As someone who works in a business built on silly-priced clothes, yet was raised by a woman who firmly believes in the power of Quidco, charity shopping, and a good TK Maxx ravage, I have a complicated relationship with expensive fashion.
Like most British girls who read Vogue, I used to be a total high-street fiend. When I was 18 and living with my parents rent-free despite working full-time, my life revolved around ASOS and Topshop – and tons of it, too. But I quickly grew bored of the way my Leigh jeans (this was in a time before the Joni jean existed... yep, I'm getting old) faded in the wash and went baggy around the knees after a couple of wears, so I started venturing into what I like to think of as the higher end of the high street. Whistles was a particular weakness; I'd think nothing of buying a flippy skirt here and a little Rivington clutch there, even though my social life at that point extended to slurping cocktail pitchers through straws in the Ralph Fitz Randal beer garden, where I'd inevitably spill a little Woo Woo down my new silk-crêpe top.
Fast-forward to 2018 and I still own approximately 5% of my teenage wardrobe. The rest of it fell to bits. Lesson learnt: don't buy stupidly cheap clothes. Avoid the high street unless you're buying tights, in which case the £3 packs from Primark are fine (if you're the kind of woman who shops at Wolford, I'm slightly jealous of you but, honestly hun, you really have no concept of money). The in-your-faceness, ever-trendy, ever-convenient allure of the high street makes us think it's perfectly acceptable to restock our wardrobes every time we've an event in the calendar that involves booze. In the past, I have absolutely been the kind of girl who traipses around strip-lit stores while hungover on a Saturday morning, because I felt I needed to get something pretty and new to wear to Anna and Matt's barbecue. I used to buy so many nylon dresses, as I could afford to, with no intention of wearing them more than once. But admit it: the pale yellow broderie-anglaise dress that looked good in that photo of you in your mate's garden – can of Holsten Pils in one hand and a burger in the other – isn't going to get worn again, is it? Or maybe it is, but do you actually love it? Really? Fast fashion is a false economy, and I probably don't need to tell you that it's a grossly cruel, unjust business, both socially and environmentally. This book will change your life if you want to learn more!
These days, if I like something, I force myself to sit on it for a couple of weeks. This generally stops me from shopping on the high street, because most of the stuff I liked will no longer be available, either because it's sold out or because they've destroyed it. I occasionally give in to temptation when it comes to & Other Stories, whose printed cotton dresses have dominated my summer, but apart from that I won't give in to the cheap thrills. I only buy what I love.
Case in point: Réalisation Par dresses. I was late to the game with this cool Aussie brand with a French moniker, targeted at girls who know their style, but not necessarily how to spot when they’re being duped by savvy marketers with a penchant for e-acutes.
It was the brand’s 'summer-loving blue' Violette dress, peppered with a delicate botanical print, that first captured my heart. It’s overpriced considering that it comes unlined and is very sheer, being made from pure silk. Réalisation doesn’t readily ship to Europe either, which throws long delivery times and import taxes into the mix, but I still lusted after it for months. Like every other wannabe Frenchie who’s been sucked in by the brand’s mystique, I have long wanted a piece of this label, despite my proclivity to being very un-French and spilling rijoja all over the shop.
However, my cousin Eve is getting married in August in a perfect period-drama setting, which seems to present the perfect opportunity to usher a little gamine insouciance into my life. Overlooking the cost, this dress is a dream. When I try it on I feel fabulous. This is why I was banging on about only buying what you love before. If you're feeling lukewarm about something – maybe you've described it as 'nice enough' or decided that 'it'll do' – then don't buy it. The kind of clothes you want are the ones that move you; perhaps to a level that you can't stop looking at yourself in the mirror, or perhaps even to the point that you feel like a different person. In this case, this dress transports me to a realm where I'm the kind of woman who is graceful, tasteful, owns cookbooks, and cycles to the Viktualienmarkt on a cream-toned Pashley to buy groceries.
Réalisation’s dresses are silky and shapely yet shapeless. They fall across the body ‘just so’. They're see-through, but you'd simply never wear a bra with one because they’re the epitome of je ne sais quoi, which you supposedly can’t have if you have boobs. Underwear is kind of important when you're going to a family 'do and don't want to flash your grandparents, though, so I'm wearing a M&S slip under mine. Accessorised with an Aperol spritz and some spindly sandals, I think I'll be nailing summer-wedding elegance – at least until the ABBA tribute act comes on after dinner.