Working Wardrobe

Christmas Jumpers – Fashion Forward or Fashion Fail?

I don’t like shopping. That statement fills my mother with despair (she is a serial shoe shopper) and I am a complete disappointment to my daughter who could quite easily spend the day traipsing the aisles of every single shop in town. But I don’t. I don’t like having to rake through the racks, I hate having to negotiate the changing rooms, taking an array of sizes and still leaving empty handed. This dislike of shopping does mean that I have the ultimate capsule wardrobe, consisting of at maximum 15 pieces (possible 20 if you include the odd party outfit, my wedding dress and that really expensive silk dress that’s never, nor never will be worn).

As a PhD student and as a mother, my wardrobe relies on rotating my three pairs of jeans. Comfy and functional. Perfect. But this does mean that when it comes to work, I do like to be dressed and have a small working wardrobe that has managed well with the odd freelance job that I’ve picked up over the years. Starting the new job and working full-time has thrown up some interesting dilemmas.

  • Quality v Quantity

I buy into both. I like quality, I have a nice cashmere jumper, tweed skirt and beautiful Barbour winter coat (all presents from my husband, yes really!). I don’t mind paying more for a statement piece, like the red dress that had no price tag; I just knew I had to have it whatever the cost. But the main issue I have with buying quality is that I’m crap at looking after things. It’s not that I’m from the disposable generation like my sister (1990’s +), who will buy something new rather than repair. When I was young we still believed in making do and mending, darning the sock or wearing hand-me-downs. But I just fail miserably at hand-washing, ironing at the right temperature, separating before tumble drying and so on and so on. As a result, many a time my daughter has acquired a wool jumper when it’s been accidently cooked at 60°c and now fits a nine year old. And my hands are up, I admit, I am a Primark-esque shopper too. I’ve been lured by the low costs and have chosen quantity over quality, have chosen to ignore the poor practices of manufacture to line my wardrobes with a six quid jumper. Even though I know that it’s a quick fix only, it whets my appetite but after two washes it holds a shape more akin to a scarecrow. And so it is relegated to my fabric box…one day I might make it into a cushion (cue eye-roll from the husband). I think it’s more of an issue of time. I don’t have the time to take proper care of my clothing. I’ve always got a million and one things to do and careful consideration of washing requirements ranks low on the to-do list. But at the same time I get frustrated with the throwaway nature of today’s culture. So like a cyclical force, I’m leaning back to quality…this week!

  • Smart, Casual or Smart-Casual

There is a trend towards smart-casual in the workplace, visible across sectors and reflected I think in the nature of flexible and home working. I’ve experienced this in a number of my own workplaces but have managed to negotiate this towards a place where I am most comfortable. And this place is most definitely in the smart.

I live in my ‘mother uniform’ of skinny jeans and boots, alternated with bootcut jeans (are these even fashionable any more?!) and trainers. Utilitarian, I can run after absconding children while negotiating the washing, tread through the supermarket with an overflowing trolley and seek out autumnal leaves for school projects without having to consider what I’m wearing. Occasionally (and when I remember) I might add a scarf or a statement necklace to the usually plain top or shirt, but only as an afterthought! Time seems to be a recurring theme when it comes to me + fashion.

So as I started my new job, I deliberated about what to wear. I work:

  • At a school of art = trendy, cool, young,
  • In a design studio context = trendy, cool, young,
  • With practicing designers and researchers = trendy, cool, young,
  • With a average age of mid-twenties = trendy, cool, young,

And then there is me:

  • Trendy, I’ve only not that long started wearing skinny jeans; trends have a slow burn with me. And my days of the stomach grazing tops lining the High Street have long gone….
  • cool, My children are testament to the fact that I’m not cool, I’m a mother. These are not mutually agreeable terms.
  • young, Well, since you asked, I am nearly a decade older. Wiser, I doubt it but older for sure.

So there is my conundrum. I have to smart but trendy smart. Smart but cool. Smart but not too young or too old smart. I’m looking for ‘smart-me’. Ha ha, welcome to my world of shopping hell.

Or so I thought. On a recent trip to Glasgow I was delighted that I found exactly the mix of smart-me on the High Street in the form of Zara. Two dresses, two skirts, two shirts later and I’m on my way to filling my wardrobe. The next step….shoes. Oh crap. Heels? Flats? Boots? Where is that serial shoe shopper when you need her!


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