We seem to be having an especially autumny autumn. In quite the opposite way to the summers and winters of your childhood, which you always seem to remember as hotter and sunnier and sparklier and snowier than anything you ever experienced in adulthood, this autumn is delivering loveliness above and beyond everything we expect from the season.
It’s autumn as painted by a set designer out there – the same one who did the When Harry Met Sally poster. Autumn in a stock photo tagged “autumn”. Reds and russets and everything bathed in gold, like a real-life Made In Chelsea filter. Head outside between 4pm and 5pm any day over the last week or two, and you’ll likely have fallen over at least 10 people in a kind of trance, phones aloft, beaming up into the trees and muttering, “The light! The light!”
And that’s just in London, through our trademark haze of pollution and ennui. I can hardly imagine what gorgeous autumns the rest of you must be having, with your rolling hills and full-sized dogs and harvest festivals all the ruddy day. In fact, don’t tell me; I’ll burst.
Although, of course, somewhere along the way autumn has become the basic bitch of seasons. Oh, you like long walks in crunchy leaves, pub fires and small, pointless ornamental pumpkins? Is a cinnamon pecan sugar bucket your seasonal guilty pleasure? Do tell me more! But, actually, do – do tell me more, because the dreamiest thing about a good autumn is that it seems to be cynicism-immune. Even the most hardened joy-marshal can’t pour scorn on a sunny park on a Sunday afternoon in October. A good autumn transcends all question of taste and snobbery and Starbucks – calling it “lovely” is as simple as calling the sky “blue”. It just is.
I’m a big fan of literal dress-up. It’s the frustrated drag costumier in me – the one who can’t stop thinking, 'References! Codes! Concepts!', even when I’m putting on a jumper to go to Londis
Which leads me to my autumn dress. It’s vintage, covered in tawny flowers and leaves, dating back to the time in the early 70s when you could have any colour as long as it was orange and/or brown. It has a high roll neck and long sleeves in my very favourite shape: ballooning, then gathered at the wrist. I found it in a charity shop back in May and, thankfully, had the foresight to buy it and wait. It looked wrong then, but it’s so right now – pure autumn in an outfit. Even more so with a brown vinyl mac or a wool blazer over the top. Plus suede ankle boots, a satchel, maybe a Rupert the Bear scarf. “Hello, I’ve come dressed as autumn!” I’ve felt compelled to announce every time I’ve worn it, before anyone else can say it for me.
I’m a big fan of literal dress-up. It’s the frustrated drag costumier in me – the one who can’t stop thinking, “References! Codes! Concepts!”, even when I’m putting on a jumper to go to Londis. Never mind Halloween – every weekend just now is a ball and the category is “autumn realness”. Walking round all autumn draped in orange foliage feels unashamedly, gleefully, almost subversively on the nose – like wearing a beret in Paris, or a tartan scarf in Scotland. Which, now I come to think about it, are both things I have also done.
Enough has been written about the bliss of a long-sleeve dress (filed in the annals of fashion history alongside six volumes of “OMG, POCKETS”), but the long sleeves on my autumn dress are especially pleasing because they facilitate something I like to call “temperature-control dressing”. It’s the secret to a good autumn outfit, at least in glorious sunny-but-crisp weather, like the type we’ve been having. You either do bare legs on the bottom with warm layers up top, or tights and boots on the bottom, but no coat. The result is that you regulate your body heat and look breezily laissez-faire about it, while still getting to wear your most beloved autumn items – rather than loading it all on at once and dissolving into a perspiration puddle the moment you move inside and sit down.
As well as layers, the best literal autumn outfits also have a riotous colour palette. The most obvious reference point is nature, of course, but I also like to look to that other autumn institution: the roast dinner. Golden roast potatoes, burnished carrots, a lovely smear of mustard. The burgundy ombre of a beef joint or a lovely shoulder of lamb, blushing rosy pink in the middle. Nut roast brown for the vegetarians. The forest green of broccoli and kale, if you want to freshen things up. It’s all right there on your plate as inspiration, and fuel for that blissfully Instagrammable walk you’re going to take afterwards, muttering, “The light! The light!”
Which reminds me of the other great thing about my autumn dress: it doesn’t show the gravy stains. Long live the most wonderful time of the year.