Which of your outfits is a treasure trove of memories? They recall laughter, love, grief and joy… now a new TV series explores the emotion woven into our wardrobes
- Our favourite clothes can offer tangible, sometimes bittersweet, link to our past
- New Netflix series, Worn Stories, explores sentimental attachment in detail
- Here, four Femail writers share touching stories of clothes they’ll never part with
The clothes we wear speak volumes about who we are and how we want others to view us. Whether to boost waning confidence as we age, appear casual when we feel anything but, or fit in with our peers, we choose outfits that offer us the best armour in life.
But our favourite clothes can also give us a tangible, sometimes bittersweet, link to our past. Rifling through a wardrobe, we can suddenly be taken back to happy days long since past, or be reminded of the people we have loved best, and perhaps lost.
As such, those pieces, no matter how tatty or how long since we last took them out, earn a place in our wardrobes for ever.
A new hit Netflix series, Worn Stories, explores this sentimental attachment in fascinating, deeply moving, detail.
Here, four Femail writers share their touching stories of the clothing they will never part with.
I HOPED IN THE RIGHT KIT I’D BE FEARLESS
By Liz Jones
It’s 50 years old. It has moved house with me, ooh, 18 times. Each time I pack it up, I think, Oxfam? But then, who’d want it? It belongs to a different era. A moth has eaten one cuff. It smells faintly of horse. And I know I could never bring myself to throw it out.
The one constant in my life for five decades is a Harry Hall hacking jacket. It is cavalry twill, with three leather buttons and an ample skirt with a 9 in vent. The label inside reads: ‘Riders by Harry Hall. Made in England.’
I remember the day I bought it, from a saddlery shop in Essex. Eleven years old, I stood breathing in the smell of leather, caressing bridles and bits and brushing boots. I didn’t own a pony, of course. But I lived and breathed them. I would muck out early mornings at a stable to earn a free lesson.
Liz Jones (pictured) has an emotional attachment to a riding jacket which is 50 years old and she bought with the proceeds of her Sunday lunchtime job
I bought this jacket — it would have been £20 — from the proceeds of my Sunday lunchtime job.
I thought having the right kit would make me a more confident rider, able to fit in with all the red-faced horsey girls. I’d been ashamed when, aged five, for my first lesson on a Shetland called Chocolate, I had to wear second-hand jodhpurs with plimsolls, as my parents couldn’t afford jodhpur boots.
The instructor told off my dad for the plimsolls: you’re supposed to wear a small heel to stop your foot going through the stirrup if you fall, meaning you’d get dragged.
For a long time, I didn’t even own a riding hat: I’d rummage through a pile of balding velvet helmets, available to borrow, before each lesson. Finally, at 14, my parents got me a hat for Christmas. I kept it in its cellophane, unwrapping it carefully every Saturday.
Of course, no one wears a jacket like mine any more: now it’s all neoprene, stretch and high-vis. Made in China, naturally.
I shrug it on. It fits, if a little short in the arms. I still have the child’s torso, along with the mindset. My Harry Hall never did help me fit in. The nervous child became a neurotic adult who continued to buy things she couldn’t afford to bolster her confidence, only to discover nothing worked.
The other girls at the riding school were fearless while I worried that the ponies were never turned out in a field, that they went round and round indoors for two hours, before a new class climbed on board to kick them in the ribs.
I worried about what happened to them when they grew old. Were they retired? Shot? The other girls moved on, abandoning ponies for boys. But I stuck with them.
I now have an ex-racehorse and an ancient rescued pony. Both are relieved I’m too nervous to get on them in my jacket. The important thing? Neither is scared of me.
DARING CHOICE THAT CHANGED MY LIFE
By Adele Parks
Many women keep their wedding dresses for sentimental reasons. This makes no sense. You are unlikely to wear it again, you’re not going to forget it because you were photographed in it about a million times, and often a wedding dress takes up too much space (although not mine — mine is a slinky Jenny Packham number, not much more than a whisper).
Still, the vast majority of us can’t part with them.
I have clothes I keep for sentimental reasons — far too many. I live in a minimalist home and am ruthless about keeping to the ‘is it beautiful or useful?’ rule with furniture and ornaments. But with clothes, there’s an extra measure: does stumbling across it cause my breath to quicken and allow a moment of nostalgia? If so, that outfit is unlikely to be put in a recycling bin.
Adele Parks (pictured) has kept a pair of brown leather trousers from Jigsaw, which she was wearing when she met her now-husband Jim at a friend’s birthday party in 2001
I have blouses I pinched from my mother’s wardrobe when I was a teen, the dress I wore for my son’s christening and, perhaps most significantly, certain pieces that were seminal in the development of my relationship with my husband.
I met Jim at a friend’s birthday party in 2001. I was wearing a pair of brown leather trousers, purchased that day from Jigsaw.
A newly divorced, single mother, I did not want to go to the party, preferring to stay at home with my baby son, not yet a year old. The classic excuse, ‘I have nothing to wear’, had never been truer.
My wardrobe was full of maternity clothes — elasticated everything. I remember forcing my son’s pushchair into the changing room to try on armfuls of clothes. The exercise was exhausting, emotional and fraught, until the assistant suggested I try the brown leather trousers. Sexy and daring, they were the armour I needed to tackle my first night out.
I spotted Jim early on and thought he was gorgeous. I shimmied past him a few times, hoping to catch his attention.
The party was at a salsa bar and later on, when a gang of us were dancing, Jim found me in the crowd and started dancing with me. He is brilliant on the dancefloor, so I was impressed from the off.
He commented on the leather trousers almost immediately. He said they were cool. I felt anything but, so I was thrilled the trousers had transformed me.
Now 52, I still wear them occasionally, often paired with a T-shirt that Jim bought me about three months into our relationship.
He had been snowboarding with his friends and brought it back as a gift. I was thrilled to know he’d been thinking of me. The T-shirt is now 19 years old, discoloured and worn. It’s seen better days, but there’s a motif of a boy monkey carrying a stack of books to his girl monkey. When I saw it, I knew Jim just got me.
I also have a Diesel Style Lab shirt I wore on our first holiday that I can’t part with. Plus, ankle boots that I adore because, several months into our relationship, we went shopping and I couldn’t decide between a denim pair and a leopard-print pair. ‘Buy both,’ he said. Whenever I spot either pair, I am overcome with the sense of decadence and giddy excitement.
These clothes cocoon me in the memory of tentative beginnings, and remind me how far we’ve travelled and that I loved him from the very first moment I clapped eyes on him.
- Both Of You by Adele Parks (£14.99, HQ HarperCollins) is out May 27.
MY FASHION ARMOUR STILL PROTECTS ME
By Trish Halpin, co-host of the podcast Postcards From Midlife
Packing my suitcase to attend Milan Fashion Week for the first time 21 years ago was a nerve-wracking affair. Three months previously, I’d been promoted to editor-in-chief of glossy magazine Red, and one of my first thoughts when I landed the job was, what the hell am I going to wear?
Having been a deputy editor up until then, I was very much behind the scenes and, frankly, no one would have batted an eye whether I turned up to the office in jeans or a sequinned party dress.
But being the editor was a whole new ball game. I’d need to attend events, host awards ceremonies, charm advertisers at fancy lunches and twice a year fly to New York, Paris and Milan to sit in the front row at designers’ shows. I was thrilled and terrified.
Trish Halpin (pictured) has kept a black trouser suit she purchased for Milan Fashion Week when she became editor-in-chief of Red magazine
Thankfully, my boss gave me a £1,500 clothing allowance, a fortune to me, and the fashion director booked me a personal shopping appointment at Selfridges.
I still remember the afternoon I arrived at the store to find a rail of dresses, tops and heels waiting for me. I felt like Alice in Wonderland — a new fascinating world had opened up, and I promised myself I wouldn’t ruin this moment by looking at the price tags until I had tried everything on.
As I made my way through the rail, the stylist popped her head around the door to say she had found something I may like, and handed me a black trouser suit.
Boring, I thought, I could get one of those in John Lewis. But then I took a closer look and saw the sharp shoulders, the elegant lapels and nipped-in waist of the jacket . . . the signature look of British designer Alexander McQueen. I stepped out of my comfort zone and into the perfectly tailored, wide-leg trousers and jacket when something clicked — this is what it feels like to be an editor.
Chic, powerful, purposeful, that jacket and trousers would become my fashion suit of armour. It would protect me as I was being sized up by other editors as the new girl on the ‘frow’ at shows like Gucci, Chanel, and Ralph Lauren.
It would shout, ‘I mean business’ any time I had to meet an agent, a prime minister or the Queen (yes, both of those happened — still pinching myself).
Looking back, I am eternally thankful to my 33-year-old self for taking a deep breath and handing over £750 for the suit. (It would cost twice as much now.) It has served me well all these years, and even though I’m no longer a glossy editor, it still hangs with pride in my wardrobe to remind me of the woman it helped me become.
Two decades on, it is still pristine and screams quality, and best of all, I can fit into it aged 53!
- Do you have a treasured piece of clothing that tells a story? Email [email protected]
WEARING MY DAD’S CLOTHES HELPS TO KEEP HIS MEMORY ALIVE
By Simon Mills
Simon Mills (pictured) wears his father’s clothes to keep his memory alive, saying it is an especially intimate and emotive gesture
Losing a parent is awful. At any age. It starts with the brutal shock of sudden absence and is followed by a period of bereft sadness, heartache and blunt force melancholy that can become an all-pervading new normal for years afterwards.
I’m not so sad any more, but 15 years on from losing my dad, I still think about him every day, often going back to the wretched days after his funeral when I had to clear out his house. Like me, my father liked his stuff. And he had lots of it. Nothing much of monetary value, but plenty of items that brought tears to my eyes when I started loading it all into cardboard boxes.
Most of the furniture was sold for a song and the majority of his clothes (too small for me — I am taller and a bit thinner than Dad was) bagged up for charity stores, leaving me with just a few choice, very personal pieces — his fountain pen, some beloved tools, a set of handmade, wooden aeroplane models.
I also grabbed some random pieces from his vast wardrobe (more than 100 shirts!): a crisp white shirt, a pair of motorbike mittens, a plain brown belt and a paisley scarf. I didn’t know it then, but these items would become my most treasured memories of Dad.
Wearing someone’s old clothes, especially the garments of a person no longer with us, is an especially intimate and emotive gesture. It’s the same every time I put on Dad’s waffle-fronted Stephens Brothers, French-cuffed dress shirt to go to a black tie event — I also use his old gold cufflinks and try to tie his velvet bow tie, too — I feel like I am putting on a bit of my past, also. Dad wore this shirt to various formal events and charity bashes in Yorkshire. Five decades on, I do the same in London. It feels right and proper.
When I wear Dad’s salmon pink paisley scarf I swear I can still smell him — Hai Karate aftershave, the faint pong of moth balls, Johnson’s talcum powder, a whiff of Cossack hairspray.
I feel sad again and I think of him. Then I smile and take it off. I know it was the Seventies but salmon pink, Dad? Really?
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