My mum has a pair of leopard-print leggings that she used to wear at the school gates with a battered leather jacket and her hair in huge backcombed curls. In mid-90s Hertfordshire, she might as well have had a moon suit on so different did she look to all the other mums. I loved it.
Mum has always enjoyed clothes. When I was little, she’d tell me about the dresses my grandma used to make her as a teenager; a white dress with a satin bow and matching gloves for her First Communion; a crushed-velvet baby-doll dress for her birthday; corduroy mini skirts she’d wear with long socks and clogs to the youth club. It was never about posh togs or the latest “It” shoe – there wasn’t any money for that. But, with a little imagination and a sewing machine, Mum always found joy in dressing up.
My mum has always taught me to enjoy and experiment with fashion, and it’s something I’ve held on to
The picture below is of me at my christening with three generations of Graddon women: Great-Grandma Lily (loved a Baileys and leopard print), Granny She (who, at 85, still wears lipstick to open the front door) and Mum. It’s hardly surprising I ended up writing about fashion for a job – look at how stylish they all are. It makes me feel very proud.
Having a sense of style doesn’t mean being able to accessorise fantastically or knowing what the latest trouser cut is. A sense of style is all about knowing what makes you feel great when you get dressed in the morning, whatever that happens to be. Clothes, shoes, make-up – they should be fun. Being able to put on a killer dress and a swipe of lipstick is one of the many joys of being a woman and something I really believe in. So, too, do I believe in the confidence that clothes give you. A handbag can, quite literally, be a shield against whatever crap the day throws at you. A great pair of shoes help you walk taller. Perhaps that sounds corny, but it’s true. My mum has always taught me to enjoy and experiment with fashion, and it’s something I’ve held on to.
Of course, she’s also imparted a few pieces of practical advice, like never wear a pair of shoes you can’t walk in. A decent handbag will make you look expensive, even if the rest of your outfit is cheap. Never throw away a leather jacket – it will come back in fashion and look even better than before. Wear perfume – you’ll feel nice. Clothes look better when you don’t slouch. Don’t save anything “for best” – just bloody wear it.
And it’s with these words of wisdom and years of experimentation that I have been able to form my own sense of style. Along the way, I’ve learnt that frills don’t suit me and nor does purple hair (but it was fun giving it a go). I feel better in a jumpsuit than I do in a mini skirt, collars “work” on me, navy looks softer than black and I can wear high heels, even though they make me taller than every male in the vicinity.
I’ve also learnt what a bonding experience clothes can be. When I was younger, my mum and I used to take to the local shopping centre for six-hour-long marathon sessions. We’d laugh, cry, sweat and natter our way through every shop – sometimes buying something, sometimes not, but always having a good time. I have very fond memories of squishing into dressing-room cubicles together, giving each other style advice. And, although we have less time to do that now, she’ll still send me pictures of whatever new thing she’s bought, to get my verdict. It might not be a pair of leopard-print leggings any more, but she always looks great.