On many occasions I have been told I have style. Looking at the intense bundle of confused colours, shapes, patterns and textures in my wardrobe, I’ve never been able to detect any one style in particular. There’s no unique or regular combination that defines my outfits. Instead I float from day to day, through the seventies, back to the nineties and back into the modern day again. In the past year my investment in shoes varied from over the knee black leather boots, to bright pink Nike trainers. An eclectic mix, some might say. It was only recently that it suddenly clicked. My lack of a true sartorial direction or of a synthesizing principle that would explain me to myself was troubling. But the struggle is over. I figured out where my random influences spring from: books.
Yes, my dressed down punk aesthetic certainly comes from my mother’s love for Blondie, Souxsie and the Banshees, and Joan Jett, but it really is literature that has fuelled my love for styles from every era. The beat generation jazzy feeling that seeped out of the pages of Jack Kerouac’s nostalgic verses gave me (and my impressionable wannabe-Beatnik 15 year old self) my love for blue jeans and Doc Marten boots. I wanted to look – and feel – like I was following the American dream; searching those never-ending highways for the moments that make a life. It’s probably also the reason I am utterly incapable of resisting a young lad wearing a white t-shirt wrapped in a plaid shirt.
The amount of glittery, silver, over the top, floaty ensembles that flooded my wardrobe after studying the Great Gatsby at the impressionable age of seventeen was enforced by that insurmountable desire to be the cynical Daisy Buchanan, a desire I’m sure familiar to most who studied the notorious text at school. The desire to be the girl who knows all the cruelties of her privileged world, but just parties away in fabulous gowns anyway, because, well, what else is there to do? Compared to the hit and run shenanigan, emulating the clothes was clearly the safer option.
The draw of sequins never needs additional allure, but after venturing into the world of Eva Luna via the imagination of Isabella Allende, allowing one to live alongside the transvestite community in the backstreets of South America incensed a need to be bejeweled from head to toe. A collection of sequined crop tops and shimmering dresses ensued.
The 1970s evoke for most ideas of flamboyant flares and outlandish shirts, but for me the era has more of a sludgy brown and grayish green feeling. It’s the drab paisley shirts and corduroys, no more dully evoked than in John Le Carre’s quietly unsettling reports from the spies of the cold war.
I find myself entering the world of Holly Golightly when I’m getting ready for any kind of formal occasion. Not the trumped up innocent Hollywood Holly of the movies (though I love Audrey deeply), but the raw prostitute of Truman Capote’s short novel, shielded from the judgmental eyes of society by the array of fifties dresses. A black lace shift dress covers all manner of sins, and if paired with black eyeliner, you will be seen as nothing more than the height of sophistication.
Great authors describe us better than we ever could, putting into words the feelings we can never say the way we’d like to ourselves. George Orwell professed that ‘you may have three half pence in your pocket and no prospects in the world… but in your new clothes you can stand on a street corner, indulging in a private daydream of yourself as Clark Gable or Greta Garbo’. That’s exactly how I feel each morning as I stand before my wardrobe: who am I going to be today?