Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Workthatwardrobe: Read All About It
My former colleagues at The Liverpool Echo got to hear about my blog and wanted to print this story today.
Below is the full unedited version!
And thanks to everyone who helped me raise the donation for the WCF.
Work That Wardrobe
By Jane Gallagher
When I was a child my mother always joked that if I got lost there were only two places I could be – the bookshop or the dress shop.
Dressing up and reading were the two grand passions of my young life and ones that remain with me to this day.
They had also become expensive passions so when last year the credit crunch shrunk my income as a freelance writer by a third overnight I knew I had to find a way of saving money. And I didn’t need to look very far. Most of my disposable income went on two things - clothes and books.
But before you think I am setting myself up as a style guru – think again. Despite spending 42 years on this planet I would still buy clothes that would never suit me, patterns that did nothing for me and bargains that were far from it - remaning with their labels in the back of my wardrobe. Like many women I wore 20% of my wardrobe 80% of the time. But now it was serious – the spending had to stop. The books were the easy bit – I wiped the dust off my library ticket and indulged myself for free. The clothes were harder. I decided I must stop spending and start shopping from my own wardrobe. But I knew it would be too easy to be tempted unless I did something drastic.
I decided I would make a public affirmation by setting up a blog www.workthatwardrobe.blogspot.com and posting a picture of what I wore every day for 365 days to prove I had not spent any more money on clothes.
My journey began in July 2008 and ended in July 2009.
The year begins with a christening where I wear my favourite Oasis poppy dress which is based on an original 1960’s design. I discover polka dots cheer me up, red suits me but black very clearly doesn’t. And thanks to another blogging friend I discover the difference a pack of dye can make to tired clothes languishing in the back of the wardrobe.
There is a song by Mary Chapin Carpenter called “This Shirt” which tells a story about how a simple shirt brings so much please thanks to the memories woven in the fabric. I reflect on some of my favourite clothes and celebrate it by wearing my red Joe Browns dress which has travelled across the globe with me. I also discover a pair of cowboy boots that have been gatheirng dust in my garage of several years.
My urge to spend is starting to itch and I satisfy it by sending off for a free pashmina offered in a magazine. When the soft mint green shawl arrives I can hardly believe my luck. I dye a peach French Connection jacket that I never wore black and dig out the cream Biba shirt I found in a New Brighton charity shop in 2005. I also breathe more life into a strapless dress (normally only worn at night or on holiday) by wearing it during the day with a cardigan and belt.
I am enjoying this. I dig out two summer dresses and winterize them with layers and boots. I take a skirt I never wear to the cleaners and get it shortened and when I want a corsage I follow some simple instructions in a dressmaking book and make one with the remnants of the shortened skirt. My greatest hour comes after I covert a little black lace dress from LK Bennett. It reminds me of the one I bought in 1988 for my husband’s first Christmas Do. It cost £49.00 from Next then. After I cut out the sleeves I have one very similar to the LK Bennett one that costs £199.
Not all goes well though. I try and make use of some too-short trousers and end up looking like an extra from Star Trek.
I start to believe there is something magic in my clothes. After dressing up in a spotty skirt which reminds me of my Spanish holiday and the Flamenco Show my husband returns home with two tickets to see Gerardo Nunez at The Philharmonic Hall. To keep my spirits high I devise a challenge for my fellow bloggers to create a capsule working wardrobe from 10 items. The idea catches on and I get over 1,000 hits and scores of people joining in the challenge from across the globe. And there is another disaster – a turquoise dress and tights combination makes me turn green when I see the pictures. Green is defintely not my colour.
I get out my sewing machine and crop an old granny cardigan into a stylish cropped top. I discover a blue velvet dress I bought in the Marks and Spencer sale last year (still with its label in) and wear it to my Christmas Do. As it’s Christmas I also get some presents. My husband buys me a pair of Ugg boots for Christmas and the lovely Andrea Sef from Petticoats A Plenty in Liverpol who has been following my blog sends me a beautiful tulle underskirt which I wear many times over both day and night.
A New Year and another new challenge. Winter is my least favourite time of the year but I bring out my bright colours to liven up the long dark days.
Winter is almost over. This is a busy month with my birthday and a special 20th wedding anniversary holiday at Portmeirion to look forward to. I need new clothes but can’t spend any more money. I ask my fellow bloggers if it is OK to sell clothes I don’t wear on eBay and use the credit to exchange for some new ones. I wait nervously for their response. But the verdict is unanimous. As long as I am not spending a new penny on clothes the ebay exchange gets the thumbs up.
It has been a long, hard winter and I am fed up with wearing the same drab clothes just to keep me warm. Posting daily pictures makes me make more of an effort but I hate black, it does nothing for me and I only seem to cheer up when I wear pink. The shops are starting to stock summer clothes and I can feel my resolve weakening.
Finally, some sunshine peaking through the grey skies and I can start to shed some layers and rediscover some lighter, brighter spring clothes. I also find a book in my daughter’s bedroom which suggests giving new life to t-shirts by cutting them up – apparently t-shirt material doesn’t fray. I get the scissors out and by the end of the day I have 5 new t-shirts to wear including one which becomes my favourite – a long sleeved black and white striped one from Primark.
I always hated being small but as my family grow it becomes an asset. My 11-year-old daughter is only slightly smaller than me now and I start to “borrow” some of her clothes – isn’t it supposed to be the other way round? As the weather warms up my spirits soar and I rediscover my jewellery box making the most of accessories to liven up my clothes.
Almost there and my summer clothes coming out is reviving my resolve. It is also becoming a case of “first up, best dressed” . I covert a plaid shirt and when I tidy my 17-year-old son’s room I spot the perfect shirt. After a quick text to seek permission I put it on and when I’ve tucked it into my favourite skirt it looks great and bang on trend.
Finally, the year is almost over and a surprise comes in t e form of an email. The design studio at Isabella Oliver in London have been following my blog and ask if they can send me one of their dresses to wear. I am so excited when the parcel arrives with a beautiful dress that can be worn many different ways.
Before I finish the year I am ashamed to say that I haven’t even worn a third of my wardrobe. I decide to follow the advice that if you haven’t worn an item for 1 year then get rid. My two youngest children join me at a Car Boot Sale and I sell off what I can raising around £45 for Women and Chidlren First (WCF), a charity which helps tackle the high levels of child morbidity and maternal deaths in Malawi, Bangladesh and India. On the final day I wear the same dress I wore on my very first day and realise I am still in love with it.
My year is finally up and what a journey it has turned out to be. My story attracted readers from across the globe – between 250 and over 1,000 readers every day. I made many new friends who have remained with me – shairng their views on my outfits and gently advising me about styles and colours that suited me (or didn’t).
At first I wondered if the blog would be seen as a vain indulgence but the year turned out to be very turbulent for me in my private life and some days my outfits would be more about wearing a sartorial battle armour to cope with the slings and arrows that came my way. Clothes, I realised could be a great source of comfort in times of distress – a sentiment shared by Liverpool-born Orange Prize fiction writer Linda Grant whose book The Thoughtful Dresser explores the way clothes tell the story of our lives and help us to establish who we are and to experiment with who we might be.
Most importantly, as a middle-aged mother of four I have rediscovered my childhood joy of dressing up each and every day.