Another stylist asked me recently what I thought was the best style advice a mother could pass on to her daughter? I thought long and hard about it. Had my mother given me fashion advice or had it always been me doing the ‘advising’? I cringed at the thought of my thirteen year old self lying on Mum’s bed while she chose an outfit for her evening out. “Euugghhh, you’re not going to wear THAT are you?” I probably said, stroking my red shiny trousers and adjusting the height of my sparkly leg warmers. I undoubtedly proceeded to tell her what I thought she should wear. My mum, always slim and pretty, looked great whatever she wore, but I believed that high fashion began and ended with The Kids from Fame and Olivia Newton John. It was entirely appropriate for my 30-something mum to wear a silk blouson style dress for her wedding anniversary (I’d kill for that now – dress and wedding anniversary) but if it wasn’t tight, shiny and infested with lame I didn’t want to know. When high street chain Next was the new kid on the block, Mum came home with an amazing open weave knit the colour of autumn leaves. She wore it with knickers-bockers, ‘jazzy’ socks and plum coloured lipstick. I was shocked but quietly thrilled that as it turned out my mum did in fact have a clue.
So I suspect my mum knew far better than to bother to guide me when it came to fashion. I was the sort of person who had to learn by trial and error. Although there was a lot of error and not so much learning, not for a very long time. I did jelly shoes, ‘Dash’ track suits and fluorescent socks and sweat bands, and no, I don’t mean separately. The 80s weren’t kind to anyone’s wardrobe but while electric blue mascara and frosted lipstick is a popular conversation topic now, tights with one black leg and one red leg are not. Both my parents only ever commented in a positive manner with each style manifestation and perhaps rightly so. I’d like to think I’d be that open-minded if my three year old son decided he had to have a ‘Bieber’ cut. But I think it unlikely.
What I really wished I’d been guided through was the essential yet often uncomfortable minefield that is underwear. I snuck off alone to get my first bra. A late developer, I didn’t really need one but felt I should as everyone else in my class had one and I was embarrassed. If I thought that was embarrassing, it was very lucky I didn’t know what was to come. For the next ten years I bought and took back hundreds of bras in a bid to find the right size. When I occasionally discovered a bra that fit and was comfortable too I wore it to death instead of buying a few more of the same. On one occasion, just before a performance in my final year at drama school, my favourite bra was still wet from the wash. In a bid to dry it out before curtain up (it had also become something of a lucky bra – don’t ask), I drove the distance to the theatre with my greying bra flapping out of the car window. It was a winter night so naturally it was still damp when I climbed into my costume. I like to think it added a shivery kind of edge to my performance but frankly this particular production of Lorca’s House of Barnarda Alba was lacking heat way before I waded in with my soggy lingerie.
So there’s three rules for starters:
1.Get measured properly
2.Have lots of different bras
3.Hand wash bras and never put them in the tumble dryer. Don’t attach them to your vehicle either.
I always forget how expensive even high street lingerie can be and when you can buy a dress for the cost of one half of a set, it’s no wonder we’re tempted to scrimp in this area. However, if you buy fabulous, comfortable, supportive lingerie then whatever you put over the top will look and feel so much better. That in turn provides the confidence to walk tall, shoulders back, hand on hip. Think Joan (actress Christina Hendricks) in Mad Men – awe inspiring on so many levels.
Few of us go out specifically to purchase new underwear, unless there’s a new man on the horizon, and even then do we give it as much consideration as we might a new pair of heels? Both items need to fit perfectly and hopefully give us a bit of lift, but not so much we lose balance. How often do your feet change size or shape? Not very often. Boobs change all the time what with weight loss and gain, pregnancy, breastfeeding, age and simply the different times of the month. So why do we keep our bras until they’re shrunken, discoloured and with wires popping out? And why do we go un-measured for years on end? Imagine the damage we’d do to our feet if we ignored the pain and discomfort of ill-fitting footwear? Ahem…
Oh look, there’s another set of rules for you:
4.Get measured more than once
5.Buy the best underwear you can afford
6.If you find the mother of all bras, buy several and buy lots of matching bottoms too.
Finally, there’s a lot of choice out there and it’s taken me at least 30 years to work out the different styles and coverages available. Most people find one style suits them best and then avoid the others but horses for courses and all that. Sometimes an outfit demands something specific and horror of horrors you have to reach for the universally unsexy flesh coloured strapless number. And then there’s your knickers… thongs, briefs, boy shorts, bikinis, I can find a use for all of them at some point or another so wherever possible I’d buy a couple of styles per bra.
To have a drawer full of exquisite lingerie is a wonderful thing and lucky you if you do. I treated myself to a gorgeous new season 50’s style polka dot set last week. As I admired myself in my bedroom mirror, the three year old man in my life came in – bunny in one hand trailing along the floor behind him – and asked, “Mummy what are those big things?” followed by, “Errm, Mummy, where’s your willy?” What goes around comes around – at least he wasn’t wearing sparkly leg warmers.