As the weather gets parky, fashion dictates a whole new wardrobe. Helen Walmsley-Johnson is not convinced.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
We are officially in winter. I very much want it to be crisp and bright, not mild. I want to travel on a train and not see a confusing surfeit of boucle and inappropriate tights sat next to cotton skirts and bare legs. I want to snuggle into warm woolly winter things and not anticipate an epic sweat after ten minutes. With cosiness in mind here are my fashion essentials, albeit from a mildly jaundiced middle-aged perspective
The Blanket: You remember the Great Pashmina Glut? A few years ago a woman wouldn’t be seen dead without a large shawl draped over one shoulder/both shoulders/artfully knotted. As is the way with fashion the Glut was soon followed by the Great Pashmina Surplus when no woman would be seen dead with one. Like me you may have seen the pashmina as a handy cover up for jiggly bits and still have a drawer full. This is not the time to recycle those pashminas. What we’re looking at here is something halfway between an army surplus blanket and Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars. It appears to be a practical cold weather choice but we are told we absolutely must not wear it with a belt, which is the only way I would wear it – belted at the front and loose at the back. Otherwise I could find myself arrested for vagrancy.
The Gilet: I approve of the gilet for practical reasons. It’s been around for a while; in my neck of the woods (Rutland) the quilted gilet has never not been around. I have several about the place. Do I need to add another? Not really, but I probably will because I’m easily persuaded and I have my eye on a creamy fluffy faux-fur one.
Shapeless Sweaters: Hurrah! I have many shapeless sweaters – some started out malformed (the self-knitted ones) some had malformation thrust upon them via the washing machine. The point is that these are not the shapeless sweaters you should be aspiring to, although new grey shapeless sweaters very much are. I hope you’re not confused (I was). Perhaps it would help to follow the rule that if you’re baggy on top, you should be fitted underneath…
Jeans: At last, something straightforward – except that now we have the “Strinny”. This is the bastard child of the skinny jean and the straight leg jean (hence the name). This is a fine distinction given the 850 other styles of jean currently available. I fear for the Strinny. I fear it might not catch on and for that reason I won’t be buying any. I’ll wait and see whether it’s still around next season and in the meantime I’ll muddle through with the dozen unworn pairs (skinny, super skinny, gun, boot-cut, high rise, low rise…) stuffed into the bottom of the wardrobe.
Shoes: The good news is that the vertiginous skyscraper stripper platform has gone. Well, not quite gone gone – there are still some die-hards left on regional telly and The Apprentice – but it’s mostly gone. The bad news is that it’s left a vacuum and we all know what happens to a vacuum. This vacuum initially looked as though it was going to be filled with flats, brogues, lace-ups and brothel creepers and that was pleasing. At one point kitten heels were mentioned. Hope was dashed when shoes appeared with a heel so high you can’t actually walk in them. Scholl Party Feet are not going to save you from these babies. Even standing in them is exquisitely painful. Not since I wore ballet pointe shoes have I experienced anything so agonising. In my view, things on your feet are pretty essential – and so is walking. It would be nice, for once, to be able to do both. As we’re on footwear, can I just say that I do not understand open-toe boots, at all.
So basically, I’ll be wearing what I’ve worn every winter for the last couple of decades: warm clothes, socks and a pair of shoes. I hope you’ve found this helpful.
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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