On this very last weekend of May, we enter into the time of year when, just like a schoolgirl, I tend to wear a uniform each and every day. Linen trousers, loose linen shirt, flat shoes, one lone strand of pearls, and my hair piled up on top of my head. It is soon to be too hot to even contemplate any ensemble more elaborate. However, dashing through a department store a couple of weeks ago, I found myself brought up short by a linen jacket. More of a frock coat really, it was the colour of sweet buttermilk, and made of a sumptuous wrinkled linen. Adorned with a most unusual collar that could be worn up just like an Elizabethan ruff, it possessed the ideal amounts of both elegance and whimsy, two ingredients that I always find irresistible in any garment. I simply could not help myself - I was enchanted, and scooped it up before entertaining another thought. I haven’t worn it yet but I will, when I want to communicate a certain summer serenity, tinged with a hint of nostalgia. For though their language is delightfully subtle, clothes can communicate volumes. Even my summer uniform speaks, softly I hope, of crisp clean comfort - iced tea and ceiling fans, light dinners and peony gardens.
The way we as humans tend to reveal ourselves through our sartorial choices has always rather fascinated me. It starts early, when babies are identified by pinks or by blues, and it continues on through bridal white to mourning black. There are certain ensembles we reach for when we need to feel confident - when we want to stand out, or totally avoid notice. It is a lovely way to communicate that so often reveals more about us than we even realize. Think of Katharine Hepburn’s trouser-clad style. She once said, “ I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding which clothes to wear”. That wardrobe spoke volumes about who she was and what she deemed important.
We all know clothing can convey tribal affiliation. In Scotland, tartan patterns speak not only of personal identity, but of centuries of familial history and legend. I always pick up a piece of my own MacDonald or Sinclair whenever I am there. But I am talking more of individual communication here. Consider the red and white polka-dot dress that Princess Diana wore on her 1986 trip to Japan, its pattern a quiet hello to the Land of the Rising Sun. And of course, there was that spectacular black dress she wore on the very night her husband gave the rather squirm-worthy television interview confessing his oft suspected adultery. A frock that was later dubbed by the press as “the revenge dress”, it related her message eloquently.
As first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy charmed the French on her state visit to that country by, among other things, wearing only French designers. The French noticed. And of course, for all the historic symbolism that surrounded the Queen’s recent visit to Ireland, none was more charming than her many outfits of green... green feathered hats, an evening gown adorned with over 2000 hand-sewn shamrocks, an Irish harp brooch. Why, even her ladies-in-waiting were sporting over 40 shades of green. Again, a lovely articulation.
I suppose it was a little red dress that first taught me the language of clothing. I was about six years old, and I loved that dress enormously, soon realizing that I behaved differently when I wore it. I felt more ladylike somehow. I did not have to be told that this was not a garment for the playground. The dress itself told me that. Eventually, under the tutelage of that favourite dress, I began to listen to what other pieces of clothing had to say to me, soon learning to choose the ones that best reflected my mood or intent.
Of course, this is a holiday weekend here and as I write this piece I am comfortably ensconced by a breezy open window with a glass of cold berry lemonade at my elbow.
With my hair tied in a knot and my feet bare, I am clad in white cotton pajamas. This is an ensemble that should tell you absolutely everything about my plans for the weekend.
But what about you?
What is your outfit saying today?