My Favourite Old Garment
I knew I was going to lose the argument because I got Bethan’d: “Bethan, this is the East Yorkshire coast and it is December, you cannot spend an evening outside in just that dress.”
29 December 1999, I was 15. I thought my Mum was trying to ruin Y2K. She thought she was trying to protect me from pneumonia. Nothing would convince her. Not the explanation that my £30 slip dress from Miss Selfridge was the only dress in the whole of Hull that didn’t make my legs, shoulders and face look enormous, not by my protests that my coat didn’t match, nor my promises that I’d wear thick tights (it was tenuous, but I gave it a good go).
We bartered, she proposed coat, I stuck firm at ‘shug’ (it was 1999), she came down to jacket, I rose to a ‘stylish cardigan’ and was determined to make that my final offer. I didn’t own a stylish cardigan, only an old school one. She compromised and we went off to our local shopping centre - Hornsea Freeport - to see what we could dig out. I was happy to be getting a new garment, she was happy I wouldn’t get pneumonia, we were both worried that we were staking all this on a sleepy outlet village, left ransacked by the boxing day sales.
But so began the life of my longest serving garment. It waited for me, believe it or not, on the sale rack at Laura Ashley. Laura Ashley was the last, desperate hand my Mum played. I agreed to go in just to rule it out, convinced it was no place for a 15-year-old.
That’s when we met: me and the fitted black velvet jacket, silk lined, exactly my size, pinched at the waste. Though it technically followed the cut of a blazer, it was not too boxy around the shoulders. Its £120 price tag had been cut, first to £60 – no doubt when it made its way to the outlet - and now in a desperate attempt to sell it they’d halved it again to £30.
It was lovely thick, soft velvet. Mum told me it was excellent quality, that it seemed made for me, and that it would keep me warm; I rotated from left hip to right in the mirror, carrying my head a little higher and feeling like a full grown up.
Now I am a full grown up, and I still own that jacket.
It goes into hibernation for a few years and then offers its services: I’ve worn it to successful job interviews, over my favourite dress for a posh dinner at Nobu, casually with a pair of grey jeans and heals, over short skirts for nights out at University, to a winter wedding with a dark scarlet dress, and it has solemnly comforted me at funerals coupled with silk salves and black shifts.
Though it’s finally starting to lose its shape and going bald in the small of the back, I’m not quite ready to say goodbye to the piece which taught me that style always trumps fashion.
Written by Bethan Ashmead
Discover more of Beth's writing at Notes From Long Runs