fabric. My ensemble was firmly entrenched in the second camp. Encrusted, even.

I have gone out in more than my fair share of provocative outfits and never received a backwards glance. I have gone out as the sartorial equivalent of a bin near a Mexican restuarant and been mistaken for a hooker.

The proof is in the pudding. It’s not what you wear that makes you a slut (for pay or otherwise) – you’re clearly a slut when another man decides, often baselessly, that you are one. It’s total and utter tripe. Whoreishness is in the eyes of the beholder, and the beholder who judges you as a slut based on your appearance clearly leaves something to be desired in themselves.

It’s a liberating but ultimately depressing thought. It doesn’t really matter what you wear, because people are probably going to get the wrong impression anyway.

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Licentiate Column 26/07/12: Naked Makes More Sense

If supermodels can do it, so should we. Oh, wait a minute…

It is hard to dress for Irish weather at the best of times.  Every year I think that it’ll be the year I get to talk about swimwear and shorts, but it’s now reaching the end of July and the majority of the population still have yet to buy their first summer ‘99 (with extra Flake, please).

At time of writing, its is warm during the day, but cloudy and also rainy.  It it freezing at night.  Wear a jacket, you boil.  Take it off, you get soaked.  Jeans go clammy in a matter of minutes.  Opaque tights are uncomfortable.  Unclad, untanned legs look at bit like chicken fillets that have been left to defrost and unfortunately forgotten about in the kitchen sink.

How best to dress for comfort in this weather?  Go nude.  Carry a blanket and an umbrella around in a hold-all for cold/wet situations.  There is no other way to go in terms of comfort.  The only by-product of your comfort is the extreme discomfort of others when you decide that the blanket that covers your shame would also double as a nice picnic blanket for lunch in the Peace Park.

Or try a dehumidifier suit.  I’m pretty sure that they haven’t been invented yet, but surely someone will find a way (just to let you know, I demand 10% of the profits right off).  You will be cool and cozy – with the added bonus of scaring small children, scattering them like confused pigeons as you stroll down Patrick Street of a Saturday afternoon.

Go into a department store and try on everything over your suit.  Cause a fuss when nothing fits and rampage out like a 1950’s B-Movie monster, perhaps taking a few celebrity perfume ad cardboard cut-outs with you.  If your summer is as boring as this weather is, you’ll thank me later.  If you get sued, we never met and you definitely didn’t get that idea from me – by the way, I still want that 10% of the humidity suit profits.

If you’re of the school of Gaga and determined to make your personal sartorial expression independent to the whims of the weather system, you’ll have to make the ‘slightly sweaty ham’ look a Summer trend.  Whether it’s black jeans or a full-on fur coat, wear it with pride, bring oil-blotting pads for your face and under no circumstances should you attempt to wear a fringe, even if it does hide the glowing, struggling pink beacon that is the forehead.

It may be tempting, but please, please do not give in to the urge to wear leggings as trousers.  I know it’s easy breezy.  Its the clothing equivalent of eating McDonalds for every meal; it’s too convenient and you may eventually die inside. Case in point – today I saw a picture of a woman on a bus wearing incredibly tight, nude leggings.  To my myopic eyes, it looked like she had forgotten both trousers and underwear.  I can never unsee that. Never.  And neither will anyone else.

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Licentiate Column 03/05/2012: What to wear when your clothes don’t fit

Weight goes up. Weight goes down. If you carry enough excess weight, you can move it all around (especially if you’re on a trampoline or using a pneumatic drill). Unfortunately, clothing doesn’t have the same fluid elasticity as the human body. I should know. I’ve been zigzagging back and forth between the same three stone for the better part of a decade.

I was always a plump kid. I hid away in my green and navy tartan school kilt, swathing myself in black as a very unconvincing goth at weekends. Then I had a boyfriend. Then I went to college. Then I broke up with said boyfriend and dropped the weight almost as quickly as he found someone new to play with, thanks in no small part to the Arts Student Atkins diet of low fat Subway subs, Edam and kabanossi (with Tesco Value vodka to serve). That Jared guy had nothing on me.

As I got smaller, my clothes got smaller too. Pencil skirts morphed into tiny playsuits. The cleavage I revealed was now bountiful as opposed to cartoonish. I wore bodycon (!) and skinny jeans (!!) and may have managed to pull off the most hallowed of hallowed – the crop top (!!!).

Fast forward five years and I’m back to square one. I’m the same weight I was when I was sixteen and now half my wardrobe no longer fits me. I keep the clothes as symbols, as memory jogs, but mostly because I hope to lose the weight and be all, y’know, cute and small, because feeling like a heffalump has a majority share in my emotions bank at the moment (but maybe 51% – the rest of the time I’m good).

I would like to lose the weight and get back into that playsuit, not just because of the physical validation that women are indoctrinated to feel, but for a variety of reasons; to feel better about myself, to prove that I have self control and determination, to become fit and healthy. Also it’s a darn cute playsuit.

Being overweight is not fun. Here’s why. 1) The clothes you like may not look as flattering as you want them to and 2) it’s unhealthy. Really, really unhealthy.

No-one likes listening to other people harp on about weight loss, but we love reading about crash diets. It’s absurd. I told a friend once about models that ate cotton wool soaked in orange juice to keep their weight down – and she actually tried it. Surprise, surprise, it was unsustainable and she ended up fainting on a bus.

I have a pair of jeans from my slim phase that I will wear once I lose the weight. Almost every women has one secreted away. Since I don’t want to embark on the old regime of hard cheese and cured Polish meats, I’ve had to go for the healthier, slower, less vodka-soaked option.

Once I fit into those jeans again, I will let that be my marker. My mother, who has maintained an enviably slim figure despite three square meals and four children tells me that her jeans are her marker. If they’re getting tight, it’s time to eat right. Sound advice from Mama Waldron, as usual.

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Licentiate Column 26/04/12: Dressing for homeless people.

I’m an itinerant. In the inevitable picking-over that happens when a relationship dies, someone has to lose out. I lost my flat. My lovely (mouldy), well-situated (tiny), rooftop (freezing) flat. I’m without boyfriend, without home. Cue violins.

My mother says that I’ll always have a home with her, but her home is unfortunately not in Cork or anywhere near it – let’s just say that I can’t take the 232 in every day. In between jaunts to Cork, where I sleep on the sofa in what used to be my home and stays in my hometown, where my brother sleeps in what used to be my room, I have to regularly travel to Dublin for work.

This has its advantages, like getting to say, breezily, ‘Oh, I split my time between Cork and Dublin’ to easily impressed men in the pub. It also has its disadvantages. I may develop a stress and sofa-induced hiatal hernia. I also live out of a bag.

For the past three, no, four weeks I have been wearing and occasionally laundering the same clothes. Four sleeveless tops from Zara; two white, two grey. One black Agnes b cardigan. One black Topshop tux jacket. One grey Topman sweatshirt. One pair of indigo jeans from Penneys. One white lace dress with black leather collar and cuffs. One pair of black cut-out ankle boots, one pair of black and white Adidas low-tops and one pair of (in a shock twist) black leather heels.

You’d excuse me for making a bad pun about all the colour being leached out of my life, you really would. But it hasn’t. The colour has just vanished from my wardrobe. It’s not a grand symbolic statement. For one thing, the bag I use is a vibrant, crimson, overripe tomato red, so I’m at a loss as to what that might signify.

Black, white, grey. It’s all I wear. In the past month, these few things have taken me to Dublin, Barcelona, Dublin, Hometown, Cork, Hometown, Cork, Dublin, Cork and right back to Hometown. The versatility of these colours and shapes hypnotise me, keep me tranquilised. I forget that I have a wardrobe at all, let alone items of clothing that contain two or more different colours.

Black, white, grey. They’re like Valium. You get so used to it that you don’t care about anything else. The clothes are doing all the hard work for you, so you can concentrate on getting from one place to the other. Do work, pay bills, meet friends. Sleep. Repeat. Descend into monosyllables. Refuse to let any external embellishment meander through life, which can so easily devolve into a series of functions without the joy of colour.

Black, white, grey. They’re just functional colours. That’s all I need my clothes to do at the moment. Look nice. Be comfortable. Don’t embarrass me. Life is complicated enough already.

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Licentiate Column 19/04/12: Girls dress for other girls

“Girls don’t dress for guys, they dress for other girls,” said the girl checking her eye make-up in the smeared, scarred mirror in the toilet of what may possibly be the grottiest bar in Cork City. Her friends squealed in assent, obviously delighted by the rare pearl of profundity uttered by who must be Montaigne reincarnated – just with tomato red hair and a stretchy Topshop minidress.

I looked down at my outfit and appraised. A high-collared white lace shift dress, tights, bovver boots, and a thick Mod overcoat. She might have a point. Every night when groups of girls go out on the town, greetings are often paired with ‘I LOVE your dress!’, “Oh my God, where did you get that?’ and other fawning sequiturs.

I don’t dress for men, mostly because I don’t have the patience or regard for that kind of grooming and personal hygiene. I also don’t know where to start. Men are weird creatures.

Last night I went to a party. One of the hosts was wearing an Adidas hoodie and a floral dress, which at best was a misguided nod to Marc Jacobs. He said that he couldn’t find his trousers and this was the obvious alternative. I’m pretty sure that he wasn’t dressing for the opposite sex, or even his own.

How would you dress to attract this man? Pop on a three piece tweed suit maybe?
When I look through my wardrobe it’s either through a nerdy or a practical eye. Dressmaker’s copies of YSL couture from the 1960s sit beside four identical grey sleeveless tees from Zara very comfortably.

Yet, when I buy an item of clothing that I love and imagine myself getting a compliment (everyone does that, don’t they?), I imagine my friends paying them. Not family members. Definitely not men.

If I had to choose between being stylish or beautiful, I’d pick stylish every time. I’ve broken my nose three times, so the conventional beauty boat has sailed. It’s like Sophie’s Choice for Generation Superficial. Beauty is overrated. To be approved of because of your looks, especially in some kind of sexual lens, is no approval at all.
To be approved of because of your style is a compliment to your personal vision, ingenuity and creativity and general canniness. And to be approved of my your friends is a cast iron endorsement by your peers. That’s all we want – to fit in as part of a group without compromising yourself and becoming a fraction of an amorphous friend blob.

But still, I don’t put on an outfit and think ‘now my friends will really LOVE this’ before skipping off to a cocktail bar to self-absorbedly bleat, Carrie-like (both Bradshaw and White) about my life problems. I and my friends want to look like the best version of ourselves; comfortable, flattered, fresh, bright, interesting. If we dressed for men we would probably just look the most naked, hairless version of ourselves (save for a smattering of fake tan).

Most women don’t want to do that. I hope.

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