The day I became an accidental style icon
Monday, 30 November -0001

The day I became an accidental style icon

The fan-pleated velour skirt (complete with iron mark), the burnt siennacoloured kaftan – VG Lee was always a bit of a fashion throwback, until now

I’ve never been in step with fashion. My preferred style veers towards comfort; large items teamed with Wellington boots. But several weeks ago I met an author friend off the London train. I’d worn a pair of khaki trousers that were several sizes too big, made from what looked like parachute material, plus an op-art patterned blouse off the boho-chic rail of my local Hospice Shop.

With one raised eyebrow the author friend said, ‘Hmm. A riot of vintage.’

What or who was she talking about? Had she perhaps experienced a mob of badly behaved elderly folk on the platform? That wouldn’t be the „first time for Hastings railway station.

‘I meant your out„fit,’ she said edging a weighty Louis Vuitton suitcase towards me with the toe of her leather boot.

I took that as a compliment, „fighting the urge to pat my hair demurely – which would have been impossible anyway as I needed both hands to carry her suitcase out to the taxi rank.

‘I’m something of a “vintage” a„ cionado,’ I called after her.

My neighbour, Ted, tells me he has always been a follower of fashion. At the moment he is on the lookout for a 1970s-style leather swagger coat as worn by Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels.

‘Ted, there’s a 30-year age gap between you and Vinnie Jones,’ I said gently.

‘Your point being?’

‘The 30-year age gap between you and Vinnie Jones.’

Ted is also about a foot shorter. The leather coat will come down to just where his Bedford cord trousers tuck into the top of his socks.

‘What do you know about men’s fashion anyway?’ Ted asked.

Flicking through the contents of my wardrobe after my author friend had gone home, I experienced a revelation; I had always worn vintage clothes!

Every single item, apart from my shoes, underwear and socks were old or second-hand.

Suddenly my whole life was validated. While for so many years I’d feared that I most resembled a bundle of badly ironed laundry, I had actually been decades ahead of such retrowearing luminaries as Renée Zellweger, Kate Moss and Chloë Sevigny. I could take my rightful place amongst those women who announced with a faux deprecating laugh while tweaking the hem of their Mary Quant shift dresses, ‘Of course, it is vintage’.

In future, as I smoothed down my own fanpleated velour skirt with iron mark on the back, or shot a frayed 100 per cent cotton cuff, there would be the unspoken implication that my clothes were expensive, bought in a little boutique run by a little woman in a little-known but exclusive part of town.

‘The problem is that everybody wants a nylon gusset these days,’ Ted complained.

We were sitting on a log at the allotment, drinking co ee and watching cabbage white butterflies settle gratefully on Ted’s cabbages.

‘I don’t,’ I said. ‘What about a side zip?’

‘That’s asking for trouble.’

‘Fair enough. Eccles cake?’

Ted wasn’t to be distracted. He rapped my knee with his camping flask, ‘I am searching for the classic Chelsea boot,’ he said. ‘It needs to have a vulcanised rubber gusset.’

‘Does that really matter?’

‘Does that really matter?’ Ted looked as if he might challenge me to pistols at dawn.

‘Perhaps you should check on eBay.’

‘I have checked on eBay, you – ’ I think he called me a ‘dunderhead’ but couldn’t be certain as he was already striding towards his cabbages wielding an insect spray.

‘Ted, remember we’re organic,’ I bleated.

Of course not everyone appreciates or even recognises vintage fashion. On one of the two hot days this year I put on my burnt siennacoloured 1970s full-length kaftan and went into the front garden to greet my best friend, Deirdre. As she got out of the car, I threw my arms wide in welcome. ‘Deirdre, what glorious weather.’

She stepped back in alarm. ‘You look like a giant box kite,’ she said. ‘Whatever possessed you to wear so much orange?’

Ideally, I would like to re-enact this scene. Deirdre’s car pulls up. As she climbs out, I take small, geisha-sized steps towards her, my arms clamped to my sides to minimise the width of my shoulders and box-kite effect. I look cool and elegant.

Suddenly Deirdre wishes that instead of a tailored jacket and trousers, she too were wearing a polycotton kaftan. She looks at me thoughtfully.

‘Orange is your colour,’ she says.

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