Thinking About: Clothes

My dad always used to tell me, “You get what you pay for”.

I was thinking about that statement a few days ago, as I was ironing some shirts. One of those on the ironing pile was a shirt I bought in 1999. It is a ‘pullover’ style, with twin front pockets and a short zipped entrance for the neck. Made of strong cotton/canvas, I bought it in the chain store ‘Next’, for almost £40. Back then, £40 was a lot of money to pay for a shirt, believe me. You could buy a two-piece suit for that money, in a ‘cheap shop’.

But here I was over twenty years later, ironing a shirt that looked as good as the day I brought it home.

In the 2014 photo on my ‘About’ page, I am wearing a lightweight jacket with a Tintin logo. That was bought from a shop in London that used to sell official Tintin merchandise. It was an impulse buy, as it had been reduced from an eye-wateringly ridiculous £199, to just £90. But that was in 1990, when £90 was around the total disposable income we had in any given week after bills. Other than some fraying inside the pockets, that coat is also as good as new. I wore it out with Ollie recently, before the weather turned warm.

Thirty years old, and still going strong. It has cost me just £3 a year to own that jacket, and I am sure it will last for another ten years. If I live that long.

When I moved to Norfolk in 2012, I bought some items of clothing I had never previously owned. They included a pair of warm corduroy trousers purchased from Marks and Spencer. Not cheap even then, at £39.99, they are still like brand new, despite being worn and washed numerous times.

One of the benefits of getting older, and being male, is that you tend to care less about fashion. You don’t get rid of things just because trends change, or certain colours become supposedly unacceptable. Most of the styles in my wardrobe I would class as ‘timeless’. I no longer own any jackets with enormously wide lapels, trousers with substantial turn-ups, (cuffs) or shirts with collars as big as the wings on a light aircraft. Those things went the way of fashion trends, when I was still young and foolish enough to have bought them.

I also don’t own any ‘skinny’ ties anymore, or knitted ones, for that matter. You see sense, you buy conventional, and you no longer read magazine articles about what is ‘In’, or ‘Out’. If you are still falling victim to that, I understand why. And I feel sorry for you.

But one day, you will ‘get what you pay for’, and be very happy that you did.

The Quintessential Possession-my saree box

A wonderfully evocative post from Indian blogger Ritu Ramdev, about the importance of the Saree in her culture, and her own treasured Saree box.

MusingAmusing

A must have in every Indian woman’s wardrobe…saree.It not only symbolises femininity but also the great Indian traditions. The versatility stored in its weave and draping reflects the region from where it belongs. Though over the years it is losing its significance to the hassle free western dresses but still it occupies an indisputable place in each household. Every woman likes to boast of her heterogeneous collection from different parts of the country- Baluchari, Taant, Painthni,Chanderi, Kanjeevaram and the list is endless. An army wife for sure feels highly jubilant when she flaunts her collection by virtue of having been posted to such places where she gets an opportunity to pick an exclusive piece from the maiden source. Over the years, it definitely adds to her self glorification…but other than just being reflective of one’s indulgence there are innumerable stories associated with each and every saree in the box.

The…

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A Random Memory

Wandering around on a cold bright afternoon with Ollie, it often surprises me what pops into my mind.

Once my Mum was in her eighties, and could hardly see, she often spilled things down her clothes as she was eating. On occasion, I would visit her to find her sitting in a top or dress that was obviously quite badly stained. I would point this out, and offer to find her something to change into from her wardrobe. But every time she was adamant that there was nothing there, that her clothing was not stained, and she was fine as she was.

She didn’t have any loss of mental faculties at that time, so I suspect her reluctance to believe me came from a mixture of embarrassment, and natural stubbornness. One evening, I was due to take her to a restaurant to celebrate some occasion. I arrived to find her wearing a rather fancy black outfit that was quite obviously spattered with stains from what she had been eating the last time she had worn it. I mentioned that she might want to change, as many other people would be there, and might wonder why her top had so many marks on it. She became unreasonably angry, and told me that if I was that bothered, she would stay at home.

I took her as she was, feeling sad that a once elegant and immaculate lady was perfectly happy to be seen in food-stained clothes by an assortment of family and friends.

Not long after this twenty year-old memory had been in my head, I saw a fellow dog walker, with her two dogs. One of them jumped up to me a few times, leaving muddy paw prints on my trousers, and then on the sleeve of my coat. She apologised, and told her dog off for jumping up. I assured her it wasn’t a problem. “They are only my dog-walking clothes, don’t worry”.

Maybe it runs in the family?

Looking Good In Victorian Times

During the Victorian Era of 1837-1901 going out badly dressed was never an option for all but the poorest in society. In the 1860s, high fashion demanded the wearing of very wide, ‘crinoline’ dresses. There were supported by a hooped affair that the unfortunate lady had to wear strapped around her middle. Then yards of heavy material in the form of an underskirt and overskirt would be worn underneath, and fastened around the hoops, After all that, the final dress would be put on by a helpful relative, or a ladies’ maid, often having to be sewn into position at the last minute.

No wonder houses had bigger entrance doors at the time!

The demand for ever smaller waists in female fashions led to some drastic measures. Corsets stiffened with whalebone (yes, from real whales) would be tightly laced around the middle, from under the breasts, to the swell of the hips. This was done with such force, it was almost impossible for the poor woman to consider doing it without help.

Not only did they have to suffer the corsets, but also smart ‘corset covers’ that were applied over them. This on an undergarment that nobody could even see!
Many versions were widely available.

The resulting tiny waist has to be seen to be believed. Small wonder that women dressed like this could not eat, found it almost impossible to go to the toilet, and often fainted as a consequence of their internal organs being compressed unnaturally.

A snazzy striped dress was the height of fashion too. This lady was very much ‘on trend’, in around 1880.
Her waist reminds me of a wasp!

This is what passed for mainstream ‘glamour’ photography at the time. 🙂
Although tame by modern standards, it serves to illustrate just how much underwear was worn under everyday clothes.

Men had to look good too of course. Though they might have escaped the rigours of corsets and crinolines, they were expected to wear three-piece suits in all temperatures, along with hard collars, and ties of course. And not forgetting trying to keep a heavy top hat on their head.
As well as the clothes, facial hair was the ‘mark of a man’!

This smart chap obviously loves himself.
He has included the cane in his photo, showing him ‘getting his swag on’!

So the next time you are slipping on a barely-there pair of thong panties, a baggy T-shirt, some black leggings, and flip-flops on your feet, just be grateful that you were born after 1920.

Holiday Time: Old Photos

As it is August, and the peak time for summer holidays, I thought these might be seasonally appropriate.

Taken between 1902 and 1907, these delightful old photos show people enjoying a variety of holiday activities.
And almost all of them did them wearing their best clothes!

In 1902, ladies did not get changed by holding a towel in front of them. They got ready in mobile ‘bathing machines’, which were then wheeled into the sea so they could get straight into the water without being ‘ogled at’ 🙂

Some didn’t bother to wear any swimming attire at all, but went in wearing their street clothes.

This attractive elegant lady is posing on the deck of a cruise ship.
Her outfit is beautiful. Different times indeed.

Sometimes, just standing on a jetty above the lake was close enough!
I’m guessing the lady in the middle was either expecting a baby, or the wind had billowed out her dress. 🙂

The braver ones might hire a rowing boat, and venture out onto the lake.
But they made sure to wear their best hats for the occasion.

This lady was photographed in Long Island, USA. She was admiring the waves of The Atlantic Ocean, and turned to pose for the shot.

Shell-seekers on a New Zealand beach, in 1904. Ten years before WW1.

Well-dressed holidaymakers thinking about taking a trip along the beach in a horse-drawn carriage. USA, 1907.

I was wondering what they would make of topless sunbathers, thong bikini-bottoms, jet-skis, and Kindle e-readers. 🙂

Hanging on to my shorts.


(Not me in any of these photos)

Regular readers may recall my love for wearing shorts. After many years spent wearing a uniform, or business attire, retirement gave me the freedom to wear shorts anytime I wanted to. That time usually lasts from March through to the end of October, before falling temperatures force me back into waterproof walking trousers, or casual joggers.

This year has been no exception. Starting with my birthday on the 16th of March, I have worn shorts every day since. There were two occasions when heavy rain made me retreat into longer leg-wear to tuck into wellington boots, and a few times when an evening meal in a restaurant necessitated the wearing of smart trousers. Otherwise, my varied selection of shorts has been put to very good use every day.

I have quite a few pairs, in various styles and colours. I can be seen in grey, tan, beige, charcoal, navy blue, and sand, although I do not own any in white. There are the longer-leg versions, some just over the knee, and a couple of pairs that just brush the kneecap. I no longer have those very short ones, once fashionable during the 1960s. Locally, I am known for wearing shorts at all times, braving nettles and brambles, shrugging off the stings and scratches.

Today is the 31st of October. For many people in the world, that signifies the celebration of Halloween. But for me, it is the day that the shorts are traditionally packed away for the winter, with me longing for the warmer weather that allows me to get them out and ready for a new season of shorts-wearing. Yesterday was very cold here, but I was still out walking with Ollie wearing shorts. Fellow dog walkers remarked on my endurance of the cold, but to be honest, I didn’t feel it on my legs. Today is grey and chilly, and doesn’t look much like improving.

But I might just do another day in shorts, and break tradition just this once.

Socks

socks

I know. Socks might seem to be a strange thing to write a blog post about. Then again, I have written before about fluffy dressing gowns, sheepskin bootees, and walking clothes. So mundane clothing posts are not that unusual here.

Over the years, I have come to realise that socks are things with a will of their own. Like some pets, they can be brought into the home, but after that, do pretty much whatever they want. For many years, I only wore plain socks. Then I discovered that pairs are not always what they seem, and two pairs of black socks can look very different once they have been in the wash. So I began to buy the type with identifiable markings, hoping to keep the pairs together.

Some have coloured heels and toes, others small motifs or logos on the sides. Seasonal gifts also provide easily identifiable socks, with Santa or reindeer on them, or occasionally birthday greetings. I even have a pair of Valentine socks, with hearts applied on each side. Given that preparation, you would think that it would be easy enough to keep them in pairs, wouldn’t you?

But the socks have different ideas. They have had decades to develop their talents.

Empty a washing basket, and load the contents into the machine. As soon as it has started, you can guarantee that you will find a single sock somewhere between the bedroom and the kitchen. It will be relaxing in plain sight on the floor somewhere, having decided that it is not going to be washed that day, whether you like it or not. So you put it somewhere that you will remember. Once the washing has finished, you intend to return the clean sock to its partner, and wash both again. But when you go to that place you remembered to leave it, you can be sure that it will be gone. It will have gone to that place where socks go, a place unknown to the owners of the mischievous footwear.

At least you still have plenty of socks in that load in the machine. When it is finished, you either put them into the tumble drier, or hang them out on the line, weather permitting. Whatever you decide, you are just allowing the socks to continue to carry on developing their skill of escapology. They could teach Houdini a thing or two, that’s for sure. When the tumble drier has finished, you will be sure to examine all the nooks and crannies for any escapees. Content that you have everything in your arms, you go back into the bedroom to sort through the dry washing.

Sure enough, you are missing at least one matching sock, sometimes more. Retracing your steps is normal, but always fruitless. If you are very lucky, you might spot one sock on the floor, or perhaps find one still clinging to the drum in the washing machine, like a limpet on a rock at the seaside. If socks had a voice, they would be laughing. And if they had a mouth, they would be grinning. To them it is a game, I am certain of that.

Let’s assume that you have recovered all the socks. Dry and clean, they are arranged on a surface to be put into pairs, and stored back in the wardrobe or drawer. You are pleased with yourself, and with good reason. No socks have escaped today. No more single socks will relax in your storage, content in the knowledge that they will never be worn again. They are all paired up, and you are ready to tidy them away. But then you notice that one blue-tipped sock is actually paired with a green-tipped partner. How did that happen? Where are the other two that make these into pairs? No amount of searching will help you to find them. They are just gone, pure and simple.

In the great game of Man versus the Sock, the socks are once again victorious.

I have just had to accept that this is a battle that can never be won. The socks are just too good at what they do. At least for the four months of the summer, I don’t have to wear any.

The Lakes: Preparation for a change

Before I post about my trip to the Lake District, and add some photos, here is something about how different the experience was for me.

I have known my friend Antony for a very long time. We used to work together in the same Ambulance Station in London, so share the unique experience of emergency work in a crowded and hostile environment. Some years later he left the city and moved to the Lake District, where he lived for three years. He has always been energetic and fit, and embraced hill-walking, mountain climbing, cycling, and many other outdoor pursuits. For my part, I was embracing politics, red wine drinking, and eating in London’s amazing choice of restaurants.

A few years later, he returned to London and I suggested a job where I was working at the time, with the Metropolitan Police. He eventually became my partner in a police control room, where he still works to this day. He continued to be interested in all manner of sporting and challenging activities, and I continued my love of fine dining and fine drinking.We remained good friends, albeit with very different hobbies, and totally opposite outlooks on life.

When I retired and moved to Norfolk in 2012, he came to visit me some time later. We walked along the Norfolk Coast path to Brancaster, and he was impressed with my new found levels of activity, and outdoor interests. Although he is twelve years younger than me, our similar experiences and attitudes have always ensured that we would be like-minded, in most things. He suggested that we could go to Cumbria, and visit the western lakes. I was surprised, and sure that I would never manage the hills, or the difficult walks, so declined. He persisted the following year, so I finally agreed, wondering what I had let myself in for!

I soon discovered that I would need a lot of stuff. Soft-shell trousers, hiking boots, and a good coat too. He would lend me a rucksack, something that I had not carried since I was sixteen, and he would arrange suitable accommodation for us, to include bringing Ollie along. We decided to take my car, as it is large enough for all the luggage and has ample room in the rear section for Ollie to recline on his large bed. The arrangements were made, and the booking confirmed.

Then I really started to worry.

How was I ever going to manage the hills, or the long days of constant walking across rough terrain? Would Ollie cope? Would I hold Antony back, or fail completely? I set my jaw, and determined to do my best. All too soon, the day loomed. As I packed the stuff ready for the trip, I was still concerned about my ability to actually do all this. But I just went with it, and I am pleased to say that I did manage what was required.

As an aside, I was really pleased with the things I bought for the trip. With no prejudice, I can wholeheartedly recommend the following items for anyone considering something similar.
http://lowa.co.uk/?product=renegade-gtx-mid-ws
http://www.craghoppers.com/pro-lite-softshell-trousers-black-1-9.html
http://www.trespass.com/mens-edwards-waterproof-jacket

For a rucksack, I used one that Antony lent me, and I later discovered that ‘technical’ T-shirts are the thing too.
http://www.karrimor.com/karrimor-aspen-technical-t-shirt-444830?colcode=44483003

So go prepared, and make the best of it. Posts with photos will follow soon.

Sartorial surrender

I have previously written a couple of posts about what I wear. My new fluffy gown has been mentioned, as essential for staying warm whilst blogging. Some time later, the always useful sheepskin bootees got their spotlight too, for the same reason. But it was not always thus.

There was a time when I always wore suits. Even casually popping down to the Wimpy Bar as a teenager would see me dressed in a smart two-piece, crisp shirt, and a tie of course. I would put on a jacket to answer the door rather than be thought scruffy, and spent awkward evenings at my girlfriend’s parents’ house cocooned in a three piece affair, that included lapels on the waistcoat. As soon as the weather got colder, overcoats or leather jackets were essential too, completing the outfit when out and about. I would not have been seen dead in a T-shirt, and didn’t even own one until the 1990s, when they were issued to me as part of a uniform. If the weather was hot, I still wore a suit, changing to lightweight materials in summer colours. And when I wore a tie, it was never undone at the collar, as so frequently seen now. Shoes had to match socks, and if they were leather, had to be shiny at all times.

By 1980, I was wearing a uniform for work. At the time, it was not unlike a two-piece suit, although the tie was a clip-on, for safety reasons. However, I could feel myself becoming lax. After wearing uniform all day, it was all too easy to not bother, once I got home. My love affair with dressing gowns began at around that time, as I became less inclined to bother to dress smartly around the house. Not long after that, I took to wearing shorts a lot during the warm weather, paired with open-neck summer shirts. I still didn’t own a pair of denim jeans, although I embraced the new fashion for the smarter ‘Chino’ styles of trousers.

By the time I reached my forties, I still wore suits on any social occasion. Whether it was a restaurant meal, a visit to the theatre, or attending any function with family or friends, I was always to be seen ‘suited-up’, despite the fact that almost everyone else was by then dressed as casually as they could manage to get away with. One evening, I went to dinner at the house of a friend of my ex-wife. They thought it was very strange to see me arrive wearing a suit, and even stranger that I declined to remove my jacket when offered the chance. They told me later that they had presumed I was going on somewhere afterwards, or had arrived from something else; a funeral or wedding perhaps.

I had to face facts. People were no longer dressing like me anymore, at least in the winter. I was becoming an anachronism. On one night out with another friend who was also wearing a suit, we were approached by two young women. Any idea that they were remotely interested in us soon faded when they asked if we owned the nightclub, as they wanted to report a stolen bag. If I was out shopping in central London, I would often be asked questions by fellow customers, who presumed that I must be a member of staff, to be wearing a suit. I dragged out my tradition for a few more years. I always attended work functions smartly dressed, horrified to see my colleagues turning up in sweatshirts, jeans, and trainers. Attendance at something formal, like a wedding, also required that I look respectable, even though not wearing ties and sporting mis-matched outfits were becoming more acceptable socially, I considered this to be beyond the pale.

By the time I got close to retirement, I had almost reached the end. My suit count was down to two, and I no longer wore cufflinks. On the occasion of my large leaving party, combining retiring from work with leaving the capital, I finally wore a suit without a tie, even though it felt very strange. Once in Norfolk, I rapidly adopted what we have come to know as, ‘The Norfolk Uniform.’ The ubiquitous zip-up fleece top, matched with warm jogger-style trousers, and just a T-shirt underneath. Up here, this outfit is acceptable for almost anything, and copes with the weather too. I no longer have a belt, and my tie collection gathers dust, shaken off for funerals or weddings only. I am down to one suit, for the first time since I was around twelve years old, and I haven’t bought a new shirt in years.

Clothes shopping is now based on practicality, something that would have caused a shudder to my younger self. A selection of fleeces, waterproofs, heavy top coats, and even an unspeakable cap now reside in my wardrobe. My most recent purchases have been all-weather trousers, hiking boots, and walking socks.

The white flag is waving. My surrender is complete.

The shorts are on

After the popularity of my posts on fluffy gowns and slippers, I thought that it was high time to share my love of wearing shorts. Today was my first day (this year) of wearing them, and it was much later than normal, for the ‘shorts season’ to arrive in Beetley.

I generally wear shorts from my birthday in March. Once on, they are rarely off, until at least the end of October. However, the weather has not been very kind this year, so my usual time for donning shorts has been delayed, until now. I have to confess that I was pushing the boundaries, as it was not that warm. But it felt right to me, so on they went. That feeling is priceless. Cool legs, unencumbered by joggers, or normal trousers. OK, I have to be careful of nettles and prickly plants on my walks, but it is worth it, to once again experience the annual delight of shorts-wearing. My shorts tend to be of the longer-legged variety; at least knee length, sometimes a tad longer. They are always roomy, and some pairs have numerous pockets too. I am old enough to eschew fashion, and happily embrace comfort over style.

Not for me, the shorts of the fashionista. Mine are practical, a little baggy, and always a joy to wear. Today’s choice was an old favourite. A beige pair of goes-with- anything, traditional English baggy shorts. The type you might see in a WW2 photo, wide-legged, and superbly cosy. I also have some more modern shorts, slightly waterproof, easy-iron, and also knee-length, in a variety of colours. As well as beige, I have navy blue, khaki, and the ubiquitous stone colour. They all match with almost any shirt or top, and with six pairs in the wardrobe, I am ready for anything.

Whether thick cotton, or part-polyester, they are all good. They leave my legs open to the elements, available for tanning, and toughened to almost anything I might encounter. They are acceptable as evening wear in most Norfolk venues, and even if it is is a chilly evening, a warm top or fleecy jacket accompanies them perfectly.

It is almost June, and despite the occasional wearing of trousers to restaurants, or windmill volunteering, it is a safe bet that they will be on my legs until we see November. Feel free to join me in the joy of shorts-wearing. You know you want to really.