Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Sharon Owens: Why have girls lost the courage to vamp it up with vintage chic? - Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Now, I’ll admit straight away that I’m on thin ice with this question. I don’t exactly swan around in kitten heels and a little black dress myself. I’m already on record as saying I mostly wear a uniform of black wide-leg trousers, black T-shirts and black sandals or ankle boots.

But I do make a bit of an effort with some ‘statement’ costume jewellery and maybe a nice embroidered handbag or two. And this week I sent off for a proper lady’s dress from a retro clothing company based in Brighton. When my new dress arrives in the post, there’s a good chance I’ll look like one of those glorious ‘mature’ women from Last of the Summer Wine. But at least I’m making an effort to dress smartly.

So my question is: why has sportswear taken over as the dress code of choice for young people these days? And indeed the not so young? It’s like a sci-fi movie out there: where everyone has been taken over by some alien fungus and forced to slouch about in baggy tracksuit bottoms, a navy baseball hat and giant white trainers. All teenage boys look the same: like they missed the bus to a rap gig and are waiting outside the newsagent for their mummy to come and collect them. The girls are faring slightly better with their skinny jeans and straightened hair. But overall, there’s a dearth of original looks on the streets of Belfast in 2008.

I’ve not seen a sleek beehive hairdo, dayglo purple tights, a dashing tweed suit or a James Dean quiff in many a long day. Our senior citizens queue up in M&S in regulation lightweight beige anoraks and matching casual slacks. Apart from our dear old friends the Goths, there’s never been such a disappointing array of ‘looks’ on the streets of Northern Ireland.

I’d understand it if we were going through a deep recession or a famine or something. But isn’t there a slew of fashion magazines and TV programmes advising us on what to wear? Aren’t there dozens of brands of make-up, and designer clothes stores, and budget clothes stores? Isn’t there a hair salon on every corner?

So why aren’t we being a little braver with our appearance? Even Kate Middleton has thrown in the towel and is now dressing like Princess Anne, in sensible skirts and jackets. I couldn’t give you the name of a single personality from Northern Ireland who dresses well, apart from Gerry Anderson with his bespoke suits, and Lynda Bryans with her pretty costume jewellery and immaculate blonde bob. Surely we can do better? Surely we can’t allow the image of this place to rest on the shoulders of just two albeit extremely stylish individuals?

Have we lost our sartorial confidence altogether? Are we afraid of White-Van-Man beeping his horn and shouting abuse at us as we sashay up the road in some little ensemble we put together with a vintage jacket, a high street shirt and a pink streak in our fringe? Have the hard men of Ulster intimidated us so much over the years, we’ve all decided to skulk about in shapeless, colourless, inoffensive, anonymous clothes? When was the last time you noticed a well-dressed man or women or indeed teenager strutting proudly on your street?

I think it’s a great pity that we don’t put more effort into how we dress. Colourful and unusual clothes don’t cost any more than those awful white tracksuits with go-faster stripes up the legs. You know the ones that leave our young men looking like giant, empty carrier bags? And as for the baseball hats: is it just me or does anyone else think that young lads in baseball hats look as if they’re about to commit armed robbery or GBH?

I have a close friend who always dresses well, and matches her handbag and shoes to her outfit and has a funky platinum layered bob. But everybody else, myself included, seems to have made a conscious decision to render himself or herself invisible.

So when my new (red floral) dress arrives in about three weeks time, I’m going to really try to wear it with confidence. Perhaps with a red bolero cardigan and smart leather pumps. No doubt White-Van-Man will be beeping his horn and sniggering as usual but I feel it’s time to make a stand.

Where have all the fashionistas gone? Come on down, guys, we need some leadership here before it’s too late. Perhaps if we swapped our baggy tracksuits and shapeless anoraks for some tailored clothes it would actually force us to keep fit and maintain a respectable waistline? Somebody must be buying all those high fashion outfits and sparkly accessories in our many shopping centres? Well then, where are you?
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