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this old thing?.....why it's just a sartorial autobiographical statement


Thelma Madine makes dresses. You might know her from Channel 4's Big Fat Gypsy Wedding. Her creations are extravagant in the extreme and I confess to secretly admiring those women who have the balls to wear such ballgowns.


The clothes we choose to wear, speak volumes about who we are. In Making the Grand Figure: Lives and possessions in Ireland, 1641-1700, Toby Barnard, details the ways in which the Protestant elite sought the fashionable 'must-haves' and 'need-nots' of the day. He writes how this desire to cut a dash filtered down through the classes and the most popular way to show one's best self to the world was to dress as fine as one could.

“Whereas few had their own land and space in which to engage in memorable displays, all had bodies to dress.....Efforts to ensure an exact fit of social standing with costume broke down in the face of the ingenuity of both producers and purchasers. Cheaper versions of the expensive hitherto supposedly monopolised by the grand, were devised."

Unsurprisingly, this trend made some of the ascendancy uneasy. When travelling through the country, Mary Delaney expressed shock at the sight of a dairy maid dressed in a fashion unbecoming of her station. Instead of a simple skirt and plain straw hat she wore a 'large hoop' and a 'velvet hood'.


I imagine that dairy woman dressing for work. Proudly, sliding the skirt over her hooped hips. Patting down her hair before donning the velvet hood. I hope she could afford a mirror so that she could admire herself before leaving. I hope she felt she was making a statement. I hope she loved the statement she was making.


I have a secret chest of filled with clothes I do not wear. Some no longer fit me. Some are unsuited for day-time. Some, my daughter (a self-appointed member of the fashion police) has forbidden my to wear. I mainly wear non-boat-rocking comfortable clothing. I ask myself what statement am I making with these clothes? Is this the story I want to tell? Should I introduce some of the secret chest, glad-rags into my sad wardrobe?


Wouldn't the world look a whole lot brighter if we all wore diamanté encrusted silken creations all the time? As we went about our daily lives, on the train, in the supermarket, walking the dog, we'd all be singing out our stories in joyous melodies.




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