Fashion: dress sense

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The Independent Culture
My godmother was characteristically diplomatic when I arrived to see a film with her wearing my new sleeveless "warmer". "That's the sort of thing Justin [her TV-director husband] wears when he's depressed and hasn't had any work for a long time," she said. I could see I was going to have to explain my outerwear. There is a world of difference between a warmer and an anorak.

The "warmer" is a wonderfully insulating sleeveless waistcoat, made like a sleeping bag from wind-proof fabric stuffed with down. Everybody reading this has probably owned one for years. It belongs to the same family as the Fleece and the Trainer, coined for athletic or rugged outdoor use, adopted by clubbers and sported for a decade by fashionable urbanites.

I admit that I've been extra slow to cotton on to this trend. I may be more in the know than my godmother, but she is 60 and Australian. Thirty- five is a ripe old age to be buying your first warmer (pounds 100 from Nick Ashley), and, come to think of it, your first fleece (grey, from Jigsaw, pounds 49, last week) and your first pair of trainers (DKNY black suede from Russell & Bromley, pounds 65.50 a month ago). Especially if, like me, you have been working in fashion.

My reluctance to join the Sportswear Revolution stemmed from an old-fashioned aversion to ugly clothes, but I have now got over this. Last year I went from working in an office to working at home with small children: Low Profile to No Profile. What does it matter if the trainers make my legs look stumpy? They have non-slip weatherproof soles.

The warmer is, I suppose, the sartorial equivalent of the Range Rover. Far from suggesting the electricity bill is overdue, on the right white middle-class back it implies that the wearer spends Bank Holidays with well-heeled friends doing fun outdoorsy things rather than going on naff Posh Spice-style shopping sprees. And it confers a sense of superiority over people who still "dress up". I enjoyed this to the hilt last week when a friend's girlfriend came to stay with us in Somerset and changed for evening(!) into precisely the sort of contour-flattering ensemble I used to go for, while I doggedly sat down to dinner in my grey, navy and black Performance Wear. My stockbroker husband is baffled by my change of look, but I later enlightened him. "My warmer says: "I'm so beautiful/smart/clever-I-only- wear-clothes-to-keep- me-warm. Its lack of aesthetic appeal is part of its snob value. It isn't faddish. It is modern."

Gwyneth Paltrow almost certainly owns one. It hardly seems to matter that I look hideous in mine. I feel sure the glamour of some other wearer will - must, eventually - rub off on me. !

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