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Archive for the category “fashion”

You Pack A Dressing Gown For A Weekend Away

(And slippers, if it’s going to be cold.)

dressinggown

I last went to Barcelona 10 years ago. And the last time before that was 10 years before that. Clearly, Barcelona and I are only destined to see each other every 10 years – like relatives who live on the other side of the world, or in my case, Bristol.

Ten years ago, I was in Barcelona to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday. It was a weekend fuelled by mojitos and as a result, my memory of it is a little hazy, although I do remember that a) it was a lot of fun and b) the Sagrada Familia still wasn’t finished.

I’d first seen the Sagrada Familia when I was 20 years old. I made several trips to Barcelona around that time because my then-boyfriend had moved there to teach English as a foreign language, which I think was a legal requirement for all language graduates in the early 1990s. I remember the buzz of a city preparing to host the Olympics; the construction of tower block flats down by the sea; the dusty parks and the flower stalls on the Ramblas; the fact that the Sagrada Familia still wasn’t finished.

This time, I’m taking my boyfriend on an Obligatory Couple’s City Break – because while I’ve not been to Barcelona for 10 years, he’s never been at all. I’m looking forward to discovering it with him – and it will, I’m sure, feel like discovering rather than rediscovering. Partly because of those mojitos, but mainly because a lot can change in a city in 10 years. Look at London, my hometown, for example. In the past 10 years, Oyster cards and Boris Bikes have arrived, the South Bank has become a wonderful place to hang out, and Jamie Oliver restaurants have popped up everywhere. Sadly, not everything is progress.

The other thing that’s changed in the past 10 years is, of course, me. When I was 30, a suitcase packed for a late spring jaunt to Barcelona would have included Alka Seltzer, strappy sandals and not much else. But now?

Now, I pack a dressing gown.

(As well as Alka Seltzer and strappy sandals.)

This is partly because I’m staying in an apartment rather than a hotel – another change from 10 years ago, when apartment rental sites like AirBnB were few and far between, and a city break was synonymous with a hotel stay. Now, it’s possible to live like a local by talking to that local online and staying in his or her place – and to do so for the fraction of the cost of staying in a hotel. A hotel where, yes, you might get a dressing gown – but it won’t be your dressing gown, will it?

And that’s the thing. A dressing gown is the adult equivalent of a comfort blanket. It gives you a sense of home – of self – wherever you are. If I don’t take my dressing gown with me to Barcelona, I will simply be staying in some stranger’s flat. If I do take it, it will suddenly be my place that I’m padding around in. It will feel as if I live in Barcelona. And yes, this fantasy might only last for four days (the required length of an Obligatory Couple’s City Break). But for those four days, I’ll be opening the balcony shutters, looking down on the narrow street below, drinking real coffee, flicking through the channels on Spanish TV… all in my dressing gown. I’m already picturing Frank and myself like David Hockney’s friends Mr And Mrs Clark, only without Percy. Unless we managed to pick up a stray gato from the streets of Barcelona – and even then it’s going to be tricky, because we’ll have to find a white one.

Of course, it helps to have the right dressing gown. I’m sure that most dressing gowns, if you wear them regularly enough, will give you that sense of self and comfort wherever you are. But the very fact that my dressing gown is goddam blooming lovely is another reason I want to take it with me wherever I go.

I bought it five years ago at Singapore airport. I went there for 24 hours (Singapore, not the airport – the Tom Hanks film The Terminal may be based on a true story, but it’s not mine) while I was working as a jazz singer in a hotel in Malaysia. It’s a long, patterned Chinese-style silk dressing gown in midnight blue and I fell in love with it at first sight. I’d always had a soft spot for this type of robe – it’s a classic, after all – but it was only now, while staying in South East Asia, that I suddenly felt I could justify owning one. As a result, I padded around my Malaysian hotel room in my classic Chinese-style dressing gown and classic Chinese-style free hotel slippers, feeling even more like… well, a jazz singer working abroad than I ever did.  All I needed was to have a good cry while wearing too much mascara to truly turn into an ageing Judy Garland-esque diva. (Reader, it never happened.)

In short: my dressing gown makes me feel both comfortable and glamorous. It’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer (it’s almost like those Chinese people knew what they were doing when they designed it). And as result of all these things, it’s now a must-have when I pack a suitcase: whether that’s for an Obligatory Couple’s City Break Somewhere On The Continent or a Week With Family Over Christmas In Various Parts Of Britain. And when it comes to the latter, I now also pack slippers. Which is no doubt another idea that my 20 or 30-something self would have been horrified by. To which I say to her: “Just you wait”.

SagradaFamilia

The Sagrada Familia. Estimated completion date: 2028.

You Like A Bruce Springsteen T-Shirt In H&M, Then Realise It Isn’t Actually Intended For You

(Note: the situation I’m about to describe can also be applied to a Fleetwood Mac Rumours T-shirt in TopShop.)

I was 13 when Born In The USA came out. But – being 13 – I didn’t quite ‘get’ it. In 1984, I was listening to Wham! and Duran Duran, and I didn’t understand why a sweaty, shouty man in a bandana was dancing in the dark, let alone on fire. (Mind you, I didn’t really understand Duran Duran’s lyrics, either. But then, who did?)

600full-born-in-the-u.s.a.-cover

No, Born In The USA only came to life for me three years later, when it became the soundtrack to a school exchange trip to Germany (turns out the Germans liked Bruce Springsteen, even if I didn’t). Forced to listen to Immersed in tracks like Glory Days, Downbound Train and Bobby Jean – under the summery skies of Bavaria, and occasionally through the PA system of a coach – Bruce, and his songs, suddenly began to make sense to me. Of course, this might have been due to the fact that I was now a wiser, more musically sophisticated, hormonal 16-year-old… But whatever the reason, I grew to love what is, of course, a glorious album. Although Bruce was still a little too sweaty for my liking.

And then later in the same year, I gained an American pen friend – a brooding, intellectual type from Massachusetts – who worshipped Bruce Springsteen and sent me cassette tapes of all his earlier albums, along with an end-of-year essay he’d written about the meanings and imagery in Jungleland.

As a result, I fell hook, line and New Jersey fishing boat sinker for Springsteen. More specifically: for his music, which was unlike anything else I was listening to at the time. The energy of songs like Rosalita and Badlands, the sheer sexiness and lowdown dirtiness of tracks like For You and The River, the plaintive cries of troubled smalltown Americans who wanted to flee their small lives – whether forever or just for one night – in songs like Born To Run, Hungry Heart and Atlantic City… Springsteen’s music was exotic and familiar all at once. I too wanted to leave my small town (Wombourne, Staffordshire), although unfortunately I couldn’t drive, which all of Bruce’s protagonists seemed able to do. And while I’d never known what it was like to make love in the dirt – let alone to do so with a girl called ‘Crazy Janey’ – I dreamed of it happening some day soon. Preferably with a boy wearing a denim shirt and a guitar slung over his shoulder… sigh…

Sorry, where was I?

Ah, yes. Standing in H&M. Looking at a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt.

I’d owned a Fame T-shirt as a girl, but never a Bruce Springsteen one. So imagine my delight when, as a fortysomething, I spotted one in H&M. bruceT As I stood there handling this cheap-yet-magnificent item of clothing, my delight turned to admiration as I realised what excellent taste the people at H&M head office had. “Wow, like me, they realise how under-appreciated Bruce and Born In The USA are!” I thought to myself. “Good for them! They’ve made a T-shirt for people who love Born In The USA, like me!”.

And then it hit me.

Standing in H&M, surrounded by H&M’s core demographic, it hit me.

This T-shirt wasn’t meant for me. It was meant for girls whose parents owned and appreciated Born In The USA. It was meant for girls who probably thought that this was quite amusing. That Bruce Springsteen is cool but only in an ironic, my-parents-like-him, way.

They say that if you remember a fashion the first time around, you shouldn’t wear it the second time. Thus the resurgence of Eighties looks in the Noughties was not aimed at people like me, but at kids who found it cool and ironic to wear Eighties fashions and had no idea how we suffered for our crimped hair and puffball skirts.

Likewise, this T-shirt wasn’t made for me, or any of my fellow fortysomething Springsteen fans. It was made for 21 year-old actresses:

graphic-tee-emma-roberts(That’s Emma Roberts, niece of 45 year-old Bruce Springsteen fan Julia Roberts.)

And 23-year-old fashion bloggers:Screen shot 2013-02-02 at 14.28.31

For me to copy this phenomenon – ie to wear a T-shirt resplendent with the cover of an album my parents owned when I was growing up – I would have to walk around with this on my chest:

Beethoven-SymphonyBeethoven’s Symphony No.6, as never seen on any T-shirt

And so I left H&M feeling slightly sad, and really rather old, because (a) I really wanted to wear that Born In The USA T-shirt, but (b) I realised that it was intended for girls young enough to be my daughter or niece. And to add insult to injury, (c) it then dawned on me that those clever people at H&M’s head office who had come up with the idea probably weren’t my age, either. That H&M’s head office is staffed by ironic twentysomethings whose parents like Bruce Springsteen.

Good old – and by old, I do of course mean young – H&M.

Oh, and that’s the other thing. You know you’re over 40 when it’s something of a struggle to call it H&M. Because in your heart, it was, is, and always will be: Hennes.

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