In the first of a new series that sees our writers celebrating the clothes that make them happy, Helen Walmsley-Johnson reflects on her Cardigan of Power.
When someone asks you to show-and-tell your favourite thing to wear, and when you think about what that thing would be, a simple question quickly becomes a very complicated one. Should I, for example, talk about the rose quartz necklace that replaces the one nicked by burglars? Or the 1970s Ossie Clark for Radley dress I still wear? Perhaps it should be the Vivienne Westwood dress I splurged on and wear when I want to feel powerful, or it could be the painted silk I wore to the most-glamorous-party-I-have-ever-been-to-IN-MY-LIFE. That’s the thing with clothes, isn’t it? They collect memories like a feather duster collects cobwebs and I’ve had such fun in an assortment of frocks and also out of them (ahem). Over the years I’ve assembled a collection of frocks my grown-up daughters lust after but if I had to choose just one thing I wear that makes me feel happy then I would choose this plain black cashmere cardigan.
This cardigan is a subversive cardigan. It has the secret power to bestow confidence upon the wearer. It is light as thistledown, warm as toast and feels like a kiss. It carries some of the funniest and proudest memories I have. Big claims, eh? Well, in a previous life this little cardi has taken me through hosting a dinner for a former US President, dealing with massively over-oiled journalists at the British Press Awards (all of them bigger than me), a Fashion Week event in Bond Street where I suffered a hot flush of such epic proportions I was convinced the ceiling at Chanel had sprung a leak and was dripping rainwater all over me (as if) and it protected my modesty when I squeezed through a too narrow gap (don’t ask) and popped three buttons off my blouse in the bosom area. So without going into details about all the other dramas, mayhem and fuckwits this delicious little cardi has saved me from, there is little doubt that this cardi is a cardi possessed of awesome power.
Now I’m a full-time writer and when I was invited to pitch my first book The Invisible Woman to a room full of people who would sell it on my behalf, I had no doubt at all that the Cardigan of Power would be part of my armour. I had five minutes to make my audience remember me. Five minutes to convince them that my book about middle-age was going to be the book about middle-age. So I drew myself up to my full 5 foot 2” and I talked about middle-aged muffs and how someone told me you might go bald down there because sometimes weird hormones make your pubes fall out – and while there is a whole style bible on the web about taming the lush bush of youth and the pretty patterns you can make with waxing, sequins and whatnot, there is nothing at all in web-land explaining or disproving the theory of middle-aged muff alopecia. I told them this must change. I also told them that under no circumstances should they Google “middle-aged pubic hair” (the results are surprising). And when I turned to leave, the little black cardi delivered the final word because it has ‘REBELS’ embroidered across the back. And that is why it makes me happy when I wear it.
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Helen Walmsley-Johnson is a journalist and author who writes as the Invisible Woman. She has a weekly style column for older women which she writes for the Guardian. Her first book, The Invisible Woman: Taking on the Vintage Years, is out now. @TheVintageYear