Once upon a time, in the far off land known as Primary School, I learnt a lesson that wasn’t part of the curriculum. It all started quite innocently, when I was doing my hair one morning. For some reason, I decided to put an extra hair tie in my pony tail. Then another. And another. I liked the way I seemed to be creating a tower based on my hair, so I kept going. It looked silly, but I loved it. Who knows what my mum thought; evidently, she wasn’t opposed to my going to school with my hair wobbling on top of my head, encased in a glorious, multi-coloured tube.
The trouble started once I got to school and sat down in my desk. My friend at the time took one look at me and declared: “I’m not sitting next to you with hair like that.” She and some other friends then proceeded to take my hair down and ‘fix’ it. My happiness deflated as quickly as my hair did under their ministrations and I learnt the lesson: If you don’t fit in with everyone else, you’ll upset your friends and possibly lose them.
This is a lesson we all learn to a certain degree, especially when we move on to secondary school. Wear the right clothes. Have the right hair. Fit in. But the little girl who built a tower of hair never really went away and she grew up into someone who secretly wanted to break away and look different but who didn’t quite have the courage to do it.
Until she discovered vintage bloggers.
I always knew they were out there, but discovering and reading the blogs of people who espoused the styles of yesteryear was a revelation. They looked like they’d stepped out of the past… and they went out in public like that. Amazing! I’d never have the confidence to do something like that, would I?
And yet, somehow, retro-styled items were creeping into my wardrobe. I discovered the Dangerfield and Review sections at Myer and spent ages trawling through racks of gorgeous dresses, swirly skirts and glorious cardigans. Suddenly, dressing up for work became an enjoyable task and my style went from ‘Girl Friday’ (pencil skirts and pinstripe trousers with fancy shirts) through to ‘Retro-tastic’ (slinky wiggle-style dresses and forties style floral tea dresses with a rainbow assortment of cardigans).
Clothes became a way to express my love for social history and to finally accept that, yes, I’m a bit of a hipster at heart and I wouldn’t mind living in a house with a range in the kitchen, thank-you very much. I draw the line at drinking out of jars, though.
Clothes allow you to wear your personality; they let you develop your own style. And when you have style, you don’t need to worry about fashion. You can wear your 1920s heels with your 1960s mini-dress and that’s fine. You can take one look at the fashion for dipped hems and decide it is not for you. And you can wear your hair in a tube of hair ties and not care what anyone thinks of it.
Come to think of it, Shakespeare got it right in Hamlet when he had Polonius give some advice to Laertes:
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
Or woman, Will. Don’t forget the woman.
Style is all about being true to yourself and not bothering what anyone else will think. Who said the hourglass was the only acceptable female shape? Waist, no waist, tall, short, big hips, straight up and down… embrace whatever your body shape happens to be and the devil take those who disapprove! I once told a girl in a shop that I don’t wear skirts with hems below my knees because they make me look short. Shorter.
“Me too,” she said. “But I don’t care!”
True to her word, she was wearing just such a skirt and she looked fabulous. In many ways, style is about not giving a damn how you’re meant to look, according to society or fashion designers or disapproving people on the bus. Style is about wearing clothes that make you feel good and really shouldn’t involve anyone else’s opinion at all.
So go on. Wear Victory rolls in your hair to work. Wear a skirt when you only wear pants. Put on that dress you love, even though it’s no longer in fashion. Life’s too short to dress for anyone but yourself.