Every Christmas when ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is sung, I’m always reminded of those double page spread adverts at the back of newspaper magazines that try to cajole you into buying elasticated waistband corduroy slacks and Velcro fastened ‘training shoes’ with whispers of ‘elegant cosiness’, ‘relaxed sophistication’ and straplines like ‘This comfort is a joy!’ But while they might have cornered the market for the 90 pluses, they raise a good point that feeling good and looking stylish need not always be mutually exclusive.
I spent my late teens in an almost permanent state of low-level discomfort. I know all teenagers do, although mine was one of actual physical discomfort as well as the more usual emotional and social knot-ties. All my own fault, of course, I wouldn’t hear anything said against my lifestyle choices, (sorry Mum) but I really did live up to the phrase ‘you have to suffer to be beautiful’ (and I do use the term ‘beautiful’ in the loosest terms possible).
My rampant acne was smeared with thick, unctuous foundations and desiccating powders which stung and cracked my face. I got a taste for the high life in towering stilettos, my gorgeous leggy friend and I taking great pleasure in being the tallest, longest-limbed girls in the room while our feet took no pleasure at all. I still have scars over which I enjoy poring, book-like, as I reminisce over which cheap pair of sky-high sandals made which ever-lasting welt.
I became quite the fan of the Wonderbra and squished my tiny titties into the upholstered torture device wired cups quite willingly. I bought skinny jeans in which I couldn’t bend my legs, dresses in which I couldn’t make any fast movements, and paired a beautiful red Italian-leather belt (which I've had since I was eleven, ELEVEN) with everything, hoiked in onto the smallest hole so I could ‘show off my waist’ (how dull) and caused welts in my skin by the end of the day.
It was awful. I was awful. While I do look back with a certain amount of rosy nostalgia, I feel quite sad that I already had such fixed, extreme ideals of ‘beauty’ or ‘style’ or ‘womanhood’. I definitely considered myself stylish then, and of course had the same voracious appetite for fashion as I do now, but somehow the version that arrived on my teenage body hurt.
Now, still equally in the thrall of how to look good, I temper decisions about how I dress my body and face with how it will feel as well as how it will look. It often isn’t even that big of a compromise, and I do still get it wrong, sometimes spectacularly. Case in point was my decision to wear an arse-skimming sequin skirt on bonfire night while sitting on logs around a fire, getting marshmallow gunk on my Russell and Bromley boot. It was a particular low point.
Overall though, I’ve nailed down a few fundamentals that are non-negotiable. For instance, I love a good sports bra to keep me locked up ‘til lunch or- newsflash- no bra at all. I spend quite a lot of money on cashmere because cheaper wool blends bring me out in hives, ditto cheapo jewellery (which I adore) but leave me so itchy and full of angst as to render it not worth it.
I am evangelical about comfortable shoes (not quite the Velcro variety) but I still stalk up and down the floors of shoe shops, walking, turning, walking, stopping, to check for any signs of rub or pain. I get funny looks. If they pass that test only to fail at the (arguably more important) next stage of actual life- they are straight back to the shop or out the door- once I know it’s capable of a blister, I can’t look a shoe in the eye, it has to go. I learnt the hard way.
Which is why I’m thrilled about my new wardrobe of shoes. A few pairs of fabulous block heels, 2 inches high in butter soft leather, gold and glittered, and a pulse-quickening Chanel dupe from Office. Flatform sneakers, which make you look brilliantly like you haven’t tried while still adding a point of interest, simultaneously go with most things (jeans, midi skirts, dresses, floor length stuff.) It means you can legitimately wear actual trainers and look good. I have two pairs.
My terminal acne has thankfully gone now, so I’m no longer a martyr to the full-coverage and, quite conversely, now don’t enjoy the sensation of anything on my skin. I wavered this rule slightly by allowing the wonderful CitySmart by Elizabeth Arden into my morning routine. It is quite tinted-moisturiser-like in that it has a bit of colour coverage to it but its main job is to stop pollutant particles penetrating your pores and ravaging your skin, which, since we’re talking about comfort, is pretty comforting.
What I have learnt is almost cliché in its obviousness- that when you feel good, comfortable and at ease, you look good, comfortable and at ease. This is attractive and sexy. Sorry 17 year old self for not realising this sooner. An example came recently when I was the lucky recipient of a quite staggering number of compliments. By quite a margin the most for any outfit I’ve worn lately. I was wearing a nightie. A rather pretty nightie granted, and styled sympathetically, but still, a nightie. A thing you would wear to sleep in BECAUSE IT’S SO COMFY. That clinched it- wear what you like, wear what feels good, even if it’s from the sleepwear department of M&S- ye merry gentlemen, comfort really is joy.