Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Wardrobe Stories - Prom Dresses

For some reason, the last couple of weeks have seen an upsurge in debate about the prevalence of proms in the UK. 

The media's attention was completely captivated by the (true) story of two sixteen year olds - Emily Pounde and Hannah Jagger turning up to their school prom in barbie boxes. Since then, the topic has been tackled from multiple angles on radio, TV, print and online: economist reports on the amount spent on dresses; feminist fears over the messages being sent to girls (exam results eclipsed by the 'achievement' of being best-dressed); nationalists bemoaning the death of more British events like the humble school disco and the traditional ball.

Although it feels like another lifetime, it wasn't actually so long ago that I attended my own school 'prom' (only it wasn't called that back then). There were two, in fact: the leavers' party at sixteen marked the end of compulsory schooling, and the boat party at eighteen marked the end of secondary education for those of us who had stayed on for AS and A-Level exams. Listening to Jane Garvey on BBC Radio 4 asking interviewees about their experience of prom made me think of my own - and in particular, my outfit.

The ensemble I wore is pictured above and it's another 'found fashion' story. I bought the halterneck top for (from memory) around 5 euros from a bargain basket in Germany - I was away with the school on language exchange at the time. And the skirt is a wrap-round that I flipped inside out to reveal more of the yellow 'silk' and less of the green lace; I picked that up for 10 pounds from Camden Market in London. I wore H&M Indian slippers, I have no idea where the belt is from and I'm pretty sure I wore the same outfit to both parties. 

Turning up and feeling beautiful on a shoestring budget was addictive - it started the personal trend that continues to this day, and has included many a ball dress and wedding outfit sourced from charity and vintage shops. Incredibly, at almost 25 years old and having attended a university with some pretty spectacular balls and black-tie events, the only dress I've ever bought that cost over £100 was my wedding dress. None of the others have even come close.

I'm not outright opposed to spending lots of money on clothes. Actually, one of the things I'm thinking about frequently at the moment is how I can get past cheap, fast fashion and learn to pay for the full value of clothes: the work that goes into their production, the ethical lines that source materials responsibly. Even so, like most people who are well-off compared to the majority of the world, I'm still on a budget. If I had the financial freedom to, I think I would probably enjoy investing in a few designer pieces - I would relish the artistry, the back-story and history. 

But at the end of the day, just like it can't buy happiness, money can't buy style. The deciding factor in the 'best-dressed' equation is not what you wear, it's how you wear it. That was what my 'prom' taught me. If I could give one gift to girls getting ready for their American-style proms, it would be the grace to learn that lesson too.

Wardrobe Stories' are a string of posts helping me to appreciate the clothes and accessories I own in an atmosphere where it's easy to end up taking things for granted.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Thank Goodness for... Wise Recycling

It's not everyday that you find out about a great 'social justice' initiative while queueing up at the bank (although I guess that depends on who you bank with - a thought for another day). 

A few months ago, the logo of a local charity caught my eye while I was waiting to pay in a cheque. It was on a stack of bags that were free for anyone to take. On closer inspection, the bags turned out to be freepost recycling envelopes courtesy of Wise Recycling Ltd.

The service is simple: empty printer cartridges sent to this company are recycled, with 20% of the cartridge value being given to the charity nominated on the bag. Bags can be ordered for free on their website, which also allows you to view and select the charity you want to support. A range of charities are available and you can suggest new ones. A similar donation system applies if you purchase the printer cartridge online, or when you recycle mobile phones and foreign coins.

There are so many bits and pieces that make up the machinery of my life: from computer parts and household objects, to grooming gadgets like electric toothbrushes. When they pass their functional best, figuring out how to get rid of them is often a complete mystery to me. 

I remember, clearly, the moment in my teens when I really thought about the fact that there's no such place as 'away': when I throw things 'away' they end up in some very real place, more often than not doing some very real environmental damage.

Much to my shame, it's a realisation I still haven't fully acted on. But at least in this one tiny area there's a little bit of help, assisting me by providing a great way to both recycle and give to charity all at once. Hoorah!
'Thank Goodness for...' 
Posts that celebrate the positive impact people and organisations are having on overwhelming issues
As a 'PS': I'm starting to scratch the surface of a really interesting conversation being had by people who are cleverer and more committed than me in all things environmental. Check out talk of 'the circular economy' on the Ellen Macarthur Foundation website.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

100 Postcards

The 100 postcards project continues with a few favourite quotes being sent out to largely unsuspecting recipients:

"The highest reward for a man's toil is not what he gets for it, but what he becomes by it." - John Ruskin, Writer & Critic

"We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery, guided each by a private chart of which there is no duplicate. The world is all gates, all opportunities." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Even to your old age and grey hairs, I am He who will sustain you. I have made you. I will carry you. I will sustain you. I will rescue you." - Isaiah 46v4 (The Bible)

They've all meant something special to me at different times: reminding me not to be so results-orientated in the middle of stressful exams, finding me 'by co-incidence' and helping me be grateful for the unknown. They've done me so much good it's nice to pass them on. But if I had to choose a quote to send myself, today, right now it would be:
"Remember this:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows generously will also reap generously."
2 Cor 9v6   

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Vogue Talent Contest 2012

Thoughts from my last ever entry to Vogue's writing competition (I'll be 'too old' to enter next year). Some might say I was unsuccessful because I wasn't shortlisted from thousands to move on to the next stage of the competition. But sometimes just having a reason write and a chance to explore new ideas with integrity is enough. Sometimes.

Africana: A continent takes centre stage

Image created by artandwords on

From animal prints to "ethnic" chic, European designers have long looked to the landscape and traditions of Africa as a catalyst for inspiration. With a new incarnation of the trend amongst us for s/s 2012, now is the time to get under the skin of one of fashion's favourite themes.
Forget Asia or the Americas, there’s something about Africa that seems to capture the imagination when it comes to articulating the boldness and sense of escapism we crave after months of winter hibernation. Sun, safari and savannah plains, rugged landscapes and untamed animals – the continent conjures up images of exploration and adventure, setting pulses racing as we invest in our slice of life on the wild-side: snake-print bangles, raffia wedges, tribal dresses in a cacophony of colours.
This season the catwalks have been more than complicit.  Stripes and spots abound in the animal-inspired collections from the likes of Michael Kors and Robert Cavalli, while Burberry Prorsum imitates and re-imagines distinctly “African” fabrics. The high street, too, is following suit: Next, Zara and Topshop offer safari luxe, heavy-duty pattern and radiant florals, as does the ASOS Africa collection and elements of the collaboration Marni for H&M.
The enthusiasm with which European fashion embraces a recurrent African theme could be down to our desire for experiences outside of our familiar frames of reference. Delving into the dress of another culture gives us unparalleled and liberating permission for personal reinvention. But with connotations of being abroad on holiday, this is a trend that is often treated like a summer fling: filling an aching gap with vibrancy, but simultaneously persuading us that its intensity is unsuitable for a permanent place in our everyday lives.
For more astute observers, however, s/s 2012 is the season to challenge this limited view of Africa-influenced fashion. Thanks to a burgeoning industry of its own developing apace through the equalising effects of social media, now more than ever the continent is adding its contribution: successive collections that are shaped by a plurality overlooked from the outside. For these designers, “Africa” is always in fashion and a wealth of commentators are on-hand to help unfamiliar fashionistas grapple with the diverse spectrum of home-grown talent.
One must-have on the road to enlightenment is Helen Jennings’ masterpiece “New African Fashion”: a book that charts contextual underpinnings and profiles current ground-breakers and change-makers. For everyday application of trends from the continent and diaspora, look to blogs like “My African Closet” ( from Croydon-based Ghanaian designer AJ Taylor and Nigeria’s popular Spiralling out from these starting points are numerous links and further reading helping us learn the lexicon of national and local influences: from the historical heritage of different regional crafts and textiles to their on-going reinterpretation in modern societies.
This is the real adventure: unravelling the continent’s complexity and embarking on expeditions into an enhanced understanding. Our enriched wardrobes will thank us when we realise that Africana is for life, not just for a season.
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