Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: The style trap

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Would it shock you to learn you were stuck in the time warp of a long gone fashion past? Photo / Thinkstock
Would it shock you to learn you were stuck in the time warp of a long gone fashion past? Photo / Thinkstock

Legend has it that we all end up in our own personal style trap. That is, after years of adjusting our wardrobe and dressing to suit the fashions of the time we suddenly freeze. As if we're participating in some sartorial game of statues, we decide to press the 'pause' button and thereafter inject no further adventure or imagination into presenting ourselves to the world.

Potential reasons for this abound. Perhaps we no longer care. Perhaps such superficial notions as how we look hold no interest for older people. Perhaps we can't afford to buy new clothes. Perhaps our wardrobes are already bursting with perfectly good clothes. Perhaps we run out of the confidence to try new garments, to experiment with new combinations.

"As people age, most seem to stop bothering to express themselves with their clothes," writes Suzanne Winterflood in an article on this very topic in the latest NZ Fashion Quarterly. Yet hypotheses such as these are quite dispiriting. Ennui and listlessness are surely not the only reasons that could lurk behind such a phenomenon.

I'd rather subscribe to a more romantic theory as to why people become trapped in a permanent fashion groove. Wouldn't it be nice if we end up choosing to dress as we did at a time of our lives when we were happiest, most fulfilled, most loved - a time when we felt most truly, authentically ourselves? Maybe the roots of this retro dressing are based in nostalgia, a subconscious attempt to reclaim a long distant past.

As far back as I can remember my maternal grandmother, who died in 2006 aged 93, dressed just like the Queen Mother. Her top would match her skirt which fell in soft folds just below the knee. Pantyhose, handbag, matching high-heeled pumps, carefully applied coral-coloured lipstick and freshly "set" hair would complete the ensemble. There was often a brooch and a strand of pearls. Nana took pride in her appearance.

I still see the occasional woman from her era; she's usually leaning on a walking stick with handbag on her arm as she waits for a taxi outside the local New World. But I'm increasingly seeing a new batch of older women stuck in their own personal time-warp. These are the ones with mannish haircuts, patterned shirts worn outside sensible trousers with equally sensible shoes. Androgyny, it seems, has taken over from the Queen Mother's pastel-hued femininity.

I hope I'm wearing something cool when I get anchored in my perpetual style rut. And, although I'd like to think I'm still years off facing such a milestone, I sometimes wonder if I already have become prematurely ensnared in my terminal fashion trap - for I wear jeans like they're going out of fashion. I dress them up. I dress them down. I wear them to school pick-up, to doctor's appointments and to cocktail functions. In 2009 I made a fashion faux pas by wearing them to the Westpac Red Collection - widely acknowledged as NZ Fashion Week's most glamorous event. I won't do that again.

In my early teens I wore jeans and a bush-shirt at weekends while as a university student my unofficial uniform was jeans and a sweatshirt - probably bought from Peacocks on Lambton Quay. I've had bootleg jeans, tapered jeans and skinny jeans. I've had stone-washed, rock-washed and acid-rinsed jeans. I've had jeans so dark that they turned my camel-coloured car upholstery blue.

I wore Levi's for a long time. These days I own a Twiggy pair by James Jeans and a 7 For All Mankind pair with Swarovski crystals on the back pockets but my brand of choice is True Religion which I used to buy in Santa Monica but I now source from my sister-in-law's new store, Robe, in Parnell.

Of course, back in the 1950s jeans signified a rebellious spirit, a refusal to conform to societal standards. Then they were hijacked by the consumer culture and now, along with tattoos, have transitioned from the anarchic fringes to the mainstream masses. I predict that grannies of the future will wait outside the supermarket wearing bootleg jeans accessorised with wrinkled tattoos and battered eco-friendly shopping bags. You read it here first.

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