Kenya Hunt ‘My version of day-to-night dressing was a night-time look worn all day’
Despite working at a fashion magazine, I’ve made a few sartorial mistakes. I comfort myself with the sentiment of an Instagram edict I saw: “If you’ve never looked a little dumb, you’re not having fun.”
I’d count the moment I met my husband as an off day, so it pains me no end that the clothes I wore have become a part of our marital lore. In his mind, the outfit is key to a story that must be retold, again and again: “She wore a shiny shirt, tight jeans, big, gold hoop earrings, tall boots and a giant white furry jacket. And I said, ‘I need to know this woman.’”
This visual loudness – the metallics, the big proportions, the shaggy texture – was my everyday look back in my late 20s, when I was living and working in New York. I dressed this way to please no one other than myself. I relished being able finally to buy and wear the labels I read about in magazines, but could never find in my suburban childhood home in Virginia.
My version of day-to-night dressing was basically a night-time look worn all day – ready for whatever fun might happen later. I’d think nothing of a morning commute in glittery Miu Miu heels or a gold Chloé sequin skirt. (To be fair, it was the era of high heels, flashy coats and skirts that were either very big and long, or very short.) No matter what the prevailing trend, I’ve always had a soft spot for the razzle. For further proof, see this old image of me in Milan, in bright colour and print, layered on top of more colour and print.
Now, my wardrobe stands on a foundation of grey, navy and black, mostly because it suits my lifestyle and the London weather. I limit the flamboyance to my accessories (a bright shoe, big earring, bold handbag) or show it through shape, such as an enormous puffer jacket. It’s just that now I choose pragmatic black rather than hot pink.
There’s a real joy that comes with loud dressing, because it requires a certain kind of go-to-hell spirit. I’ve come to indulge this in a more restrained way, but I don’t regret the mistakes. If I did, I’d have divorced my husband a long time ago, for telling that story so very, very often.
Ruth Lewy: ‘To think that this was my coolest look’
It was May 2006 and I was coming to the end of my first year of university. I had just received my first proper student journalism commission: an interview with Dizzee Rascal. I borrowed a Dictaphone and hastily scrawled down three pages of uninventive questions (“What is the best thing you’ve ever got for free?”).
Now the important bit: my look. I loved Dizzee; I knew his two albums back to front and had mastered all the words to Fix Up, Look Sharp. What was I going to wear?
To think, looking back, that this was my very best outfit. My coolest look. Not one floral print top but two, a T-shirt layered over a shirt. Not one necklace, but two. (Made with beads collected while InterRailing around Europe. I know.) My curly hair was slicked back with Brylcreem. Off I went, looking like Laura Ashley’s long-lost daughter.
He was courteous, holding eye contact and answering all my inane questions with grace. (The best thing he ever got for free? A lifetime’s supply of trainers.) I stood up and shook his hand, and he invited me to his afterparty. The next student journalist sat down and went straight in with a question about homophobic lyrics and issues of representation in pop music, and I thought, “Ohhhh, that’s what journalism is.”
The evening took a strange turn. My friends and I crowded into a bar on the high street, where Dizzee had a roped-off section at the back. It didn’t take him long to zone in on my gorgeous friend L, persuading her to leave with him. We were agog.
Twenty minutes later, she was back, laughing her head off at the way he had clumsily propositioned her. She chose us over him.
What do I see when I look at this picture? I feel embarrassed at my choices. But I’m also glad I spent my 20s dressing like a weirdo: it demonstrates a self-confidence that I don’t think I appreciated at the time. These days, you could still file most of my clothes under “eclectic”, but I’m much more careful, uninventive even. Now I tend to wear only one necklace at a time.
My interview never appeared in the end; the other journalist broke the embargo (she went on to write for the Daily Mail: go figure). I was left with only this blurry picture, a reminder of my youthful enthusiasm for floral prints, and an uncanny impression of Dizzee Rascal’s best chat-up line.
- Ruth Lewy is assistant editor of Guardian Weekend.
Nosheen Iqbal: ‘Everyone else on the beach was 89% naked’
I was a skittish 21-year-old in the mid noughties and I had, against my will, ended up on a Tuscan beach. It was the height of summer, but I was wearing thick black tights, thicker black skirt, black scarf and witchy pumps . Everyone else was dressed in 89% naked and the entire beach was rammed. I’d been sent on a work trip with four other journalists who were, as far as I was concerned, super-old (fortysomething) and, I hoped, probably willing to buy my stubborn refusal to strip as some cool youth thing. (They didn’t.) I made an attempt to style it out by looking casually moody, staring out to sea behind sunglasses, pretending not to notice my shoes sinking in the sand, legs looking like inky black stumps.
Why don’t you take off your tights?
What about if…
A couple of key things: the seaside was not on my itinerary and I hadn’t packed for it. I didn’t (and don’t) own swimwear or a bikini, and I didn’t (and don’t) know how to swim.
Being Muslim is barely an excuse to look as daft as I did; there are chic ways to be modest by the sea – childhood memories of Karachi’s Clifton beach were proof, where lawn cotton tunic and trousers were everyone’s friend. But being Muslim, plus an average level of body dysmorphia, was my “bikini body ready” get-out card. I knew there had to be more comfortable ways to be in public than permanently sucking my stomach in wearing what is, essentially, waterproof underwear. But 100-denier hosiery was definitely not the answer.
The general advice to give a shy 21-year-old should always be, “It’s not as bad as you think”, to allay their disproportionate embarrassment. Except, in this case, the cringe levels are fully warranted; I haven’t been to a hot, sunny beach since.
- Nosheen Iqbal is a commissioning editor for G2.
Morwenna Ferrier: ‘I can’t remember why I decided to cut off my hair’
Other outfits have been more challenging. The mother-of-pearl bustier I wore to my graduation, say. Or, recently, the T-shirt printed with Valerie Solanas’s Scum manifesto I wore to meet a friend’s baby. But the outfit I am wearing here, worn on a walk along Aldeburgh beach in Suffolk, is the one I most regret.
It started a few months earlier when, in my early 20s, I decided to cut off my hair. I can’t remember why. I imagine I fancied a change and, in fairness, I liked it. But then, I looked like a boy in a dress. I reacted by phasing out dresses and instead wearing drainpipes, striped T-shirts and headscarves. None of this was good. In the photo, I’m wearing tight cropped trousers under the dress.
I had spent my late teens in dresses, grungy or flowery, with self-cut hems. It was a more innocent time, when I didn’t really care what I wore. But the haircut triggered an anxiety.
What is it I regret? Back then it was the haircut; now, it’s that I ever worried about looking like a boy. I clearly hadn’t been paying attention in those Judith Butler seminars; maybe I was still too attached to the binary. As my hair grew out, I started to care for the first time about how I looked. At 24, late in life, I became self-conscious.
Pam Lucas: ‘I looked like a turkey at Christmas’
As a single parent in the 80s, I was dirt poor. I didn’t have the opportunity to make fashion faux pas because I didn’t have any money. We shopped in jumble sales, and we had fun.
My family was invited to a party to celebrate my aunt and uncle’s golden wedding anniversary. I didn’t know them that well, but my mum wanted me to impress them by looking “modern”. In the 80s, that meant puffy sleeves and big shoulders. My mother came with me to buy the outfit from BHS , so I had to comply. I was 39 at the time.
It was a beautiful colour – between purple and lilac – but I didn’t like the synthetic fabric. It was watermarked all over and had a flared, taffeta skirt and a little jacket with a peplum. I looked like a turkey at Christmas, but it was such a fab party, I soon forgot how uncomfortable I felt.
In a way the outfit is a testament to my relationship with my mother. I was a grownup, with a child of my own, but she was still trying to keep hold of the mum bit of herself.
Tshepo Mokoena: ‘I settled on a vague hippy child look’
It would be nice if we could start over. To spare me, and others my age, a fair bit of niggling shame, by wiping all early photos from our Facebook accounts. Anyone who set up a profile between 2004 and 2009 now lugs around the digital baggage of horrible pictures of misspent youth and terrible outfits.
Case in point: this delight of a photo. I was 19, killing time between the second and third years of uni in Brighton. In a few weeks, my housemate and I would set off on an impulsive charity volunteering trip to Kerala because – and I still cringe – we’d watched Wes Anderson’s The Darjeeling Limited.
Until my early 20s, my aesthetic consisted of not knowing when to edit. At 18, I would “layer” at least three beaded necklaces, two chunky bracelets, about 17 bangles and seven rings, for no good reason.
I attended secondary school in Harare, Zimbabwe, largely insulated from fashion, more concerned with my whizzing hormones than the latest velour tracksuit. I settled on a vague “hippy child” look at 15 and filled my wardrobe with earthy prints, flared denim and jewellery picked up in local markets. By 19, I looked like a substitute art teacher.
If you’re old enough to have only private, analogue photography from your youth, or young enough to have crafted a near-fictional version of yourself online, you’re spared the permanent reminder of your mistakes: 1,287 grim images owned by Mark Zuckerberg. I implore other twentysomethings to join me in calling for a digital purge. It’s time.