I have this fantastic orange mini skirt in the back of my wardrobe that I bought from Topshop about three years ago when I was in denial about my low level of income and – for one day and one day only – uncharacteristically experimental with fashion.
I had all sorts of pictures in my head of what it might look like on me and how I might feel wearing it. On a level ranging from zero to a la mode I was aiming for somewhere between bubble tea and Cara Delevingne. I interpreted it to be the kind of thing someone tanned in America might wear; as a pale strawberry blonde living in a country that fails most days to reach 15 degrees this seemed a logical style inspiration.
You’ll probably not be surprised to hear I’ve worn it once in those three years and never again. One might say the end result was less Coachella and more Clueless.
It was a rare and memorably hot day in London and I was feeling adventurous and forgetful about which colours suit my hair. I was meeting a friend for sushi, once more overestimating my finances. Sitting in a window seat and half way through a steamy bowl of an undistinguishable Japanese soup, I had this instinctive feeling deep in my gut that I shouldn’t stand up again until winter.
Because what they don’t tell you at the till in Topshop is that it might look like the perfect summer outfit, but it’s actually the clammiest item of clothing you will ever experience.
Either that, or my waters had broken.
That feeling you get when you think you might have started your period early but actually it’s just sweat in your pants – which is usually reserved for being stuck on a plane when the air conditioning is broken or extreme nerves in an interview – that happened.
This skirt was a whole other level. They might market it for girls who want to look like they make bold choices and are good at tennis but really it should be for girls who are looking to lose weight fast through becoming severely dehydrated.
The other inconvenience I forgot to mention earlier is that this skirt might look loose and airy but once it’s on you realise it’s more of a sheer, clingy material, which means you have no choice but to wear a nude thong unless you want to look like you’re sponsored by Pampers. I was still single at the time so I imagine a logical part of me was thinking this could be a pulling outfit of an evening. Sadly, in reality it was just pulling-out-a-wedgie.
The only thing worse than suffering a nude thong is worrying everyone can see your vagina sweat in public. The two together are a borderline apocalyptic situation in Soho and when I finally escaped back to my flat, stripped, changed back into pyjamas, and thanked heaven for having a strong sense of self, I swore not only never to wear it again but also to try and make more sensible outfit choices in the future.
But it’s still in my wardrobe, in perfect condition, an icon of what might have been…and what might still be. I can’t bring myself to take it to charity; not only because I’m not sure I should inflict the inevitable suffering on anyone looking for a bargain but also because I look at it about three times a year and try to imagine a time I might still be able to pull it off.
What if I spray my thighs with that vagina deodorant you get at the back of Superdrug? What if I get a spray tan that is simultaneously anti-perspirant? What if I I do in fact wear a nappy underneath?
To this day I haven’t found a way to make the orange skirt happen – and sadly I haven’t stopped making more irrational decisions under pressure. A leather skirt I justified as a fancy dress costume for The Rocky Horror Show because I thought I’d get a lot of wear out if it? Actually pulled a cobweb off its zip the other day. A pair of pink suede ankle boots that screamed “you can finally be fashionable” as I walked past the sale signs; they’d have more use holding a pot plant in my house. And don’t even get me started on the leopard print shorts that I bought when I got home from Ibiza because I thought I might be able to bring the Ibiza vibes back to this island. The most wear they’ve had was under a dress I bought on a whim that ended up being too short, so I wouldn’t flash my knickers to the world.
The frustrating thing is, I’m not even a shopping addict (unless it’s in Pret at Gatwick airport). I buy clothes really quite infrequently and compared to my other girl friends I have a worryingly empty wardrobe. A friend of mine once came over before a night out and asked where the rest of my dresses were. If I were going to have one clothing excess it would probably be free-from-wire bras that don’t fit and matchless socks.
This is mostly because I work in the arts and prefer to eat food than own more than one pair of jeans – and a little bit because I live with a boy who has a one in one out policy with his clothes and it’s catching a bit – but also because I make very bad decisions when I do eventually walk into a shop.
It’s strange to think I experience more peer pressure in River Island than I did being in charge of the slideshow in sex education at school. More discomfort than a particularly dry smear test. More self-loathing than the time I bled on my friend’s sheets in the middle of the night aged fourteen and we had to flip her mattress.
I’ve no idea where this all stems from and if it’s normal or crazy or just plain vain but one thing I do know is I’ll have finally reached adulthood when I finally feel comfortable enough to go into Whistles.
Sometimes I spend days wishing I had been born with a knowledge of style and effortless glamour, or that I could at least just stop mistakenly dressing the same as toddlers. And other times I’m grateful that my boyfriend’s sweatshirt and no make up is enough.
The relationship we have with clothes is so unique and long-lasting. Clothes are momentous and defining, whether they boost confidence, hide scars, carve out identities or exist to stand out in a crowd. They are memories; the time you forgot it was mufti-day and wore your PE kit instead or the day you actually have to decide on something to wear down the aisle.
Clothes are present you, past you, future you.
Present me wishes she could wear pyjamas to work (and down the aisle); past me wishes she hadn’t gone through that basketball t-shirt stage; future me is going to try and make that orange skirt happen one more time on a (milder) day in spring and – if it doesn’t happen by my 27th birthday – it’s going. It’s not meant to be. Like citrus polos. And the EU.
Because what do clothes mean, really? The fact it’s still in my wardrobe next to my graduation dress and a playsuit that shrunk in the wash and is now borderline pornographic doesn’t make me a different person when I walk out the door in the morning. The fact that it’s a super cool colour of sunset orange and unlike anything I’ve ever worn or ever will wear won’t change my path in life – nor is it as gorgeous a colour as a massive real life sunset. The fact that my actual favourite item of clothing – my black denim dungarees – give me thigh chafage is proof that material things in life are flawed. And the only kind of shopping that never disappoints is Pret’s coconut porridge and a pain au chocolat before you fly.