I’ve always been fascinated by women who don’t care about clothes. This is probably because I care so much.
Not in a ‘care what people think of me’ way. And certainly not in a way that has anything to do with labels. But I care about clothes because they give me joy. For me, they’re a form of creativity and self expression.
Some people feel this way about cooking or gardening or art. For me, it’s a gold bumbag and a sparkly pair of trainers. And because this is such an intrinsic part of who I am, I find people who are the opposite utterly fascinating. I certainly don’t judge anything about them based on their lack of interest. I’m just curious.
This week at a conference, I had the chance to study one of these women up close from the audience as she sat on the stage directly in front of me. Her age was hard to determine but she looked to be somewhere between 40 and 55. I noticed her immediately because everyone else on stage was a man in a suit.
I watched her closely for an hour and was struck by the way she chose to present herself. Utterly unadorned and pared-back to the bare minimum.
She wore a pair of black pants, a black top and black flat shoes.
I couldn’t describe anything she wore beyond that because there were no other details to describe.
Her clothes were as plain as plain could be. Not tight nor loose.
Not dirty, not dishevelled. Just nondescript. Functional.
It’s not that she had bad taste. It’s just that she quite deliberately chose items of clothing that said nothing, signified nothing. Although when I thought about it, that actually wasn’t true. By choosing to eschew fashion so overtly – and make no mistake, everyone makes a choice about the clothes they buy and the ones they step into each morning – she was making a different kind of statement.
It was a fairly formal occasion and she knew she would be sitting on a stage in front of 1000 people alongside eight men in suits (panels at almost every conference look like this, women are always woefully out-numbered or not on the stage at all) and yet she decided not to wear a jacket or a single accessory.
Her face was open, tanned and handsome. Her hair was cut sensibly short in no discernible style and she wore no make-up or jewellery except for a thick silver ring on her wedding finger. She carried no handbag. Her shoulders were back. Her posture regal.
She exuded confidence, self-assurance, accomplishment.
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I was entranced.
When I’m bored or alone, I like to stare at strangers and search for outward clues about their lives, making up stories in my head about what they do and who they live with….all sorts of no doubt wildly inaccurate joining of imaginary dots. It helps pass the time. Most of us tell some kind of story to the world with our clothes, our hair, our jewellery. We use these things as signals to the world about who we are and how we wish to be perceived.