Friday, 30 October 2015

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 30 October

Frock-horror! Thomas Blaikie advises on what to do if you meet someone wearing the same outfit as you at a social function

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
I was in France earlier this month and heard that there was a terrible crisis when seven fashion-followers turned up to view the Louis Vuitton fashion show in Paris, all wearing the same dress. ‘Le malaise était palpable’, apparently. What best to do if you meet someone in the same outfit as you?
Rene Blanchard, Winchester

Dear Rene,
Quelle horreur! It seems this really happened. Seven ladies were in ‘exactement la même robe’, a conspicuous affair in black and white with a tribal motif, for the défilé of Louis Vuitton – I hope you like all this French. What’s rather fishy is that the dress was from the previous collection of the same house and that there were seven people wearing it. Perhaps a bit of an attempt to drum up publicité?

Nevertheless these disasters do occur. When I first bought at Topman, the very next day I saw someone in the exact same jacket in an obscure back quarter of Kentish Town. This summer someone was wearing my Zara T-shirt outside Vauxhall Tube station. A passer-by isn’t so bad. You can scurry away, thinking, ‘If it’s good enough for them…’ If the outfit clash occurs at a social function, unless you’re going to dash for the door or have brought a backup with you, what can you do? A large, fine scarf, kept in your handbag, might come to the rescue. You could whip it out and create an instant different look. Otherwise either ignore or draw attention to the situation.

Do you remember when Mrs Thatcher sent a note to the Queen asking if they should plan to avoid being in the same colour if appearing together? The answer was: ‘The Queen does not notice what other people are wearing.’ The alternative approach was illustrated recently by the editor and fashion director of Glamour magazine, who turned up to work one day wearing the same Jimmy Choo red ankle boots. They took pictures, showing how they were wearing them in different ways, and published them.

Usually you’ve a better chance of avoiding outfit-clash the more you pay for your clothes: designer items are made in limited numbers. Or mix and match and avoid conspicuously patterned pieces, especially if it’s a whole outfit such as a dress or suit.

Finally, don’t be a celebrity; they seem to suffer from same-outfitcrisis much more than ordinary people. Could it be something to do with not paying for their clothes? Or that they insist on having a particular model from a fashion house, which is then produced in larger numbers than it would have been otherwise?

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Speaking on Woman’s Hour recently, Nigella Lawson complained about the phrase, ‘You’ve lost weight’, particularly when addressed to women. Her point was essentially a feminist one, that women are obliged to be thin and aren’t allowed to eat so-called ‘dirty’ or shameful food such as ice cream, chocolate or cake. ‘You’ve lost weight’ is offered as a compliment, meaning, ‘Now you’re a good girl and not a disgrace’.

Reflecting on the phrase, I’m struck by a number of further unfortunate implications that might arise. Does it not suggest that before you were too fat? Anyway, how does the onlooker know with such certainty that you’ve lost weight? In its manner, it is highhanded and patronising, however well meant. Also, alarm bells might ring: Is there something wrong with me? Do I look ill? Am I ill? I haven’t been on a diet. How can I have lost weight?

So on the whole, avoid saying, ‘You’ve lost weight.’ All remarks about personal appearance are dangerous. ‘You look tired’ doesn’t go down well with me. I don’t know about you. Best to say, if true, ‘You look well’ or ‘You look fantastic’ and leave it at that.

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