Is The Underground Your Ultimate Sartorial Gauge?

It all started when Dolly sent me a link on eBay to an Ossie Clark dress that she loved, but said “didn’t have the boobs to wear” (specifically, had too much boob to wear) and suggested I might be into it. I affirmed my love for it, as requested, but said unfortunately the dress would be too long on me. But, I added, had she seen my new vintage (how does one solve that oxymoron verbally?) gold shirt with gigantic lapels, that made my boyfriend burst out laughing and compare me to Liberace? She said she had, and that she loved it. And that’s when the rest of this unfurled…

PS: I love it, too! I get looks when I wear it, obviously. I’m actually getting serious looks for my red and blue snakeskin boots today. Sometimes it feels like I can’t take much of my wardrobe on the tube.

DA: I feel like that about red lipstick. Looks amazing in my flat – minute I get on the tube, feel like I have a pair of knickers on my head.

PS: I loathe the tube, with every fibre of my being – I’m pit-level with every man and someone’s sweat actually dropped off their head and onto mine, once – but it is a useful barometer by which to test how outlandish my outfit is. It can be hard for me to actually tell anymore. I’ve become more and more normalised to my own, well, normality. I went to the Royal Academy last weekend and my friend just laughed when I peered down at my tasseled Toga slides. “You’ve literally lost the ability to tell what’s normal,” she said.

And that’s OK, really. I don’t want to put together a normal outfit. Like a woman should be able to walk down the street eating a banana – can you, Dolly? I can’t. The worst is when you accidentally hit eye contact with a man, whilst admitting the full girth of the banana into your gob – and she should be allowed to wear a pink blouse with humongous sleeves and a fringed red leather skirt, without feeling like she killed a pet dog. Because some of the looks I get on the tube are downright murderous, whenI’m wearing something that is my normal. My red and blue snakeskin boots make some people almost feral.

DA: A few things that never pass the ‘tube normality’ barometer for me, include: aforementioned vampy lipstick, mini skirt plus no tights (particularly when men stare at your crotch or upper thigh area, as if the sheer power of their vision means they can now laser through the fabric because the extra layer of tights have gone), any tight jumpsuits, anything sheer, anything metallic, crop tops, long and floaty things, a “done” hair do like, well, a quiff or curls and most leather things, too. I once wore black leather trousers with a leather jacket and a bloke shouted “OZZY OSBORNE” as he was alighting, leaving me with a carriage of silent people staring.

PS: I would say that double leather is hard to pull off, especially in the same colour. Kudos, Dolly.

DA: The thing is, I find that it’s all very well saying “just be yourself! Wear what you like!” but then YOU are the one that has to deal with all the subsequent flack. I think a lot of it is mood dependant. If you’re feeling self-conscious, weary, like you’ve had a bad day at work, like you just want to catch up with your friends, really what is the point in wearing a vyshyvanka in a Pimlico pub when you know a load of insurance brokers are going to come up to you and shout “YOU RUSSIAN OR WHAT??!” This will ultimately end in some fight, or getting a bit drunk or teary.

PS: Particularly because the vyshyvanka is from UKRAINE, PIMLICO DICKS. But yeah, I concede. It’s interesting to see what people react to; and it also means that I have developed two selves. Normal (boring, hoi polloi) self and fashion dick self. For example, I can’t go to the pub dressed as a fashion dick (so in vyshyvanka) whereas fashion dick suits fashion occasions marvellously. I hate ‘changing’ my style, upscaling it if you will, for fashiony occasions, but I’m definitely more likely to wear my niche pieces with gusto, when I’m at a fashion thing. Style’s Head of Fashion, Claudia gets really sad about this. She thinks there is no such thing as a fashion dick and I should just be myself, everywhere.

DA: I have learnt that lesson the hard way, being six foot tall. While everyone likes being noticed and expressing yourself through fashion is wonderful, being made to feel self-conscious about it is horrible. I have a pair of fabulous thigh high suede boots that make me about six foot five. I’ll only wear them to certain events or places, where I know my night isn’t going to be constantly interrupted by remarks or berating looks or sniggers. But — should we change the way we dress to accommodate other people’s ideals of beauty or femininity? No. It is our DUTY to wear our snakeskin boots and purple lipstick to correct and challenge people’s expectations for women.

PS: YES DOLLY. [Joins Dolly on the imaginary podium and gets ready to take charge, on behalf of all quirkily dresses women on the world].

DA: [Dolly gets off podium.] Then again, maybe I just want to wear a bloody gold sequin jumpsuit and go and have a G&T and not have to change the world. Just wear my gold sequin jumpsuit and just…. be. What’s the thing that you wear that gets most comments/looks?

PS: In no particular order, the articles I find to be painfully provocative – to such a degree that I will not wear them on the underground and only if I am partaking in an Uber, are: over the knee boots where there is a sliver of bare thigh above the top of the boot and the hem of the skirt or dress, anything with enormous shoulders or sleeves (frilly and/or puffy), a backless dress where my shoulder blades somehow morph into 87 undulating tits, if the man to my left is to be believed, a mini skirt without tights, as you say, but more so when it ISN’T summer. Somehow a golden glow makes bare legs acceptable. Maybe it’s a confidence thing, too? When my legs are tanned I feel way less obscene getting them out. Which makes zero sense, I know.

I agree with red lipstick. It genuinely feels like you are signalling to the world, I AM HORNY. When actually, you’re really tired and you’ve got a spot and the red lipstick feels like the only thing in the world that’s going razz you up sufficiently to get over that threshold that is the door of your flat, and into work on time. Or a tiny bit late.

DA: So much of it is about confidence. There’s nothing worse than someone wearing something REALLY individual and authentic but looking desperately apologetic about it. I am guilty of doing this – sheepishly removing the beret and sitting with it on my lap on the Northern Line.

PS: The beret! THE BERET. Oh god I wish I could wear a beret. Wear your beret for me? I definitely don’t change the way I dress to fit in with other people’s expectations – but I do find that I dress in certain ways, depending on what mode of transport I take and therefore, how many strangers I come into contact with. In a way, I get it. I gawped at a woman wearing white leather over knee boots the other day because I personally find them hideous.

DA: Really, and I am in danger of sounding like Gok Wan, I think the key is to wear the things you love around strangers – and wear them with no apology. Obviously, I don’t think you should walk around with a mad Grace Jones glare in your eye, because I stare at the aggressively over-confident flouncers just as much as I stare at the shy beret-hiders. But I do think it’s about having a serenity with the way you carry and conduct yourself – people will just trust that you know something they don’t. Maybe you know that huge metallic gold lapels are chic in a way they will never understand. Maybe you’re the enlightened one and they’re the embarrassment because they’re wearing dirty converse. It’s all in the way you present it.

Do you fancy a drink soon where we both wear our most hideously beautiful attention grabbing garments all at the same time? With red lipstick? Public transport ALL night. One who gets the most looks wins?

PS: You’re on.

Artwork by Natalia Bagniewska

comments powered by Disqus