Because you can't have depths without surfaces.
Linda Grant, thinking about clothes, books and other matters.

Friday, 16 May 2008

R. A case study in thoughtful dressing

Regular readers will be familiar with Top Baby Lia, she of the Agnes b cherry dress. The day before yesterday, Lia's mother, R. rang me to tell me of the Rick Owens dress she has just bought and to point it out on the Net a Porter website.

R. has for some time been a source of great interest to me. She is in her early thirties and describes herself, with a degree of irony, as a 'grey bureaucrat.' She works in the public sector arts field and does not have a large income. Yet R. only ever buys designer clothes. She was shopping at Emporio Armani when she was a teenager. Her parents are not rich. How does she do it? She buys, she says, very few clothes. But only the best clothes.

R. studied fine art at Cambridge. She has a strong and extremely definitive visual sense, as does her partner, an architect. She claims that she has a few things from H&M, but I have never seen any evidence of this. What she does have is a wardrobe full of stunning enduring clothes that can be worn season after season. Once, I took her with me to Anya Hindmarch so she could use my press discount. It took her an hour to choose a bag, an hour in which she looked at it from every single angle, discussed it, thought it through. No, I like it, I'll take it. This was shopping as hard work.

I asked her once if she could settle for more but cheaper clothes. She sounded puzzled, as if I were asking her if she might consider leaving her two-year-old daughter unattended in the middle of Oxford Street for a couple of hours while she went off to do something. The suggestion was insane.

Some people have nothing but lovely clothes and some of us have a wardrobe full of mistakes. And it seems you don't even have to be rich to be in the former category.

R. rang me last night to deny ever having stated that she owned anything from H&M. After some twenty minutes she conceded that it was true she had some Rakph Lauren for H&M trousers.

R. was also given a present by the Queen the day before yesterday. Yes, you read that right. HM Queen Elizabeth II gave her a gift with her own hands. It is a signed photo of herself and her husband in a Smythson frame. I think it's going to look lovely in the flat and look forward to seeing it next time I'm there. I suggested she could put it in Lia's bedroom and tell her the old couple are friends of her grandparents.


greying pixie said...

I would say you almost certainly cannot be wealthy to be in the former category. The only times I have made mistakes have been when I've been feeling flush after a long period of struggling to make ends meet. I've learned over the years to spot the danger signs and now never make impulse buys or buy just because something is cheap. I only go to sample sales if I'm actually looking for something specific.

The thing is that once you've worn designer quality you can't bear to even touch H&M. What's the point of clothing that begins to deteriorate as soon as it leaves the shop.

Linda, I think it's just a follow on from what you say about cheap shoes.

phyllis said...

Linda, your wise friend is a woman after my own heart.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure you're all right but it wouldn't do for me. I get bored of clothes very quickly and would get just as bored whether I'd paid £50 £500 or £5000 for a dress. I want lots of High St clothes each season that I can then offload next season for a new lot.


Duchesse said...

R. is sleek, to wear Ricky O!

Would love to have that refined, edited wardrobe... instead have Hermes crammed next to Talbot's.

She has a wonderful eye, and I guess that she doesn't shop out of boredom or as a substitute for something- consciously or not.

indigo16 said...

"R" is indeed an inspiration, sadly I am hamstung by rogue staples, Indian Ink, PVA glue, Acrylic paint to name but a few. Art equipment takes no prisoners, so with a heavy heart I will stick with EBay & Jigsaw.

Kelly said...

I agree with Geri. I like the whole idea in theory, but in reality I enjoy having variety in my wardrobe more than I would like having higher quality.

Jen said...

I would love to know how R. manages to dress for the different aspects of her life: work versus taking Top Baby Lia to the park, versus running to the grocery versus dining out or seeing a concert. Perhaps she wears the same exquisite clothes for all these activities, but I get bogged down because I feel like I need different clothes when I'm in different roles.

alice said...

I grew up with a Danish mother who dressed me only in a few wonderful clothes. I hated it because of the lack of variety. I wanted a cotton blend sears-robuck dress for every day of the week, rather than a few lined wool skirts, liberty blouses and a sweater that matched everything. I do admire your friend's taste, but I love variety and junk too.

Anonymous said...

I guess I do a version of this - I have a summer and winter wardrobe and not much more in either than it takes to dress for a week. Some of my clothes are fairly expensive - for example, I bought some jeans from Jonny Q that fit much better than anything else I've found, they were £90 (this is on a student budget) and I wore them almost every day for a year and a half, at which point they wore out. And yeah, when I go clothes shopping its kind of like a 'mission' to sift through everything and home in on the best choice of whatever it is I need, which takes time and concentration.

I like the fact that its a lot more practical to store clothes and there's less rummaging around to find a good combination in the morning, also its eco-friendly and an alternative to buying fairtrade. Plus, I travel a lot and since I have less clothes, the majority of my stuff has to match so I can get away with packing less too.

Deja Pseu said...

I to am inspired by and trying to move toward R's way of dressing, however keep being stymied by having events crop up in my life (e.g. a recent business trip) where I need to buy something NOW instead of hunting five years for that perfect go-everywhere Chanel vintage jacket. Trying to convert a low-to-mid range wardrobe to an mid-to-upper range one (especially when one needs to maintain a certain type of corporate work wardrobe) is particularly challenging. What do I do when my Banana Republic trousers have worn out, but I can't yet afford to replace them or haven't found the *right* designer alternative?

Anonymous said...

silly comment - but I do not believe you can do a fine art degree *at* Cambridge!

R said...

Correct. It was History of Art.

savvygal said...

I agree it is more important to have quality than quantity. I still love my 10 year old Chanel jacket but not my 1 year old Zara jacket.