Style or comfort?

In Clothes, Uncategorized on January 14, 2011 at 7:05 pm

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.

  1. Hello Maggie and readers,
    I have read all of your books. Suggest some other good British women writers for me. I am also a big fan of Sophie Kinsella, Jane Green, India Knight. I need some suggestions, please!
    Maggie I hope you are writing a new book and that it will be on
    Sheers, Toby in Portsmouth

    • Fingers crossed – so far they have done them all. I’m so glad you found me in the US. Going back a few decades, have you read The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford? It was written in the 1930s but to me is as fresh as a daisy. In contemporary writers do you like Marian Keyes? Rachel’s Diary is one of my fave ever books. Mxxx ps just about to start a new book… wish me luck.x

  2. I agree wholeheartedly Maggie, I adore the 50’s styling but it’s so constricting, I struggle with it constantly ! I think that’s part of why I end up wearing 60’s style shifts so often, they’re just so comfy & still chic lol
    Ps reading yr column on sat am in Melb still part of my morning with a good cup of T cheers

  3. With you all the way. It takes some effort to be comfortable while looking good (cashmere in the winter!) but well worth it. Easier to concentrate, easier to “sparkle” at people, life just becomes more fun!

  4. The stretch and lycra are great, but summer in Sydney calls for a heavy bias to natural fabrics…Lovely soft 100% cotton or silk tops provide comfort and style. Of course the lovely soft stuff requires investment- but it’s worth it!

  5. Oh how I wish I could say I dress for style but I’ve fallen for the lure of soft comfort. I haven’t quite gone as far as an elastic waistband yet but I just don’t trust myself.

  6. My heart goes out to poor little Peggy. I suffered the same indignity at High School, the uniform was waaaay too large for me so my Mum had to make me one. It wasn’t until 6th form that I could fit into the shop bought one (and it was still too large!)

    Thank goodness I filled out and got some curves at 18!

  7. Argh, I hate ironing, and I hate to be constricted around the shoulders (ruling out most tailored clothing). I ALSO have curves that make most ‘floaty’ clothing look like a tent. I travel a lot for work, too, so need to pack light, but look ‘professional’.

    I search desperately for light weight, non restrictive, non creasing but still fitted clothing. I live in Sydney, so grapple with humidity, too, but generally 2% lycra blends are my friend.

  8. Hi Maggie I am a long time fan of yours and I share your love of cardigans, my husband just bought me my first cashmere one today in navy no less ps your daughter looks adorable.

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