Anything goes…

I was born in… well, we can gloss over that. Let’s just say that my childhood was spent in an era of extremes. War and calls for peace dominated the headlines, crooners shared the charts with pop groups, hemlines varied between revelation and medieval and most married women… and God help you if you weren’t… still stayed at home to raise their children.

My mother had already broken that mould by working full-time when I was small. She had grown from a pretty young woman to look like Susan Hayward and dressed like Marilyn Monroe. She had fixed ideas on fashion and it was into this environment that my first stirrings of femininity would flutter.

I was blonde when I was very young, with pale wild waves that were rigorously moulded into an acceptable shape with rollers, curling irons and a back-comb, then glued into submission with lacquer. When I was about seven, the pale golden glory began to darken to a nondescript mousey brown. My mother, whose own enhanced hair colour cycled through several shades of auburn, objected to this and began the application of a vile peroxide product known as ‘Light and Bright’. Not, she would assure me, a hair dye. More of a colour corrector.

Although it was certainly unintentional and even though I was not conscious of it at the time, it was one of those ‘not good enough’ moments that undermine a child’s self-confidence. You begin to believe that who you are must be changed to conform to the ideas of others. All children spend at least part of their childhood wearing clothes others deem appropriate and it is one of the first areas touched by rebellion.

At eleven, all pretensions to sartorial freedom ended with the imposition of the cherry red uniform of the grammar school. The obligation to conform for nine hours a day (including travelling time) was mitigated only by the extremes of the decade that allowed you to wear pretty much anything the rest of the time. There just wasn’t much time left after school and homework.

By the time I was ready for teenagerhood, the decade-that-taste forgot was well underway, and for one brief, glorious moment, it was acceptable, even desirable, to have a wardrobe that contained garments as diverse as leather hotpants, orange suede platforms, white vinyl boots and psychedelic maxi dresses.

Then I started work and uniformity sucked me in once again. The unwritten dress codes of the working world were fairly strict at that time. Few defied them and prospered… especially women. Luckier than most, my first ‘proper job’ required no more than jeans and T-shirt. Being a window dresser, skirts were out of the question as, most of the time, I was either up a ladder or on my knees in a store window. Being part of an ‘artistic’ team, even though the others were men, it was de rigueur to go for colourful embroideries and sequins but even so, there was still the expectation to conform to a particular mould. My own taste was varied… mostly black leather or vivid colours… but it did not include jeans.

Then there was Paris… and I dressed how I damned well pleased. Mainly in red. After arriving in the expected British tweed, it was made apparent that the only expectation was that I had style. Any style… as long as it was my own. For a few brief years, I was able to dress as me. And I loved it.

Then I moved back to England and into the corporate world and became ‘a suit’. The mindset and social requirements can be as restrictive as the clothing and as difficult to escape when you leave that world behind. Off duty and on, there is an unwritten code that proclaims position. Rebellion came only in the height of a hemline and a refusal to wear dark, boring colours although ‘adventurous’ was seldom more than mid blue.

After the horrors of childhood peroxide, I had never dyed my hair. I just left it to grow and occasionally hacked the ends with the meat shears. When I was obliged to leave the corporate world and become a carer, I hacked to some purpose and experimented with various shades of red. Not those auburn reds that might have been acceptable to my mother, but brilliant, obviously fake scarlets and mahoganies, and finally my favourite orange.

It was a brief phase but an important one as I began to realise how little of ‘me’ was allowed to face the world. The clothes were still stuck in the rut of practicality and the expectations of the corporate world still lingered. It is only in recent years that I have thrown caution to the winds and begun to embrace my inner hippy.

Photo: Steve Tanham

My hair once again grows wild… though slower than I would like now and it is peppered with silver. ‘Sparkles’, my granddaughter calls the silver hairs. The hemlines creep ever closer to the ground. The embroideries are more discrete than they were in the 70s. And I’m comfortable. Not just in the flow and drape of the fabrics, but in my skin.

I was lucky. My sons already fondly call me weird, so externalising a little minor weirdness was no big deal. The conservative village where I live might not always agree. The others whose opinion I care for already look beyond the surface… for which I am grateful, as the surface is more than a little worn these days. But I think it is fair to say that love gives us permission to be ourselves.

After decades of conformity, I found that it is as simple as that… a change in the way you choose to present yourself to the world makes all the difference to how you see yourself, to your comfort and self-confidence. After a lifetime of feeling obliged to conform, we probably don’t even think about it much. We are who we have become, through choices… our own and those of others… and necessity. It is not easy to make a change when habit means that you don’t realise that is needed… or when you seek to be what you think those around you would like you to be. Yet how often do we ask? Those who truly care for us, love who we are, not who they would like us to be… or even what they see.

48 thoughts on “Anything goes…

  1. I am reminded of a poem by Jenny Joseph – “Warning”

    “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
    With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
    And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
    And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
    I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
    And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
    And run my stick along the public railings
    And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
    I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
    And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
    And learn to spit.

    You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
    And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
    Or only bread and pickle for a week
    And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

    But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
    And pay our rent and not swear in the street
    And set a good example for the children.
    We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

    But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
    So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
    When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thank you Sue. I was born in “AHEM!” too. I smiled when I saw this post because I’ve been reminiscing by way of two future posts I’m working on. They both occur in the 60’s and 70’s. Special crazy times in world history.
    Anyways, thank you Sue. Much enjoyed!!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes I agree. We came out of 50’s family oriented and convenience thinking and jumped into razzle dazzle (Musically anyways) We took crazy chances as a society I think, Of course war had absolutely nothing to do with our reactions 😏
        We may be heading towards a new reactionary society (repeating history)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Another very interesting insight into your fascinating life, Sue, and another gem of wisdom that comes with your experiences. I’m intrigued as to why your mum wanted to change your hair colour when you were so young, and I’m not surprised it undermined your confidence. It would any child. Nevertheless, your life clearly steered you well in the direction of discovering your own unique style, who you are and being comfortable with that, and that’s indeed what matters. I gave up worrying about what other people think a long time ago. I used to when I was younger but in the end it gets you nowhere and makes for a lifetime of insecurity and anxiety. So I do my own thing now, and either people like it or they don’t. As long as I feel comfortable and the people I care for love me for who I am, then that’s enough. As you so rightly say, it’s what’s beneath the surface that matters. So my friend, let those long hemlines swish and those silver tresses sparkle! Here’s to being us! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    1. From the photos I’ve seen of you, Alli, you look marvellous! And you can see that you express yourself in you own style. I just wish my ‘sparkles’ would get on with it and not be so half-hearted about the job 😉 x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you, Sue! That’s very kind. 🙂 As for your ‘sparkles’, they must already be happening if your granddaughter sees them! I believe her… 😉


  4. “Those who truly care for us, love who we are, not who they would like us to be… or even what they see.”

    Very true, but I will add sometimes we have to let them adjust to the truth of us. Some of our life callings are hard for our folks to come to terms with.

    Love and light

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I am of a similar era too, and I was told that the local villagers were whispering that I’d been in an accident and damaged my legs, or at least one of them was false. The reason? I was pregnant and dressed in od style Laura Ashley dresses to the ground with the pinnies and I (thought) I looked and felt feminine. not for me the bulging tummy showing all to the world. I liked to think I was a lady and remember the shock of that first Cosmo cover with Demi Morre (?) showing her large tummy. How things have changed. I’d still wear clothes like that if I could get them, have to make do with Indian skirts instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have to say in my tiny hot apartment I am always in shorts and tank tops, something I haven’t worn for almost 40 years, but no one ever sees me in our isolated present. Not sure I will be brave enough when the world opens up to dress so inappropriately for someone almost 70, but it is liberating even to do it at all. (K)

    Liked by 1 person

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