Dress With Style – Or Why I Treat my Wardrobe Like a Dressing Up Box

Friday, January 6, 2017

A clear out is under way.

Between Christmas and New Year saw the commencement of phase one of operation “OMG there is so much stuff in this house I can hardly move” (snappy, I know). I am one of life’s natural hoarders. So is Mr Chick. As pairings go that is pretty darn terrible. Let me tell you, the random stuff I have in my house would astonish you. It is getting to the point where I am at risk of ending up on a TV program where people walk around my house and pick up empty Champagne bottles and I refuse to get rid of them because they contain the memories of a lovely evening that happened 5 years ago that I would obviously totally forget if I didn’t keep the bottle.

Anyway, phase one has featured a serious book cull. We have 4 book shelves full of books. Plus extras in a box in the attic and yet more stacked beside the bed and under tables. Most of these books haven’t been opened in at least 10 years. Do I really need my old A-Level Psychology text-book? Or the copy of the Good Beer Guide 2013 that is still in its plastic wrapping? The answer is no. No, I don’t.

So far 4 big bags for life of books have been dismissed to the charity shop (after being checked on Amazon in case they are worth a fortune). Among them were years worth of books attesting to my obsession with fashion and style. Trinny & Susannah What Not to Wear – Gone. Victoria Beckham That Extra Half Inch – Gone.

But the clear out turned up one book that I just can’t bear to part with.

I talk often of my tendency to theme outfits and treat my wardrobe like one huge dressing up box. My love of dressing up started early when I would literally fight other children for the Princess dress at play school and refuse to wear “real” (boring) clothes when my Mum tried to dress me. This book, however, is the book I blame for the fact that I carried this over into adult life, and thought that was ok.

Published in 1984 and purchased by me for £1.50 circa 1990 Dress with Style, A Look to Reflect Your Every Mood is basically a dressing up book for grown ups. It starts with 2 pages of basic fashion advice. (Throw out everything you haven’t worn in a year!). Before proceeding on to 45 different fashion “looks”. There’s hair and make up advice, and tips for transforming your look using ribbons and left over scraps of material.

My copy contains all the hallmarks of 11-year-old me and her early experiments. Lipstick marks on the pages and carefully underlined favourite looks.  You’ll not be surprised to find I underlined “Forties Fashionable” and “Flapper”. “Movie Star” and “Punkette” might not be that surprising either, but maybe “Futurist” and “Cat Woman” are a little more out there?

I genuinely remember poring over the pages of this book and treating it like my Style Bible. This is the book that is the reason that I treat my wardrobe like a dressing up box.

Finding it again got me thinking about the things that form our relationship to fashion early on, and how it carries over into our adult lives.

I always loved to experiment with clothes. I remember my Mum helping me and my sister put together “crinolines” by layering skirts from her wardrobe after we watched My Fair Lady. I remember the patent leather shoes with straps that swung back behind the heels that I insisted fit perfectly until they gave me blisters the size of 50p pieces. I remember swearing off trousers forever after a pair of culottes gave me badly chafed legs. I remember how I loved a body con mini dress with 60s style red and yellow squares on the bodice worn with over the knee socks when I about 12. Though I never wore it again after 2 girls laughed at me in the shopping centre (and then subsequently nearly beat up my little sister when she leapt to my defence).

I remember trying not to be smart by shredding the cuffs of my school jumper and “accidentally” (totally on purpose) getting it covered in acrylic paint in art. Before I finally gave in to the reality that I was one of life’s smart people.

There was the boss in a boys school who told me that I should make sure my clothes were more covered up during a super hot summer. The boss on a male psychiatric ward who told me the same thing as when I raised my arm above my head a small triangle of hip became visible between my trousers and the hem of my shirt.

I learnt that some clothes make other people feel more comfortable, even though I hated them. I mostly only wear jeans because they make other people feel more comfortable that I am in “casual” mode (and sometimes in winter when I can’t find any tights and my legs are cold!). I remember the woman in the ladies at work who asked me if I was going somewhere fancy (I wasn’t) and the postman who asked me if I was going to a job interview when I’d actually been pulling nails out of the floorboards in the front room (see, one of lifes smart people).

All of these things end up feeding into the way I dress, what I think of as my style, the way I pick my clothes and how I dress for any situation.

This post ended up a little more introspective than I thought it would when I sat down to write it, but lets just say I won’t be getting rid of Dress with Style  any time soon.

What do you think influenced your style?

7 Responses
  • Chris Smith
    January 6, 2017

    My favourite book of this type was https://www.amazon.co.uk/Look-Like-Million-Leslie-Field/dp/0246110430/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483728283&sr=8-1&keywords=field+look+million (Leslie Field, Look Like a Mllion) – just spent two hours searching Google and Amazon and it is a miracle I found it because I had both the name and title wrong…now debating whether to buy it again. It would only be for nostalgia, it is (I think) slightly older than you so the style tips would probably look odd now – but it was my bible then

  • Suzanne
    January 7, 2017

    What a great post.

    It is funny how memories of clothing can trigger moments in our lives.

    I love the comment of your postman. Ha ha!


  • Katheryn
    January 7, 2017

    A book that influenced my style was https://www.amazon.com/Dressing-Rich-Guide-Classic-Women/dp/0399126848/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1483761606&sr=1-1&keywords=dressing+rich (“Dressing Rich: A Guide to Classic Chic for Women With More Taste Than Money” by Leah Feldon). It was published in 1982 and I bought it for myself around that time, when I was in high school. I still have my copy: it is a book club edition. I learned from it (among other things) that well-groomed nails and good-quality shoes can hint at wealth (although my nails are thin and short — at least partly the result of frequent nail-biting when I was a girl — and I tend to wear out my shoes till they are all but unwearable — it is hard to find comfortable and fashionable-looking extra-wide shoes at a price that I can afford).

    When I was a girl, I read too many lavishly illustrated books about the history of fashion that I borrowed from the library to count. The 18th-century fashion of putting beaded chains in one’s updo? That might have been an inspiration for me using a rose quartz and silver beaded necklace as a hairband when I was a college student. (If I could find that necklace, I would try doing that again.) I adored the Gibson Girl look, and tried to replicate it in my style. I find it a pity that puffed gigot sleeves are not currently the fashion, since I have disproportionately large upper arms: many tops and dresses that otherwise fit me are unwearable because of the narrow sleeves that are fashionable.

  • Katie
    January 7, 2017

    Hands down, the book that inspired me (and was lost over the years, but–miraculously–has been republished and is once again giving me joy) is Cheap Chic. Pure. Heaven.

  • Samantha Moran
    January 7, 2017

    Ah….it all sounds so familiar! My mother was my first style icon: the auburn wigs (one waist length) that she wore through the 70s…the red platform clogs…and the way she reacted when my sister and I begged her to go to parents evening in something more like the other mums wore: a blue skirt and a white blouse, we suggested. She drew herself up to her full 5′ 1″… “I don’t OWN a blue skirt or a white blouse” and she sashayed off in her purple velvet trouser suit that she’d trimmed with curtain fringing. I never looked back.

  • Selina
    January 7, 2017

    I didn’t start developing any sense of style until I went to uni. No money and no courage to wear things I liked. I missed out all the kind of dress ups I could have had. Thanks to thrift shops and lookbook.nu I started exploring different styles

  • Jessica
    January 12, 2017

    I totally get the urge to KonMari your life, but that’s the sort of thing that is absolutely worth keeping! That’s a wonderful memory to be able to have tangible at your fingertips, and it’s actually really lovely that you’ve kept the lessons that you learned from the book going throughout your life. I think more people should treat fashion as costume, and a means of expression! It’s too much fun not to.