Fashion – it’s a fairly subjective thing. What looks good to one person is an abomination to another; some people spend time thinking about it, other folk just Wear Clothes.
I have been tasked with writing a fashion column for Shetland Life. I’m not sure whether I’m qualified to do such a thing, or indeed how anyone would be. As the mother of a nine-month old baby, my current requirements for choosing what to wear include questions such as “Is it spew free?” and “Can I breastfeed in it?” (I realise these might not be very inclusive terms to bring to a fashion column. Perhaps a better one might be “Can I croft in it?”) Functionality definitely plays more of a part in what I choose to wear than it did before.
Perhaps that’s the case for many people and all the more so in Shetland, where the weather can be unforgiving of the latest trends. Who wants to look cool when it means bare ankles in a force 7? Perhaps you just need to adapt what is “fashionable” to your situation.
The recent trend for knitwear is a boon to the fashion-minded who live in cold climes. Fair Isle and Nordic patterned ganzies, yoked cardigans, cosy hats bought or – even better – homemade, are probably the one catwalk trend that you can easily channel in real life. You can comfortably wrap yourself in layers of oversized wool, smugly fending off the cold and looking chic at the same time.
Fashion – that is, high end, designer fashion – seems, to my untrained eye, mostly bonkers. It is an art form, however, and thus doesn’t really need to work as clothing. In that sense, I find it brilliant. And bonkers as they seem, the trends that trickle down from the catwalks of London, New York and Paris do inform what ends up on the high street if that is where you choose to take your lead.
Street style (fashion that looks to what people are wearing to inform trends and subcultures) is arguably more influential than catwalks. Truly stylish people, it could also be argued, don’t pay attention to trends but dress in a way that flatters and is individual.
There is a presumption when it comes to fashion that it’s the preserve of city dwellers, the wealthy and the young. Being neither of the first two and creeping towards not being considered as the third, I still don’t want to be relegated to the unstylish heap.
While it’s not something I spend a lot of my time thinking about, I feel like I have found what I’m comfortable with, style wise. I navigated the awkward preteen years wearing oversized Guns N Roses t-shirts with leggings and dying my hair with food colouring: a uniform, I was misguidedly convinced, which was sure to impress and help me blend in. As a teenager, tomboy style (if you can call it that) ruled and my friends and I lived in baggy sports sweatshirts. My university years were a blur of hideous boots, increasingly low cut jeans, questionable belts and “tops”. At some point I wore more dresses than I do now. After that, it was more jeans, and jumpers. I seem to have spent my 20s in jeans. I’m not sure much has changed.
But as someone approaching their mid-30s, while I’ve found things I feel comfortable in and think look ok, I realise I don’t actually know what is fashionable. A quick Google of the latest trends reveals that slip dresses, backpacks, chunky sandals and, erm, tiaras are amongst the items to be seen in for 2016. It’ll be interesting to see how many of those I can spot on Da Street.
Jokes aside, it seems to be the case that many people won’t wear things in Shetland that they would “sooth”. This train of thought probably applies to more than just clothing, and I find it interesting that this happens: why folk feel the need to adapt their personality to their surroundings. Individuality can be smothered in a place like Shetland – perhaps folk feel self-conscious in a small community, not wanting to stand out. Or perhaps it comes back to the weather. Regardless of the snobbery that can exist about being fashionable in a rural place, there are lots of stylish people in the isles.
People choose to wear what they do for a myriad of reasons. Fashion can be a means of self-expression and for some, an important part of shaping their identity, a means of belonging. For those that don’t think about it on an aesthetic level, factors such as cost, ethics and practicality may play a part.
Dressing can also be a cathartic process. What we wear can have a big impact on how we feel – physically, but also emotionally. Besides providing warmth and protection, clothing can act as an extension of our personality; it can reaffirm our beliefs and help us make sense of the world. Wearing something smart can improve our self-esteem and make us feel ready for work; wearing something beautiful can make us feel like celebrating. Wearing something old and comfortable can make us feel secure and relaxed: much as I love a fancy new pair of shoes or a party frock, there’s nothing better than coming home and getting cosy in your pjs and smucks. But like I said, I’m mostly covered in spew, so my opinion probably doesn’t count at this point.
Writing this column has made me think more about clothes, look at what people are wearing and wonder why folk wear what they do. It’s made me think about what impact being in Shetland has on people’s approach to clothing. So if you spot me looking at you for what might seem an uncomfortable amount of time, I’m probably just admiring what you have on and pondering these thoughts.