Harriet Walker: South Yorkshire vs Milan? No contest

Share

In London, you can wear what you want and nobody will bother you. The flipside of this is that nobody cares what happens to you, and should you stumble, trip, fall down a hole or die a lingering, solitary death inside a streaky-walled bedsit, your passing will go entirely unnoticed, like that of a mediocre saint waiting to be canonised. While fashion in the capital might get us noticed, it doesn't necessarily help us interact or make friends on a day-to-day basis.

It's a far cry from my formative years in South Yorkshire, where everybody is so friendly they can't wait to tell you how terrible you look. The woolly Inca hat I bought aged 15 in imitation of Gisele Bundchen prompted gales of laughter from my baseball-capped peers, and even my friends walked a few paces ahead of me whenever I wore it. On reflection, this might have been because I looked more Jay Kay than Brazilian über-model. Still, they were laughing on the other side of their faces last winter when the trend finally trickled down (or, rather, up) to Sheffield's premier shopping destination, Meadowhall.

(Oh, who am I kidding? They didn't care. They wore those hats all winter without the faintest remembrance of making an early-adopter cry more than a decade earlier. But I'll shut up now, and wait for my inevitable canonisation.)

Unless you're a fireman or a flasher, it's hard to know what effect your clothing will have on other people's lives. In sprawling, anonymous urban districts, where wealth and poverty exist side by side, chances are they're rubbing somebody up the wrong way, but it's only in smaller, more conservative communities that you get to hear about it. Cities are places where the men who sleep on pavements outside high-end shops are more likely to recognise the window displays than they are a friendly face, whereas in towns people ask you where you bought your dress. Or they tell you your hat looks "gay".

Really, clothing is just another code people have to remember to abide by wherever they go, like driving on the right or not talking with your mouth full. You wouldn't wear an all-in-one PVC number with a zip-up face mask to Grantchester water meadows, just as you wouldn't have a night out in Liverpool without at least five changes of clothes, a push-up bra, three wigs and a sedan chair in which to make your entrance. Compared with anywhere else, we Brits are almost cartoonish in the specificity of our clobber and how fitted to scenarios it all must be.

The rest of the world is more consistent; they stick to what they know – and look how well it has worked out for them: the French resplendent in eternal classics; Americans and their healthy, preppy, impeccably groomed athleticism; the Swedes and their sharp cuts, gothic tastes and architectural shapes. We're a bunch of rag-tags next to them all – quick, someone throw us a woolly Inca hat so we at least look current.

When I was in Milan for Fashion Week last month, I was amazed by how a city can live and breathe a discipline. One expects a certain amount of showiness at the, er, shows, but straight-off-the-catwalk looks fill the streets, regardless of whether their wearers are part of the industry or not. Vuitton handbags are thrown into bike baskets, Armani suits are worn in supermarkets. One of my fashion friends calls the women who sport these power looks "the head to toe-ers". It was as much as I could do to remember not to leave my head or any of my toes in my hotel room or a taxi.

The one occasion that week that I braved some high heels, I felt the same anxiety that I had all those years ago with the hat. I knew I was meant to be wearing them, according to an unwritten code of cool, but they made me feel as though someone else was controlling my feet. When I toppled, it was spontaneous and comprehensive, as if Death had scythed the strings supporting Muffin the Mule.

"Signora!" came the shouts, as immaculate men shot out from the doorways of top-grade boutiques. "Signora!" The anxious faces, the outstretched hands, the faces fearful that a woman not in charge of her own heels was as ominous as the sun being blotted out or a shower of frogs. They were not worried about my neck, I realised, so much as horrified at my amateurism.

And that is why, for all its cold-shoulder, nose-in-the-air hauteur, I think I prefer the London way of doing things, where you can wear what you want and people leave you alone. And if you fall off your shoes, everyone will pretend it didn't happen. In London, you can be fabulous in your own head, because nobody else will notice you.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Riyadh is setting itself up as region’s policeman

Lina Khatib
Ed Miliband and David Cameron  

Cameron and Miliband should have faith in their bolder policies

Ian Birrell
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor