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Welcome to the age of the fashiovidual (that’s fashion individual)

 Confronted with a shoulder-less top and a sinking heart, Marian Keyes made a ground-breaking decision to start making her own choices when it came to what to wear. Including a mad pink dress

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By Marian Keyes on

This summer might be the one I’ve finally become a fashion individual (fashiovidual?).

Back there in January or February when the SS16 stuff started appearing, like the first snowdrops after a hard winter, I clocked the shoulder-less tops and my heart sank. How would I manage the bra situation? I’m too old to be letting things swing free and easy but the whole strapless bra thing is more trouble than it’s worth. And playing in my head like a horror film was an image of a ten-year-old boy grabbing the hem of my top and giving it a good yank, exposing my elderly knockers to the world. 

Suddenly a little voice in my head suggested that I didn’t have to buy into the shoulder-free business. This idea was so seditious that I simply couldn’t entertain it. No. Rules are rules, right? Particularly fashion rules. 

See, for most of my life I’ve felt wrong – the wrong height, the wrong weight, the wrong shape – and I’ve laboured under the delusion that if I bought the correct clothes then I wouldn’t be wrong any more. So in my time I’ve bought – brace yourself, this makes for grim reading – puffball skirts, bandage dresses, floppy velvet hats, head bandanas, neck bandanas, see-through palazzo pants (aaargh!) and countless other unmentionable horrors simply because ‘they’ told me to.  

At no stage did it matter whether or not I liked the clothes  – sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t. Nor did it matter whether or not the clothes suited me, most of the time they didn’t, but I blamed myself – arse too big/legs too short/ stomach too stomachy/tick as appropriate. I’d received my orders and if I didn’t obey them, ‘they’ would mock me.  

But this year, as we inched into Spring and more and more shoulder-less tops arrived in the shops, there came a groundbreaking day when I found myself making an deliberate decision that I. Would. Not. Buy. One.  Not even a cheap-as-chips version for form’s sake. (Which I’d never wear but the fact it cost half-nothing would make me feel less guilty. I’ve done this in the past. I’m not proud, I’m only saying.) 

As well as my own personal fashion Road to Damascus, I feel there’s a wider societal seachange taking place. A pushback against “Look Exactly Like This Or We Will Mock You”

I’d finally internalised something seismic:  there is no ‘they’. ‘They’ – those cackling, judgey, skinny bitches – exist mostly in my head. Or ‘they’ is a construct, an unholy alliance between glossy magazines and the big business that is fashion to make us spend too much money on stuff we don’t need.

As well as my own personal fashion Road to Damascus, I feel there’s a wider societal seachange taking place. A pushback against “Look Exactly Like This Or We Will Mock You.”

Remember all the song and dance when Diane Keaton wore her own clothes in a recent Vanity Fair shoot? The picture is almost comical; first comes a lacquered, flat, frozen spread of actors  – then stuck out on the edge, in her hat, ill-fitting frock coat and big smile, looking like she’s been photoshopped in from another decade, Diane is interesting, loveable and alive. 

The fact that this was even a story is bananas but Vanity Fair actually letting her wear her own threads, could it be symptomatic of a reclamation of individualisation?   

Like, look at how we’re individualising our bodies with ink. (In fairness, I’m not but that’s only because I thought I was too old. In the wake of Judi Dench’s news though, I’m considering it, and all that’s stopping me is the platitudes I’d have written on me forevermore. ‘I Believe in YOU.’ Or, ‘Handle with care. Precious cargo.’ I just couldn’t bear it…) 

Maybe I look ridiculous in it, but that’s happened before and I’ve survived and more importantly, this time round, it’s a ridiculous of my own choosing

Likewise the brutal chokehold the hair industry had us in has relaxed and it’s such a relief that it’s no longer illegal to be seen on the streets with hair that hasn’t been blowdried, flat-ironed or tonged into cowed obedience.

And what about wedding dresses? Isn’t it great that it’s become okay to not spend four figures, that it’s cool to wear something from Ghost or even the Sue Ryder shop? Or that a reception in the village hall, with a pick’n’mix stand and a Mr Whippy machine is far more charming than a sit-down, foie-grassy dinner in a doomy hotel. 

Weddings aren’t the only occasions where people are refusing to get themselves in hock up to their oxters. At a recent funeral I was at, the bereaved family didn’t hire the undertaker’s spendy black-cars-of-death to transport them because showing up in their own wheels wouldn’t make the dead person any less loved. (Mind you, when Mammy Keyes got wind of it, she said that if she didn’t get a deluxe, top-of-the-range sendoff, she’d come back and haunt us.) 

So returning to the shoulder-free tops. Well, still a little giddy at my daring in eschewing them, I was on Asos checking to see if I was really really really certain, when I saw a dress.  It was pink tulle, embellished with colourful crystal flowers and tons of shiny stuff. It was like a child’s vision of what a fairytale princess would wear and wildly inappropriate for a woman of my years. But I DIDN’T CARE! I was IN LOVE!  

I bought it and I’m MAD about it and yes, maybe I look ridiculous in it, but that’s happened before and I’ve survived and more importantly, this time round, it’s a ridiculous of my own choosing. Yeah. I’m a Fashiovidual. I own my choices. Hey, that’s what I might get inked on my arm! 


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