Nothing comes from 'anything goes'

'I want rules. I want discipline. You really can't beat a man in uniform'
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The Independent Online

Life, I have decided not without reluctance, for I pride myself on being liberal, progressive, independent, was a great deal easier when we had rules. We knew what to do, more to the point, we knew what to wear. I came to this depressing conclusion last night having spent the better part of this week looking for something to wear to a wedding. An outfit, we used to call it. In sartorial terms this described a specific collection of items namely suit, hat, shoes, bag and gloves - all matching.

Life, I have decided not without reluctance, for I pride myself on being liberal, progressive, independent, was a great deal easier when we had rules. We knew what to do, more to the point, we knew what to wear. I came to this depressing conclusion last night having spent the better part of this week looking for something to wear to a wedding. An outfit, we used to call it. In sartorial terms this described a specific collection of items namely suit, hat, shoes, bag and gloves - all matching.

It doesn't say much for my social life that the last outfit I bought was some 15 years ago for a wedding at which one of my daughters was a bridesmaid. It was an unusual wedding. The bride wore scarlet (as well she might, being heavily pregnant) looking for all the world like Little Red Riding Hood as she trolled up the aisle on her father's arm in a floor length velvet cape followed by 12 attendants also in red. Not to be left out, the groom wore crimson trousers.

It was less a wedding than a floorshow, complete with costume change. When the bridal party emerged from the vestry, having signed the register, Red Riding Hood had given way to Snow White. The scarlet cloak had gone, to reveal a white strapless, backless, skin-tight satin gown with a sequinned fish tail. As maternity dresses go, it was certainly different. "It's an exact copy of the dress Shirley Bassey wore on television when she first sang 'I (Who Have Nothing)'," whispered the woman beside me.

In the circumstances what the guests wore that day was pretty much irrelevant, but I do remember a lot of shiny Joan Collins power suits, with big shoulder pads, Laughing Cavalier hats and big gold handbags. You may smile, but at the time, this was the look - the only look - and if you wanted to be fashionable, the prevailing rules decreed that this was the only outfit to buy.

"What exactly did madam have in mind?" asked the assistant at the start of my latest outfit quest. "I don't really know," I began uncertainly, "something suitable for a smart wedding." How about a little skirt with a nice matching top and a crisp little linen jacket to go with it, said the assistant, rifling through a rail full of flimsy scraps no bigger than handkerchiefs. I said I was thinking of something more elegant, more flowing. Ah, the gypsy look, thought the assistant, leading me to a rail hung with violently patterned beach sarongs in brilliant acid colours. Something a bit softer perhaps?

"Show madam the Burberry range," advised another assistant. A mackintosh? I know English summers are traditionally a washout but surely... Burberry, explained the assistant, was a fabric, a design really originating from the lining from the famous beige mackintosh. It was apparently worn by Kate Moss and Lord Frederick Windsor in a recent fashion promotion and has since become all the rage. Call me old fashioned, but I feel I can do better than raincoat lining despite the assistant's suggestion that I mix and match all three looks for a really original effect because, nowadays, anything goes.

It may do when you are 16, but, in my experience, nothing comes of anything going. It's just a muddle, a mess. Ten shops later, having been shown various other fashion trends, ripped jeans, fade shirts, dresses made entirely of designer logos and a bewildering collection of gypsy wear, I gave up.

Why buy anything? I could just as easily rip my own jeans, clash my own waistbands, make a peasant shawl from the lining of my old mac and save myself a fortune as well as dazzling fellow wedding guests with my stylishness. But what if they didn't recognise that it was style? There's the rub. There must be more to fashion than scissors, lining and anything goes.

I want rules. I want discipline. You can't beat a man in uniform, my mother's generation used to say, looking through old photograph albums of relatives back from the wars. Or a woman either, in my opinion - providing it's fashionable, of course.

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