Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Closet Thinker: Au Revoir



This is my last Closet Thinker for Stella, but not a goodbye to closet thinking. Perhaps it wasn't entirely coincidental that my sturdy old MacBook Pro finally gave up the ghost yesterday, and after three hours at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Brent Cross, I came away with my date retrieved, and a new laptop. I thought I'd be bereft to say goodbye to the old computer (it's seen me through the roller coaster of three books, thousands of articles, and a zillion emails and blogs) -- and actually, it's come home with me, for a safe retirement -- but the new one is thrilling, too.

Closet Thinker: March 4th
Ever since I started writing this column for Stella, over six years ago, I’ve been reminded each week of the way in which clothes are threaded through the stories of our lives; what we wear providing clues to who we are, where we came from, and how our futures might unfold. Fashion is a transient element -- an observation not intended as a dismissal, given that the intriguing vicissitudes of style can be a reflection of cultural shifts. But some material rises above fashion, whether christening gown or widow’s mourning. Just think of the shoes in which you walked towards independence; the suit that carried you into a different job; the jeans that reminded you that freedom is not only for the young.

And so it is that I find myself considering a wedding dress, after finding love the second time around; a symbol of how beginnings can arise out of endings, and alternative narratives unfold, even when a chapter of your life has come to a close. I still have my first wedding dress (white linen, from Nicole Farhi, worn when I was a slip of a girl; oddly undamaged, despite the onslaught of moths and time); but now I have the unexpected pleasure of finding a different dress, and joyous summer celebrations to come.

What should the grownup bride wear, when a white meringue is entirely inappropriate? Wallis Simpson provided a certain kind of chic template in June 1937, the divorcee in Mainbocher’s buttoned-up blue silk couture; reinterpreted with panache by Stella McCartney for her father’s new wife, Nancy Shevell, last October (in white, and shorter than the Duchess of Windsor’s full length gown; but with a similarly nipped in waist and long sleeves).

Given my immersion in the Chanel archives, having written a biography of Coco Chanel, I cannot help but be inspired by her iconic designs from the Twenties and Thirties; and doubtless my own passionate attachment to these was inspired by my mother’s choice of a Chanel-like little black dress for her wedding in 1960. Ideally, I’ll find an outfit that has a life beyond its ceremonial first outing (I’ve worn my mother’s wedding dress to countless parties), as well as suggesting tangible links with the past (something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue?). As yet, the details remain unclear; for in fashion, as in life, certainty can be elusive; which is no reason to fear the unknown. This is my last column as the Closet Thinker, but not altogether a farewell. Here’s to the future, and all that it may hold…

17 comments:

enid said...

I am sure that The Closet Thinker will be missed. I enjoyed reading it. Re Wedding dresses I agree that it should have a life beyond and be worh many times. I have a wedding dress that will never ever be worn again and a mother of the bride dress which I hate so much that I gave it away. I think the idea of a dress for one occasion is silly. My friends daughter bought a heavenly piece of Indian cotton draped it around herself and put a garland of flowers in her hair and was quite the best bride I have ever seen I am sure you will make a great choice too.

kairu said...

I'll miss the Closet Thinker! But I'll look forward to more from you, in different places, yet to come. Having a new computer, like anything new, is like shedding an old skin; you aren't quite ready for it, but you know it's time. It feels itchy and strange and some part of you longs for the comfort of the old one, with all its quirks, but still thrilling to think of what might be ahead...

I've always loved that Mainbocher gown, so perfectly fitted. While Wallis Simpson wasn't classically beautiful, she was so slender and so beautifully dressed it didn't seem to matter. When thinking of non-traditional wedding gowns I think of this one, or the one that the fictional Harriet Vane orders from Worth for her wedding to Lord Peter Wimsey. No longer a dewy girl, but in her early 30s (with a shock I realize I'm now the same age...) she opts for 'cloth of gold' instead of virginal white satin.

I also think of Caroline of Monaco, married for the third time, then in her 40s, pregnant and wearing a blue Chanel suit strung with gold chains. I always thought that suit was a trifle too business-like, but it *was* the 1990s. Perhaps you will find something softer, Justine, not white, but with the silvery glow of moonstone...

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you, dearest Kairu and Enid.
K, you are so right about the new computer. One of the itches is that I don't seem to be able to log into my blog this evening. Very frustrating...

jaywalker said...

Good luck with finding THE dress. I'm sure you will succeed. We've just finished watching the 90s Nancy Astor TV series again, having bought it from amazon recently. She was very stylish too and perhaps there might be some appropriate inspiration there. The Sargeant portrait is gorgeous.

And here is a tiny bit of tenuous connection which might make you smile - our King Charles Cavalier's grandparents were both Cliveden stock. Six degrees of separation again?

Karen, Surrey said...

Congratulations Justine. Wedding outfit shopping will be so exciting. Perhaps Chanel? Or following the Daphne theme 30's style or Keira Knightly style in Atonement? We wait with bated breath. The benefit perhaps of doing it second time around is you don't feel you have to do the "merangue", you can be you, have just what you want. It's very exciting.

Justine Picardie said...

Thank you! Love the dog connection... less than six degrees of separation. If only Nancy Astor's biography hadn't already been written.

enid said...

Brides have not always worn white for the marriage ceremony. In the 16th and 17th centuries for example, girls in their teens married in pale green, a sign of fertility. A mature girl in her twenties wore a brown dress, and older women even wore black. From early Saxon times to the 18th century, only poorer brides came to their wedding dressed in white--a public statement that she brought nothing with her to the marriage. Other brides wore their Sunday best.

Color of the gown was thought to influence one's future life.

White--chosen right
Blue--love will be true
Yellow--ashamed of her fellow
Red--wish herself dead
Black--wish herself back
Grey--travel far away
Pink--of you he'll always think
Green-ashamed to be seen
Came acros this what a hoot !!!!

Lilac In May said...

Isn't it strange how things which once felt permanent and solid can quickly become ephemeral and irrelevant in ones life?
My wedding dress was actually a suit, of sorts. A full length cream silk skirt and a jacket with a nipped in waist and a shoulder-hugging wrap-around collar. I await your dress details with anticipation.

The Scrivener said...

I got married in a navy and white YSL suit that was much too grown-up for my gauche 24 year old self (there might even have been a string of graduated Mikimoto pearls involved - it was the very early 90s, in my defence). After the post-Register Office lunch we had a party, I wore a cocktail dress that I got bullied into buying by a terrifying boutique owner in Beauchamp Place. Strapless black satin with silver polka dot lace overlay. With a lace train. I'll spare you any further details.

Sartorially I got a lot wrong that day. Too young perhaps to know what suited me - I was a slow starter in that regard. Luckily (and I believe a lot of it is luck) I did pick the right man. Wrong clothes, right man. Better that way around.

Justine Picardie said...

The YSL suit sounds rather chic! Though the scary lady in Beauchamp Place must have been a dragon...

jaywalker said...

justine - Just for your amusement, our Cavalier's (whose kennel name is Cliveden Starbuck) parents are:
Cliveden Illustrious and Cliveden Keira Knightley; his grandparents are: Cliveden Minime and Cliveden Stuart Little and his great-grandparents are: Cliveden Remington Steel, Cliveden Cuillindoon, Cliveden Cezannov and Cliveden Limited Edition. But he's just plain Charlie to us!!
I wonder if Cuillindoon is the Scottish connection.

Aifric said...

Hi..THIS IS URGENT SO PLEASE PLEASE READ...i'm currently doing a project on Chanel and it is worth 20 per cent of my final school exam. I have been searching the internet for interviews that have took place with Chanel but I need to know who conducted the interview. If you would be able to help me with a link or anything where I can read the interview and know who conducted the interview it would be fantastic. I really appreciate it. Thank you, Aifric O'Reilly

Aifric said...

Hi..THIS IS URGENT SO PLEASE PLEASE READ...i'm currently doing a project on Chanel and it is worth 20 per cent of my final school exam. I have been searching the internet for interviews that have took place with Chanel but I need to know who conducted the interview. If you would be able to help me with a link or anything where I can read the interview and know who conducted the interview it would be fantastic. I really appreciate it. Thank you, Aifric O'Reilly

Aifric said...

Hi..THIS IS URGENT SO PLEASE PLEASE READ...i'm currently doing a project on Chanel and it is worth 20 per cent of my final school exam. I have been searching the internet for interviews that have took place with Chanel but I need to know who conducted the interview. If you would be able to help me with a link or anything where I can read the interview and know who conducted the interview it would be fantastic. I really appreciate it. Thank you, Aifric O'Reilly

California Dreaming said...

Congratulations, I wish you an 'angel wings' conclusion in pursuit of your wedding outfit!

Rose said...

I read this in Stella and wanted to say I've loved the column and am sad to say goodbye but was very excited about your news. The last piece was excellent and timely. I am not married- have never been- I am being a bridesmaid again this summer which is a great honour of course but I do wonder about the term bridesmaid fo women in their thirties!

I also wonder about the frocks for bridemaids in their thirties... a lot... this time we can choose ourselves as long as we stick to a colour- very sensible I thought.

If I am lucky enough to be a bride I will be a mature one and don't think the usual meringue would be appropriate (it wouldn't have been for me at twenty one either. It does surprise me there aren't more interesting options out there- and I like your suggestions.

WIshing you all the very best with everything- I feel like I know you! and hoping for occasional closet thoughts here

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