Significant memories, from childhood to the present, are almost always accompanied in my head by a recollection of what I was wearing at the time. What one wears has always seemed a vital form of self-expression, and as soon as I was able to choose what I wore, I wore with gusto, often making my own clothes from scratch or deconstructing pieces of clothing I already had. In the late seventies and early eighties, when I was a punk, I wasn’t so much into the black bin bags and safety pins, as I was into subverting ideas of how one “should” dress: delicate floral trousers and a mohican, leggings made out of chopped-up t-shirts and sewn directly onto my legs, an old suede coat of my aunts, cut down to a mini-skirt and turned inside out… On and off, for most of my life, I have been able to improvise outfits for any kind of mood, even as I have cycled in and out of obsessions with colours or shapes. Clothes have always been my armour, as well as light relief and solace. I bought them, made them, acquired them, accumulated them, and could always be relied on to have whatever anyone needed for a wedding or a fancy dress party or anything else. Every year in the spring and autumn, I would pull out my boxes of summer and winter clothes, and feel excited about the combination of pieces which would make up the backbone of my wardrobe. Until one autumn, I pulled out the boxes, and realized I wanted to change how I felt about the clothes I had.
After I turned 50, I let my grey hair grow out, and I realized that, particularly in a country where women tend not to allow their grey out, people have very strong opinions about grey hair, which they feel free to express. I wanted it to be clear that the colour of my hair was a positive choice, not representative of a drifting into invisibility. Somehow, though, my wardrobe was drifting that way; I seemed to have multiples of soft, shapeless wool dresses, and multiples of … well, everything really. Although I prided myself on not being a high-street, fast-fashion consumer, I had access to attractive, inexpensive clothes to switch up the old faithfuls, and unlike the old faithfuls, the inexpensive ones had a tendency to start to decline after a few washes, so I had back-ups.
Being simultaneously bored and overwhelmed by my clothes, added to the feeling that I wanted to dress a bit more like a grown up and less like a deranged ageing toddler (fun though that look could be), as well as an interest in knowing where my clothes came from and how they were made, prompted me to make the decision to completely overhaul my wardrobe. And although I had no intention of starting from scratch, I did ask myself the question, if I WAS starting from scratch, where would I start?