Glad Rags: Tropical Chancer

In the latest of a series that sees Standard Issue writers celebrate the clothes that make them happy, Brydie Lee-Kennedy introduces the dress that just keeps on giving.

Brydie in her vintage floral dressIt was the jeans that did me in.

Every winter from the age of 12, my mother and I would go shopping for a new pair of jeans.

Over seven years, I tried them all: baggy (worn with tight-fitting T-shirts and way oversized boots and a nose ring); super-skinny and black (worn with sequined floaty strappy things and tottery heels and a delicate sapphire heart in my nose); straight-legged and pink (worn with a waistcoat and Cons and a plain silver stud).

By 19, I was fed up. All my girlfriends wore jeans. Wore trousers, generally, but jeans the most. But they never quite suited me. My body didn’t like being in trousers, no matter how hard I tried to convince it otherwise.

The obvious solution was dresses and, oh god, how I loved dresses. I would watch old movies and marvel at their crinkle as an Audrey or a Marilyn or a Bette would sweep through a room. But that was then. Now, cool girls wore pants (I grew up in Australia, let me have my “pants” for a moment). I needed to be a Katharine, not an Audrey.

I started to buy dresses and just…store them. I would try them on, alone in a store, and think I had never liked myself so much. And then I’d get them home and tell myself I’d wear them the next day – to work or to uni or just to the cafe to pick up my latte or to a party, oh it could be a party dress, just like when I was little! – and then I would absolutely fail to take them out of the closet.

The occasion wasn’t right, I told myself. Best to just stick with what I knew.

My current partner has never seen me in trousers. These days, the only occasion I need to wear a dress is ‘being awake’. When I moved to the UK with a single suitcase, I packed two pairs of socks, five pairs of underwear and then just dresses upon dresses upon dresses.

“I remember seeing it hanging in the corner of Mister Stinky, an excellently named vintage store in Sydney’s east, and falling instantly and passionately in love.”

My wardrobe is a riot of colour and pattern and I mark occasions – birthdays, new jobs, one year of living abroad – with the purchase of a new frock.

I only buy vintage or secondhand dresses now, or dresses discarded by friends or relatives, because I realised I take a real pleasure in the found: in things that were special to someone else and can now hold meaning for me. And this is the dress that started that.

I don’t know why this dress, in particular, gave me the guts I needed to carve out my own actual style after years of aping everyone else’s. I remember seeing it hanging in the corner of Mister Stinky, an excellently named vintage store in Sydney’s east, and falling instantly and passionately in love.

I tried it on and loved the bursts of red and yellow bouncing off my body. I loved that it smelled just the right amount of musty (“1980s or maybe late ‘70s,” according to the sales assistant). I loved that it looked like something my mum would wear because it turns out I got my tropical-bird colour palette from her.

I bought it, I took it home and I wore it the next night, with wedge heels, to drinks with friends. I wore it with sandals to my office job (Sydney offices are warmer than their London counterparts). I wore it with boots when I moved to London and discovered layering. I wore it with the same little sparkly nose stud each time because I always forget to change it now. I wore it the first time I ever performed solo on stage. I wear it whenever I need cheering up, usually with a bright red lip and messily arranged hair.

My partner names my dresses in order to keep track of them and this is the first one he named. It’s called Tropical Chancer, after a La Roux song and also a damn fine way of life. I’m glad I gave up on jeans.

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Written by Brydie Lee-Kennedy

Brydie is a Sydney-raised, London-based comedian and writer who has never met a Buffy reference she couldn't shoehorn into conversation. @BrydieLK