Megan Nicol Reed is a columnist for Canvas magazine.

Megan Nicol Reed: What my mother taught me about style

Each week Megan Nicol Reed talks through what’s on all of our minds.
Asked what my mother taught me about style, I realised how grateful I am she always urged me to glory in whatever I wore. Photo / Getty Images
Asked what my mother taught me about style, I realised how grateful I am she always urged me to glory in whatever I wore. Photo / Getty Images

Those among you who have already darted ahead, flick, flick, flick, may have noticed I appear twice in today's magazine. Ta-dah. There on page 18, in the cream one-shouldered top. It's a story on mothers and daughters and how they dress. I was a reluctant participant. Angsting over what to wear. Resistant to having my photo taken. My heart sank when I clocked the other daughters, half my age and achingly beautiful. And sank further still when I realised that rather than their designer outfits, mine was from a chain store. Smile, they said. Woodenly, I tried. Falsely, I bared my teeth in a shark's grin.

But the questions, well they triggered something in me, sent me down a deeper path. Asked to describe my style, I said racy. I like that word. It is suggestive, hints at sauce and spice. Disrobe it though and it is merely a euphemism for sexy. I have always been attracted to the form-fitting and revealing, to the slinky. And forced to articulate what previously existed only in my subconscious, to corral my thoughts on the subject, I found myself wondering what it means to dress sexily? Why it is we judge so harshly those who do?

As a university student with a part-time job requiring me to deal with the public, and a penchant for small twinsets and tight skirts, it was relayed to me that I needed to tone it down, to keep a lid on it. Even now I can still taste my shame. Twenty years on, however, and that shame is tinged with anger. The reprimand was delivered by a woman, but it came from up above, from men. I get now that they found me confronting. When I see a teenage girl in shorts so brief the pockets hang below the hemline, I don't know where to look either. And yet recently, in conversation with other women my age, I have defended those girls in their denim undies with a vehemence that takes, even me, a little by surprise. Clothes have always meant more than just what we cover ourselves with. Fashion will always be our most immediate expression of self. And when you are youthful, alive with new hormones, limbs burgeoning in ways fresh and lovely, why wouldn't you feel sexy? Why wouldn't you choose clothes to reflect that? And if other females sneer, if males leer, then, my darlings, the problem is theirs.

Asked what my mother taught me about style, I realised how grateful I am she always urged me to glory in whatever I wore. It made me consider how I will respond to my own daughter's clothing choices. And while I do not want her childhood curtailed by overly sexualised fashion, I have promised myself as she transitions from girl to woman, I will do my utmost to inoculate her with the knowledge that, however she chooses to dress, she is never asking anybody for anything by it.

Society would have us believe that in order for a young woman to keep herself safe, she must put it away. Frankly, that sucks. I expect more for my daughter. And I will expect more from my son. Society would also have us believe as a woman ages, she should put it away. In 10 days I turn 42. I thought advancing in years meant ditching sexy. But while it's true the blurring of the flesh above my knees has rendered a pair of hot pants less fetching, I have realised sexy comes in many guises. A mature woman in a razor-sharp suit can be sexy in all sorts of startling ways. Yet if, like Madonna, who at 57 has never betrayed her brazen sexiness, has never felt the need to put it away, I was still getting around in a leotard, then, quite frankly, why the hell not?

FOLLOWING ON:

Bev agreed with me commitment can be terrifying. She then proceeded to terrify me with this: "It means making a decision that the person you are, you are true to. So scary to reflect at the later stages in one's life and find that you are really not that rather nice person you thought you were."

- Canvas

Please do write: megannicolreed@gmail.com

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