An ode to ugly clothes and practical fashion
Clompy shoes. Knitted cardis. Dad trainers. Sensible hemlines. Ankle swingers. These are all words that would strike immediate fear in my pre-teen self. So many times I was forced into something ‘ugly’ because of five small words that used to fall from my mother’s lips as often as I watched reruns of Saved by the Bell – “it’s not a fashion show”. Girl Guides camp, school outings, museum trips, even holidays and friends’ birthday parties, apparently, weren’t ‘fashion shows’. This news was never met with delight from a miniature fashion-obsessed me. In my eyes, practical equaled ugly. Cue the sturdy footwear, sensible layers and weather-appropriate outerwear.
So, to my now 22-year-old self it is side-splittingly hilarious that I now covet the very things that used to haunt my sartorial dreams. While once I dreamed of the day I could teeter around in the highest heels and wear the most extravagant garms, now, my mantra is ‘the uglier and/or more practical the better’, and the rest of the fashion world seems to agree.
I own exactly one pair of full length trousers. Other than that, every single pair comes in at the ankle or higher. What used to cause such embarrassment at school (then known as ‘jack ups’), where your coolness was in direct correlation to whether your trousers touched the floor (and subsequently soaked up any moisture in the ground) is now mine and the rest of the sartorial world’s preferred length of trouser.
However, something interesting has been happening of late – a surge of full length trousers has been gradually seeping back into the sartorial system. Shock! Horror! After years of ankle grazing lengths being a friend to all (except cold ankles), its antithesis, which we thought we saw the back of in the noughties (a time rife with U-G-L-Y fashion), feels strangely new and exciting. None of that noughties midriff-baring here though please, high waisted still rules the way.
Gone, also, are the days of hitching my skirt up to outrageously short lengths. Now, commuting on the train in anything that finishes higher than my knee causes extreme discomfort as I adjust and re-adjust to make sure I’m appropriately covered up. Give me a midi over a mini dress any day.
I never thought I’d want a cardigan that wasn’t chunky, oversized and slouchy ever again. And yet here I am, ogling the AW17/18 Prada runway full of embellished mohair cardis cut like your grandma’s, wondering why no high street store has come close to a half-decent copy yet. The most genius thing about a cardigan, though, is it’s so much easier to pull on and off than a jumper as you go from extreme central heating to brisk January temperatures all day long. I think it might just be the best kept secret of grandmas everywhere.
And the shoes. When I was younger, the shoe du jour was the ballet slipper, but would my awkwardly-shaped feet let me wear them without flying off at the first step I took? No. Even if they would, I’m pretty sure my mother would have seen to it that they never graced my feet, for the soles were far too impractically thin. Enter all the sensible laces, Velcro, buckle fastenings and suitably thick soles you could ask for. Not exactly the elegant slip on shoe I was hoping for. Yet now, my wardrobe is filled with chunky shapes, sturdy soles and heels of a sensible height. Heck, in the summer I practically live in my Birkenstocks and they are literally orthopedic shoes.
It’s true that ugly and practical fashion has been having a moment for some time now. We can’t seem to get enough of it. Finally, we have shoes we can run in, midi-length hemlines you don’t have to pull down every five seconds and layers that make navigating the winter months so much easier. The general rule is, the quicker you can move about it in it, the better. I’ve rounded up my favourite picks of the bunch for you below. You’re welcome.