As I sit here writing in my fluffy fleece bathrobe (and nothing else, not even Chanel No 5), I’m wondering this: which is more important to you – style or comfort?
Despite my current attire (it’s just after lunchtime…) I admit I recoil in fascinated horror from those American catalogues where all the clothes are designed entirely along pragmatic lines. Not just specialist kit for alpine treks and attempts on K2, they have expanded into urban daywear.
There are jackets which will keep out the heaviest rain, while allowing your skin to breath, polo necks which would keep you alive in Antarctica on a cool day, while ‘wicking’ away your natural moisture and – my personal favourites – lounge suits you can fold like origami frogs for crease-free travel.
All fine as long as you care not one jot for the cut, line and drape of your clothing. I admit that I have on occasion been seduced by the alluring promise of practicality on offer from those purveyors of rational dress, but have sent everything back after trying it on.
Those clothes are the reason the average American tourist looks the way they do in Paris.
On the other hand, I can’t wear anything that makes me feel trussed up. Just as having my first cashmere cardigan made it impossible for me ever to go back to itchy and scratchy lambswool, since the arrival of lycra, fleece and microfiber in our lives, my tolerance for clothing of traditional structure and fabrics has seriously decreased.
If it doesn’t give a little I can’t be doing with it.
I’m also increasingly sensitive to weight in clothing. From the moment I bought my first down coat (from Uniqlo, which is the best place on earth to buy them) I’ve found it unappealing to wear my lovely proper winter coats. They feel so heavy by comparison. And vintage ones are a nightmare. You can hardly lift your arms in them.
In fact, modern expectations of comfort is one of the problems generally with wearing vintage. If you’re used to ultralight wool with a little lycra through it, a 1960s jacket feels like Henry VIII’s armour. And you’ll never get the skirt of the suit on unless you’re willing to wriggle into the kind of waist-cinching underwear they used to endure on a daily basis.
All the actresses on Madmen have to wear that gear under their costumes to look right in the outfits (i.e. to have boozies like B42 nosecones). Can you imagine? Corselets and girdles and ghastly suspenders which make you feel like a puppet with tangled strings. I couldn’t handle it. I can’t even abide a pair of Spanks. Get these things off me now!
And while sitting here, at lunchtime, in my bathrobe makes me suspect I might be getting a little unacceptably lazy about it all, I have recently had proof that wearing comfortable clothes can make a serious difference to your life.
My daughter goes to a school with a uniform that might as well have been designed around the time Don Draper had his first liquid lunch with Roger Sterling.
She has to wear a long thick kilt, a white shirt and this dreadful cravat object, which is a tartan bow tie on a Velcro strap. I tried three different ones from the school swap shop and it always ended up round her ears.
The smallest girl in her year she found this rig out almost unbearable. With no waist to sit a skirt on, a vest and thick tights all competing for the limited real estate of her tiny torso, she would come home every day looking exactly like Eloise. Her shirt untucked, the cravat at a crazy angle and the kilt on backwards.
In the end I couldn’t stand it. I traded in the monstrous kilt for a mini version and illegally swapped the garrotting cravat for the school tie, which kids are only supposed to wear in Year 6 and up (she’s Year 4).
She was a different girl from the moment she got it on and guess what? Her academic results are massively improved. No longer wearing a strait jacket, she’s able to concentrate on her work.
So while wearing your bathrobe all day is taking it too far (I’ve got a photo shoot later, that’s my excuse), I reckon one of the great leaps forward of living in the 21st century is that we do have the choice of comfort in our clothing that hi-tech fabrics allow.
But if you ever see me in a pair of pants which unzip into shorts, please shoot me.