All my life, I’ve heard my mother come home from town uttering the same phrase. “There are no clothes!” she says. “There is NOTHING in the shops.”
My mother is not a spendthrift or a woman who pays attention to trends: she’s simply a very elegant person. She is so elegant and understated, in fact, that she despises being mentioned in this column at all, and so I must treat her with the dignity of a member of minor European aristocracy and stop mentioning her now.
But I’m starting to get her point. When you’re young there are clothes everywhere. Or rather, you are willing to take a chance on clothes because you don’t know yourself very well yet.
You fill your basket with cheap summer dresses that are lovely except they have one thing wrong with them: a missing sleeve, a gaping hole in the back, no shoulders, are covered in a twee vintage print of toy poodles. Some of these dresses stick around until your 30s; most of them get one wear and then lay abandoned underneath your best friend’s couch until she moves out and texts you a picture of it. They are fast fashion in the sense that they are made quickly and cheaply; they are also fast fashion in the sense that you often act fast when you’re in them.
But as you get older, you start having an understanding of what looks good on you and what makes you feel powerful. You realise that what looks good on you and makes you feel powerful are four specific things, and none of those things are in the shops right now. You realise that you are in a hinterland of female fashion. You are not in your Jacqueline Onassis years, where you have a signature look and a tailor named Johns who fits your fabulous Chanel suits to your body. But you are not a hot little idiot anymore, either. You will not take a chance on the eight quid toy poodle dress.
So now what do we wear? Well, judging by every fashion website for women over the age of 28 and under the age of 50, we now wear the following:
I suppose this makes sense, given that millennial women came of age in the time of books like, and If You’re Not A French Woman, You Might As Well Give Up.
All the same, surely one t-shirt that says ‘bien’ on it is enough? Do I really need t-shirts that say ‘Je t’aime’ and ‘le weekend’ on them, too?
I love animal prints. I have a pink leopard coat that I would save if my house was on fire. But it’s my understanding that the point of animal print is that you’re being a bit slaggy, a bit loud, a bit Pat Butcher, a bit lighting-one-fag-off-another, a bit ‘why not come up and see me some time?’ You wear an animal print boldly and close to your body. So how come every dress on ASOS is a loose-fitting A-line smock that wafts around you like you’re hiding a pregnancy? A few of these would be fine, but they’re everywhere. What is the point of leopard print, I ask you, if you look like something that infinite clowns might emerge from?
Where does the bra go??????
I’m not a fan of floral prints generally. Miranda Priestly said it best, I think: “Florals? For spring? Groundbreaking.” I think they’re insipid but I am willing to accept them as a method of bringing a lot of colour into an outfit. Which is why I’m so confused about black floral dresses, usually with flowers in a miserable turquoise or pink on top of it. It makes me very confused. This is a colour scheme that belongs to teenage girls going to a Cure gig in 1992, on a thigh-skimming dress paired with Doc Martens. That is who black floral prints are for.
Black florals on a long dress for an adult woman is just bad. It’s ‘I’m spicing up my widowhood, but not so much that my dowager aunt will give me hassle’.
The thing about midi-skirts is that we all think we’re going to look like Monica Belucci if we wear them. That we’re going to saunter through our small Sicilian town, our bums elegantly framed by stiff satin while a swirl of material gathers around our ankles. You buy midi-skirts for those evenings on holidays where you get up from your siesta just in time for dinner and say ‘oh, shall we just walk to the restaurant?’ Over the last few years, the fashion industry has been trying to make midi-skirts ‘happen’ for everyday wear. With white trainers, they say, and a denim jacket. If you can make it happen good luck to you, but I currently have three midi skirts in my closet that still have the tags on.
How do they stay on your feet????
* Caroline O’Donoghue is a Cork-born writer living in London. She is the author ofand .