Cards on the table, I have spent this evening at a party. I was set to write a post about parties and social etiquette but that required more thought than I can give at this advanced hour in a state of mild wine consumption. This is, to my mind the main problem with writing a daily blog: oh yes, you don’t let things mull in your head until they become too urgent to capture on screen but equally sometimes you don’t have enough time to consider them properly either. Especially, as mine always seem these days, late at night when you know you should really be in bed because tomorrow is another important day. That’s my excuse: I’m sticking to it.
Parties will just have to wait for another day.
Instead I share with you today’s boot obsession. It is no secret that I love clothes. We had a debate en famille yesterday, discussing a recent FT agony aunt column about how a woman should react to a male (board level) colleague commenting on her nice dress. For the reasons stated above, I’ll save that for another day but for the record I don’t share the opinion that women and men should go around in little blue or grey suits as in the days of Mao’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (don’t forget, dear Reader, I lived in China when they all wore those) and all share the ideological purity about equality in what they wear. I believe that humans are individuals and most strain to express themselves creatively in one way or another. For some of us, dressing in an appropriate, or slightly inappropriate manner for the occasion is a way of expressing ourselves creatively, and also a way of donning a mask, a persona either to help us fit in or stand out. That there are different expectations of different sexes is a structural inequality. (I’d be quite happy to see a man dressed in a skirt and heels, if that’s how he felt that day, for example. But then, it wouldn’t be up to me to judge, would it?) I digress: I’ve had four glasses of wine.
Today I have been obsessing about boots. I took a trip to Bluewater yesterday and came home empty handed, which is quite novel for me. I actually do need some walking boots for the winter dog walk, and I have bought these online from Timberland today.
Actually, when you take into account mud and cleaning, I need two pairs to alternate while the other is drying. From experience it takes cleaned boots more than a day to dry. The alternative is to wear them without cleaning them and I am becoming quite used to wearing boots encrusted with a week’s worth of mud. This is a surefire way to run boots into the grave before their time, however, hence the need for two pairs. This is the pair I’d buy as an alternate, from Celtic&Co:
Sadly, I find myself severely financially embarrassed these days and all I can do is dream and fantasise around my shoe fetish.
I’d like these to go with my leggings. Yes, I know leggings are not trousers but I am bored with wearing jeans, and they constrict my breathing. During a recent recital rehearsal I had to undo my jeans to breathe. A diva should not have to work under such conditions.
I am lusting after these from Russell and Bromley:
And how about these too from Baukjen. If they were available in brown suede, I’d have bought them by now:
Maybe I should go the whole hog and get these:
Russell and Bromley
I can’t fathom what’s got into me, all of a sudden. Most of these boots are highly impractical and it’s unlikely I’d wear them more than a couple of times, if at all. But dreams are wonderful things and I think I’m releasing my inner Bond girl. Indulge me, at least for a moment, please.
Alas, a moment’s fantasy is all it can be unless I somehow manage to hijack one of the Russell and Bromley vans that pass my house several times a day on their way from the warehouse up the road to the stores in town (I assume.) Maybe I should work out a cunning plan.
Maison Margiela £515
Tonight, dear reader, you find me lusting after boots like this from Maison Margiela. Yes, I’m aware that they can’t function properly as boots, what with that inconvenient peep toe.
In fact I’ve seen similar sorts of footwear classified as sandals but they patently aren’t sandals because most of the foot is enclosed and they’d be too hot and sweaty for proper sandals wouldn’t they, on account of all that leather?
I initially pooh-poohed boots of this kind because of their sheer lack of functionality: boots are supposed to keep your tootsies warm and dry in the winter and it’s clear that these would do neither on an icy winter’s day.
And yet, and yet…I find myself drawn to them out of sheer frivolity. Don’t worry, I shan’t be buying them: look at the price tags (at Net-A-Porter in case you’re about to rush to your laptop.) They’re so pretty.
Here are a few more:
I’ve been ill today and tried not to be out and about so I’ve had plenty of time to read and reflect. I came across this article in today’s Times and it’s stayed with me all day. I’m not sure if this link will work, especially for those who don’t subscribe to the Times, but essentially it’s an interview with a defector from ISIS who was one of the enforcers of the code of behaviour for women, which included wearing black with no ornamentation and not being seen or heard in public.
On Twitter I came across a Dutch article, where children witnessing the war in Syria had drawn scenes from their recent lives. Most depicted bloodthirsty themes of ISIS, Daesh, ISIL, whatever you want to call them, fighters all dressed in black.
And then there was that dreadful video of the HSBC employees, dressed in black, mocking up an ISIS murder.
You’ve seen the posts from me describing the scenes at Dubai airport, where the colourful clothes of travellers to and from their tropical holidays contrast sharply with the monochrome of the locals, white for men and black for women. And I have seen an increasing amount of all black Niqab and Burqa in India and in Europe in recent years. Always black for women. I think it’s a pity. Covering up in black means melting into the shadows, so that you’re less visible, less audible, more easily ignored. Which is, I think, what extremists and fundamentalists want.
Black can, of course, mean the opposite for Muslim women against the foil of colourful, revealing, Western clothes. Covering up can be a liberation from the fat shaming, image conscious obsessions of women (and men) in the West. I have talked to many women for whom wearing a veil, though not necessarily a full body veil, is an outward expression of their faith, a sort of rejoicing in their identity.
My mum, here in the UK for over 50 years never wore anything other than a sari except when she was in her nurse’s uniform at work. She felt comfortable that way and sharply castigated anyone who tried to make her change. In fact she was often quite derisive about her Indian friends who wore hapless blouses and Western style trousers that “showed off their large bottoms” (The Marathi term she used for bottom is quite derogatory and doesn’t really translate as bottom.)
I don’t think it is the right of anyone to tell someone else what they can or can’t wear. Except in certain cases like national security, I suppose, or in Court or if someone has to be in close proximity in a caring job like teaching, for instance, where facial expression and body language matter.
I do, however, think it’s a shame that the veil has to be black but then I am struck when returning from India, where colour is king, to Europe, particularly in the winter, that all of our clothes are so drab and dark and dreary. Black would appear to be our uniform too, and we have a choice. Yes, it’s slimming, and it goes with everything and it’s easy, but we, too, are melting into the shadows.
Fine, if that’s what you want but on today of all days, the 10th anniversary of the London Bombings, I would like to say that I shall try and wear something brightly coloured whenever I can because no-one’s going to tell me what to wear and who to be. Today I am wearing a defiantly bright orange T shirt.
And I’ll leave you with this, that made me shed tears today:
“Why are you wearing that? I mean, you absolutely can, but…”
“Well yes. Because I can. That and all my summer clothes that fit me are too casual and I have to be reasonably well dressed today, and I’m going straight on from there to that concert. Also because sometimes it’s good to shake things up a bit. Show people a side they’re not expecting.”
So off I went in my pistachio coloured silk/cotton kurta, the one with the intricate hand-embroidered leaf pattern and the coordinating dark rose silk churidar, both from my favourite Indian garment retailer, Fabindia.
I always wear these Indian clothes in India, both because they’re so comfortable in a hot and humid climate but also so that I blend in and don’t draw attention to myself. It feels appropriate to dress my age and cover up. But these clothes are very much for swanning about and asking people to do things for you, not driving your own smart car or shopping for your own groceries. It felt odd.
Much later I was privileged to be in the audience in the fabulous acoustic of All Saints’ Church in West Dulwich. as my singing teacher, International Soprano Sarah Leonard, resplendent in a royal blue kaftan adorned with silver embroidery, gave a recital of American songs What a beautiful Romaneque building it was, like a mini St. Peter’s basilica but, this being Dulwich, modernised tastefully with a lot of glass and beautiful timber floors. A great concert venue, I think.
The programme included Charles Ives and Aaron Copeland, Samuel Barber and Milton Babbit, all of whom I enjoyed to greater or lesser degrees. And then Gershwin’s Summertime, the top notes floating up amid the tall roman arches. Enchanting.
Gershwin was followed by Sondheim and his intricate tracery of wordplay and then this extraordinary offering by Jeanine Tesori. The version here is a bit of a compromise but imagine it being sung by an opera diva who also teaches musical theatre. Sarah climbed up three octaves for the final three notes. I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s going to be a very long time before I can sing like this, The Girl in 14G:
You should not design your own clothes unless you are a fashion designer or Victoria Beckham, if then.
I am reminded of this through my current international travel foray (is that a tautology? Perhaps I should just say “my current international foray,” but then that spoils the next bit of idiomatic wossname, platiitude,) which broadens the mind. Let us hope, then, that exposure to the diverse style standards of us jetsetters serendipitously broadens the mind of the ingenues and arrivistes at international hubs like Dubai. Yes, I’m people watching in the DXB lounge again but after last April’s panic, I have made sure to set my watch to Dubai time to avoid the unnecessary rush lest I miss my Gatwick flight.
I first caught sight of him in lounge at the new Mumbai international airport, named after the Maratha hero Shivaji. It was the shininess of his shirt that first caught my eye combined with the telltale creases that proclaimed to the world that this was a new shirt that he had not first put through a wash. Schoolboy error, you might think, but this look is surprisingly common among the clueless. How full of pride he must have been at selecting the shiny white silk satin! How the boxy cut would cover his ample curves! I’m only sorry I did not manage to whip my iPhone out and take a picture of him to show you. You’d realise immediately what I meant.
The man was sitting in front of me on the flight to Dubai so I had plenty of opportunity to study his cinnabar red, individually gold edged, (monogrammed?) shirt buttons. How chunkily befitting a man of such stature! He cast such a disdainful scowl at me in my purple dress and white denim jacket. I am obviously a style pygmy, and not just because I’m only 5′ tall.
I managed another eyeful when he waddling alighted from the plane. I was directly behind him and, power walking past him, managed to get a good view of the back of his trousers. Black satin and flowing. I kid you not. I’m sure in his mind he is Hrithik Roshan just as I am Angelina Jolie-Wolie in mine, and the thought will never once have crossed his mind that perhaps his attire (in Indian English: attires) might not be taken for appropriate buisnesswear. Mate, you’re trying to close a deal wearing flowing silk pyjamas. I’m just flying home.
There is a reason why clothes that are commercially available, or indeed available as couture, are designed by proper designers with talent and qualifications and skills and that. It is because they know what will look good and what will decidedly not look good. Unless they’re exceptionally skilled, amateurs will always get this wrong.
When I worked trying to sell hugely expensive industrial materials to the Chinese I flew in and out of Hong Kong, then another crossroads of the world. It probably still is but I haven’t been there since 1990. I remember being able to spot from a fairly long way away the difference between the Hong Kong Chinese and the newly enriched Taiwanese travellers. The Hong Kongers were so beautifully willowy and stylish in their casual cotton Giordano and Crocodile polo shirts and Levis, stylish spectacles, the latest electronic accessories (in those days this was the micro boom box) and Fendi baguette bags and Gucci loafers. How pulled together they all were.
In contrast, the Taiwanese tourists at the airport were a ramshackle homespun bunch of clashing colours and manmade fibres. Badly cut trousers, sweatshirts with meaningless logos; trainers and those large plastic bags with stuff sticking out of them. You get the picture. This is the look all too often seen in India now.
I ascribe this to the availability of local tailors. We often have an idea of what we like but maybe not what suits us or what’s current. Giving our ideas to local tailors is disastrous. I’m not impugning their skill, more that few of us know exactly what we should be wearing to flatter, fit and fit in. And we are calling the tune for the tailor. I used them myself as a student in China and managed to cook up some real sartorial horrors for them to make up. Often they weren’t even very skilled.
Here in the Gulf states they have it easy. The men all wear flowing white robes with matching headdresses and there seems no variation, although up close I’m willing to bet that there’s a Dior version of the thobe. Who knows what the women are wearing under their black abayas, sometimes embellished at the cuffs, often accompanied by black gloves and full face masks. How hot this must make them. At least, though, their fashion disasters are not on show to everyone.
To be fair, it took me 40 years to reach the point of being aware of the appropriateness of what I was wearing. As an ingenue sales person and interpreter; then a management consultant I became aware of being appropriately dressed. But living in Paris was the real eye opener. One faux pas with the clothing and one was liable to incur the wrath of 12 million Franciliens. It was a lesson that has stood me in good stead.
He was quite an eyeful, the man in the silk pyjamas. I wonder what he’s up to now.