Yesterday I laid a very dear friend to rest.
There was no elaborate funeral, no graveside eulogy, not even a quick trip to the crematorium. Instead there was the quiet rustle of the black plastic as I lovingly placed my old, faded, bobbly Alexon top (the cream one with chocolate and turquoise rings) into the recycling bag.
And it hurt! That top has been a great friend to me in the past five years (gosh, has it really been that long?). I can remember where I was when I bought it and how originally I thought it would be better for my friend who is a Summer. “No – it doesn’t work for me; see.” said Jackie, holding it up against herself, and immediately looking slightly jaundiced. “It’s yours!” And it was. It has stylishly tied together chocolate trousers and turquoise cardigans/jackets, added interest to my holiday turquoise capris, gone with all my pinks and greens. It has really worked hard for me.
But, inevitably, the hard wear has taken its toll and with the latest wardrobe review (I’ll be writing about how to do that next week) it has had to go. I’ll never find another one to match it. Goodbye top; may you Rest in Peace.
So I was thinking about our clothes as friends and that little phrase “friends for a reason, friends for a season and friends for life” popped into my mind. We all have people in our lives who fit into those categories, but how do we transfer that thinking to our clothes?
Well, obviously, nobody wants to have enemies in their wardrobes, or those clothes we initially think are friends and who turn out to be saying nasty things behind our back: “Yes, darling – your bum really does look big in me!” We want friends who are flattering but honest, loyal and true; friends we can spend time in, and friends which are useful to us.
So that business outfit we always choose for important presentations. A good friend indeed, and, if our career lasts longer than the jacket (let’s hope so) then a friend for the life of that outfit. Probably though, a friend for a reason. I get many women in my studio who no longer need all their business clothes now they have retired. Let those clothes go when they have served their purpose.
What about the clothes that express a fashion or trend? Definitely friends for only that season. Now, if a particular trend or fashion suits us, that’s great. The current neon colours are fantastic for Springs: let’s do them with gusto, girls. But let’s not spend too much money on them because with a trend this extreme you can be reasonably sure that it won’t stay around too long. The last thing we want is to look dated. Please note though, only Pure Classics can get away with doing only classic. The rest of us do need to have at least some contemporary items in our repertoire (I feel another blog coming on with that subject). When the fashion has passed then we need to let these friends move gracefully out of our wardrobes.
Who are the life-long friends then? These are your wardrobe staples: the well cut pair of trousers in your best neutral that fit you perfectly, the cashmere cardigan that looks effortlessly great teamed with jeans or popped over a summer frock at a garden party, even those hardworking Kettlewell tops that go on and on. Those friends are versatile, hardworking and give you pleasure every time you wear them.
And what is “life”? The answer can sometimes correspond directly to the quality of the garment (and probably the money you spent on it). A cheap and cheerful cotton cardi from Tesco (and I have quite a few) will last two seasons before looking tired. My Belinda Robertson cashmere cardis are currently over ten years old and still looking great. It’s a bit like having a pet. You know when you get a hamster you’re looking at about two years. A cat may last fifteen (My last cat made twenty-two), but if you take on a parrot – then just be prepared to make provision for it in your will!
Which brings me to my final point. When you have lovely clothes, you really need to wear them. A Spanish friend of mine was trying to explain to her South American business partner about the way we British save things for “best”. The girl from Argentina could not comprehend this at all. “But it’s true:” said Maria, in her delightful Spanish accent, “When the British die, they leave a lot of good clothes!”
I was going to suggest that we try to outlive all our clothes, and then the image of all of us in the Old Folks Home sitting around totally naked and very wrinkly swam into my head and won’t leave, so maybe we should have some clothes that outlive us, like that parrot. But as a rule, let’s buy only good friends, and spend lots of time in those good friends. If something is currently taking up space in your wardrobe that is not a good friend, then let it go. It’s not doing you any good and it could be another woman’s good friend for life. You will be doing that unknown woman a huge favour by letting that garment pass out of your life and into hers.
So next time you’re standing in front of your wardrobe, wondering what to wear today, just ask yourself about all the clothes in front of you. Friends, or clothes you just happen to know and spend time with? You know which ones you really want in your life.