Anything goes

I was born in… well, we can gloss over that. Let’s just say that my childhood was spent in an era of extremes. War and calls for peace dominated the headlines, crooners shared the charts with pop groups, hemlines varied between revelation and medieval and most married women…and God help you if you weren’t…still stayed at home to raise their children.

My mother had already broken that mould by working full-time when I was small. She had grown from a pretty young woman to look like Susan Hayward and dressed like Marilyn Monroe. She had fixed ideas on fashion and it was into this environment that my first stirrings of femininity would flutter.

I was blonde when I was very young, with pale wild waves that were rigorously moulded into an acceptable shape with rollers, curling irons and a back-comb, then glued into submission with lacquer. When I was about seven, the pale golden glory began to darken to a nondescript mousey brown. My mother, whose own enhanced hair colour cycled through several shades of  auburn, objected to this and began the application of a vile peroxide product known as ‘Light and Bright’. Not, she would assure me, a hair dye. More of a colour corrector.

Although it was certainly unintentional and even though I was not conscious of it at the time, it was one of those ‘not good enough’ moments that undermine a child’s self-confidence. You begin to believe that who you are must be changed to conform to the ideas of others. All children spend at least part of their childhood wearing clothes others deem appropriate and it is one of the first areas touched by rebellion.

At eleven, all pretensions to sartorial freedom ended with the imposition of the cherry red uniform of the grammar school. The obligation to conform for nine hours a day (including travelling time) was mitigated only by the extremes of the decade that allowed you to wear pretty much anything the rest of the time. There just wasn’t much time left after school and homework.

By the time I was ready for teenagerhood, the decade-that-taste forgot was well under way, and for one brief, glorious moment, it was acceptable, even desirable, to have a wardrobe that contained garments as diverse as leather hotpants, orange suede platforms, white vinyl boots and psychedelic maxi dresses.

Then I started work and uniformity sucked me in once again. The unwritten dress codes of the working world were fairly strict at that time. Few defied them and prospered… especially women. Luckier than most, my first ‘proper job’ required no more than jeans and T-shirt. Being a window dresser, skirts were out of the question as, most of the time, I was either up a ladder or on my knees in a store window. Being part of an ‘artistic’ team, even though the others were men, it was de rigueur to go for colourful embroideries and sequins… but even so, there was still the expectation to conform. My own taste was varied…mostly black leather or vivid satin… but it did not include jeans.

Then there was Paris… and I dressed how I damned well pleased. Mainly in red. After arriving in the expected British tweed, it was made apparent that the only expectation was that I had style. Any style…as long as it was my own. For a few brief years, I was able to dress as me. And I loved it.

Then I moved back to England and into the corporate world and became ‘a suit’. The mindset and social requirements can be as restrictive as the clothing and as difficult to escape when you leave that world behind. Off duty and on, there is an unwritten code that proclaims position.  Rebellion came only in the height of a hemline and a refusal to wear dark, boring colours and ‘adventurous’ was seldom more than mid blue.

After the horrors of childhood peroxide, I had never dyed my hair. I just left it to grow and occasionally hacked the ends with the meat shears. When I was obliged to leave the corporate world and become a carer, I hacked to some purpose and experimented with various shades of red. Not those auburn reds that might have been acceptable to my mother, but brilliant, obviously fake scarlets and mahoganies, and finally my favourite orange.

It was brief phase but an important one as I began to realise how little of ‘me’ was allowed to face the world. The clothes were still stuck in the rut of practicality and the expectations of the corporate world still lingered. It is only fairly recently that I have thrown caution to the winds and begun to embrace my inner hippy.

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Photo: Steve Tanham

My hair once again grows wild… though slower than I would like now and peppered with grey. The hemlines creep ever closer to the ground. The embroideries are more discrete than they were in the 70s. And I’m comfortable.  Not just in the flow and drape of the fabrics, but in my skin.

After decades of conformity, I found that it is as simple as that… a change in the way you choose to present yourself to the world makes all the difference to how you see yourself. After a lifetime of feeling obliged to conform, we probably don’t even think about it much. We are who we have become, through choices…our own and those of others… and necessity. It is not easy to make a change when habit means that you don’t realise that is needed…or when you seek to be what you think those around you would like you to be. Yet how often do we ask? Those who truly care for us, love who we are, not who they would like us to be.

I was lucky. My sons already fondly call me weird, so externalising a little minor weirdness is no big deal. The village where I live might not always agree… The others whose opinion I care for already look beyond the surface… for which I am grateful, as the surface is more than a little worn these days. You could say that love gave me permission to be me.

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She has written a number of books, both alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at scvincent.com and on Twitter @SCVincent Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email: findme@scvincent.com
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76 Responses to Anything goes

  1. My fashion history is surprisingly similar to yours even though we are more than a decade (two?) apart. I never looked good in fashionable clothing, so I wore what was comfortable. Lucky I was growing up in a world where pretty much everything was okay. Garry is SO conservative, I don’t think he has changed his style in the past 40 years. Gray pants, navy blazer. Tie and shirt depending and sometimes, navy goes to tweed. Of course now, we both wear slobby comfortable clothing because the dogs don’t care. For all that, I’m really comfortable being me. Maybe I’ve finally gotten to a point where fashion is irrelevant? Or maybe, it always was 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sue Vincent says:

      One and a bit 😉
      I do think you get to a point where you accept who you are and cease to judge yourself by others think. I’ll still dress according to need and convention when it is a matter of practicality or respect for others…but day to day, respect for myself matters more than it did.

      Like

  2. Henrietta Watson says:

    A very good post. Thanks for sharing!

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  3. I thought that a wonderful piece and just wanted to say.

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  4. Ritu says:

    Its true Sue. I think the vast majority of us feel the need to conform when it comes to our outward apoearance. I’m glad you’ve embraced YOU. You’re wonderful as you are! 😍

    Like

  5. Léa says:

    As my kids would say, been there and got the T-shirt. Nice post Sue. Along those same lines, I shall leave you with some similar thoughts. https://poetryphotosandmusingsohmy.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/self-portrait/

    Liked by 1 person

  6. jenanita01 says:

    The only item of clothing that I remember wearing was a long blue jumper that reached my knees!
    Thinking about it, I might just become a hippy again!

    Like

  7. Self-expression beautifully captured in this post. ❤ Sue xX

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  8. I remember the screeching arguments my mother and I had in clothes shops when I rebelled against what she wanted me to wear. I feel guilty now for what I put her through!

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  9. I’m glad you finally feel like you can be you.

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  10. kirizar says:

    I’ve got to throw on clothes to go to work, so this struck a few chords–some in minor keys of mid-blue sameness! Otherwise I’d talk at length about learning to loath BDUs and the color olive drab while in military service. Hmm, that pretty much says it all. Doesn’t it?

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  11. I’m at the age now where I’m beginning to wear what’s comfortable and be damned how it looks. Very liberating! I am fond of long flowing clothes though too 😉

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  12. The horrors of conformity! Perhaps one of the reasons I chose to be an actress was because it didn’t matter what I wore in rehearsal! I look back to the conformity required in all my office temp jobs with loathing.

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  13. Uniforms…I loved them, they served me, allowed me to blend in, saved me from the shame of childhood hand-me-downs that expressed other’s choices. I didn’t find my own style until after the college (hippie) years, which I spent in jeans and T’s. In the work world, I embraced the business suit look, it was another form of uniform, but it worked for me. Now, longer skirts, natural fabrics, cotton, linens, silks, shirts with collars, sleeves (sun protection). It’s all about comfort.

    I love that photo…perfect for this very thoughtful piece.

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  14. I love this Sue! You and I grew up during the same time period. Great memories. I think that I am just now becoming comfortable in my own skin, with how I look. Not trying so hard. Great piece!

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  15. Lyn Horner says:

    I mainly wore cheap, not very becoming clothes as a teen because my parents hadn’t the money to buy better. Later, in college (art school) I stuck to t-shirts and jeans most of the time. After graduating and getting a job (and marrying my high school sweetheart) I couldn’t go too crazy with clothes at work as a production assistant in the advertising department of a major department store, and later as an illustrator. But later, when I became an art instructor, my flamboyant side surfaced. This was during the hippy era. I loved long, flowery skirts, embroidered blouses and junk jewelry. Nowadays, as a writer, I often spend half a day in a nightgown and robe, plopped in my recliner, laptop in front of me. When I get dressed, I’m usually back to wearing jeans and shirts. The wheel has circled back to practicality. Conformity? Hmm, not exactly, since I still prefer bright colored tops meant for younger gals. Who cares? At my age, I’ll wear whatever I like.

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    • Sue Vincent says:

      That was my case too… there was never much money but plenty of creativity.
      I could happily spend the day undressed.. I wear kaftans around the house a lot… but I doubt my boss would approve 😉
      Your last phrase says it all though 🙂

      Like

  16. Adele Marie says:

    When I was a child I had a pair of light blue hot pants, bib and braces with a mickey mouse transfer on the bib. lovely……Great post, Sue, I really enjoyed it. One of these days I will do a post with pics about my journey through the alternative fashion circles. I love that you wore satin and leather and red in Paris. xxx

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  17. Mary Smith says:

    Oh, goodness, we went through almost the same thing – my mother didn’t try to ‘correct’ my hair colour but she really took exception to my dead straight hair and insisted on perming it. I screamed and roared through the process of home perming so she took me to the hairdresser, knowing I would dare behave in such a way in public.
    Great post which really resonated on many levels.

    Like

  18. Rae Longest says:

    I always dressed the professional, channeling the Chanel classic look in knockoffs and often worked where there was a dress code (as a teacher). In graduate school at the age of forty, I stressed and worried off some weight which I’d gained at 31, and began to wear jeans for the first time since I wore dungarees under my dresses to school IF the temperature was below 32 degrees F. After graduate school I still dressed professionally to teach as a professor, feeling one should be able to differentiate between the teachers and the students. Today I am schizophrenic in my dressing: jeans and loose fitting T shirts, often with bling, on stay at home days, and recycled professional clothes on school days. Sundays I dress up with my Sunday best and good jewelry from the waist up and nice slacks and support tennis shoes (bad back, bad feet) below. My foot surgeon can dictate what kind of shoes I must wear, but he can’t keep me from co-ordinating the shoelaces with purses, accessories and the “featured color of the day!” I have gone from periods of navy blue and black in my thirties to pops of color which go nicely with my white or beige hair depending on whether I’ve had time to use my wash-out color rinse that day! LOL!

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Sounds like you’ve gone for style over fashion 😉 I always wore heels… even when I didn’t need to and probably shouldn’t. These days, a day of heels ends usually in a week of pain, so they stay in the wardrobe…and I dread putting away the flat sandals for winter 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Widdershins says:

    I have a childhood memory of my father trying to get me to wear a dress for some family ‘do’. He only won because he was bigger than me. I promptly went out to play while the ‘grown-ups’ were getting ready, gashed my leg open on a piece of metal and bled all over the dress.

    Like

  20. dgkaye says:

    I loved this Sue. I hear you about trying to stay on trend as a teenager, after all we strive to fit in. But much like you,. I developed my own style and trends since my 20s, and gratefully never had to conform for any job or anyone. ❤

    Like

  21. This is a beautiful post. In its way. It’s also kind of heart-breaking (with the hair color as a child) but, mostly, just lovely. I’m trying to get to this point. My recent thing, which I really hope sticks, is reading The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck and the whole thing hinges on not putting any time and energy into what others think of you and your choices. This post resonated with what I’m trying to accomplish with that.

    Like

    • Sue Vincent says:

      Thanks, Sarah. There is a difference between ‘not giving a f*ck’ what others think and allowing their opinions to define you in your own eyes and the choice of offering care and respect to a situation or person…including yourself… by dressing or acting appropriately to a given moment. It takes most of us a while to sort that one out 😉

      Like

  22. I am with you all the way.. My mother gave us all the pudding basin haircut and at 16 and earning my own money with my part time job I went and had a platinum blonde, Monroe make-over.. My mother retreated into the sherry bottle. Garnier and Clairol are my sisters and I am very fond of them. As to clothes.. black…. with a touch of white in summer. But I have brightly coloured linen jackets hanging up for whim days. xx

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  23. willowdot21 says:

    Great honest post Sue. It sounds like I have lived through the same eras as you . I was also a window dresser a job I loved.! I am finally happier in my skin than I have ever been . 🌹

    Like

  24. Most of the jobs that I have been in have required me to wear a uniform, so I did not have to worry about what I wore. During my first marriage (about 10 years), my ex husband was very controlling so I spent a lot of time in long skirts. long sleeve tops, no make up and high necklines!
    Neeedless to say, once I got divorced I hada bit of a rebellion, got a tattooo, had my nose pierced and wore what the hell I liked!!!
    I try and dress appropriately for my age now, but not always!! 🙂

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  25. Pingback: Smorgasbord Blogger Daily – Monday August 7th 2017 – Sue Vincent, Geoff Le Pard, C.S. Boyack and D.G.Kaye | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  26. A most interesting post on dressing according to expectation. When I first joined an accounting an auditing firm as a junior clerk many years ago I was very conservative in my dress. There were presentations by the HR department on how to dress and what you could not wear. This has loosened in the intervening years but I have noticed that corporate women generally all “power dress”. I think this is because it is still hard for women and we still spend the first few weeks on any new job having to prove ourselves to the men. I gave up on power dressing when I had my boys. I know that I am extremely good at what I do and I now just dress how I please and it is fairly different to my peers. I don’t find that the two weeks of proving myself is any shorter or longer as a result.

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  27. Wonderful post. I can’t even recount the stages that my hair has gone through in life. Uniforms were the accepted thing during my growing up years. I guess it helped my parents save money on having to buy endless number of clothes for the six of us, and we got to pass down the uniforms as well 🙂

    Like

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