A style that’s all your own …

20 03 2013

Our house has seen an interesting variety of dress codes over the years. From Erica’s novelty hats to Max‘s penchant for Disney dresses, the early days gave us an eclectic mix of sartorial style.

Let’s take Max.

Max was never going to be a boy’s boy. When his dad and I bought Erica her first Barbie doll, Max requisitioned it. We tried again and, again, he took the doll and made her his own. He wasn’t too interested in the Barbie accessories, mind. It was the hair. Max could often be found holding Barbie by her ankles and swinging her around with his gaze fixed on her travelling hair. As a result, no Barbie in our house was permitted to wear her hair up, causing problems when he insisted on her joining him in the bath because the hair would get wet and, well, no more silky, shiny Barbie hair. Hello rust coloured wire wool.

After time, Max realised that he could get round this, and still have the pleasure of ‘flying hair’, by fashioning his own. If he put a pair of his sister’s pyjama bottoms on his head, the legs would hang down on either side, like pigtails. By swinging his head, he swung the ‘hair’ around his head. Joy. And on occasion, he would wear one of his sister’s dresses to complete the illusion. I had no problem with taking him to collect Erica from primary school with pyjama bottoms on his head and a scruffy Barbie in his hand, but the dresses usually stayed at home.

‘Your brother is Barbie Boy,’ said a boy in Erica’s class to her one day. She punched him.

It should be said here, just in case it isn’t clear, that Max was very young at this time. However, the day he got stuck climbing out of a ground floor front window and had to be rescued by a neighbour whilst wearing a Sleeping Beauty dress was his last day of Year 2.

Vinnie, on the other hand, was a dude, who insisted on button-down school shirts at the age of five so that he could wear them unbuttoned to the chest (he looked like Elvis). With a shock of brown curly hair and a very cheeky grin, it was no wonder people found his Queen period highly amusing. We eventually bought him a very, very tight pair of white satin trousers and a corduroy bomber jacket. He liked Freddie-style posturing.

Vinnie: (back arched, microphone in hand) ‘Uh, uh, uh, another one bites the desk -‘

Jen: What?

Vinnie: (stops thrusting) What?

Jen: What did you sing?

Vinnie: ‘Another one bites the desk.’ Like the song.

Jen: They’re not the words.

Vinnie: Yes they are!

Jen: No. It’s another one bites the dust.

Vinnie: (crying) No it isn’t! It’s ‘desk’.

Jen: Okay.

Erica had grown out of the hats by the time she was ten, but moved onto some very strange ensembles that defy description, to be honest. The most worrying thing was not her very own sense of style, it was her hair. Born with thick curls, it was always a battle to wash/comb it, so when I noticed that it was ‘different’ at the back, I just believed her when she said that’s how it grew. By ‘different’ I mean shorter and somehow clumpier (if that’s a word) than the rest. Why did I take her word for it? I don’t remember. Perhaps because that hair had beaten me on many occasions. It was about a year before the kids spilt the truth, that she’d been cutting her own hair at the back. Some time later, when I noticed her fringe had developed a straight line across her forehead and she denied all knowledge, I did not believe her.

For Ella, fashion and style have always been important, but she has come a long way since the thongs she insisted on wearing in Year 7. It wasn’t the thong itself that caused the problem, it was the way the top of the thong rested high above the top of the school trousers. This just didn’t seem appropriate for an 11-year-old, and after several traumatic mornings before school, we hid the thongs in the utility room. They remained in a bag, in a cupboard, for years.

One of the biggest pre-going-to-school arguments was about Vinnie’s ‘Mini-me‘ coat. He was ten and had become somewhat less concerned about his general appearance than during his Freddie days, and his favourite coat was a blue parka. This parka was just big enough for him to impress his friends by sitting down and curling his body into it to create a smaller self, a ‘Mini-me’, reminiscent of the Austin Powers character. Before long, they were all doing it. But boys get bigger and coats are designed to be worn, not curled up into. Soon, the parka was tearing, its soft lining making an appearance at regular intervals. In short, it was scruffy, and his mother bought him a new coat to replace it.

When I was a kid, my brother got the Scorcher comic every week, and one of the strips was ‘Billy’s Boots‘. These were old, scruffy boots from a different era that Billy had found and which, when he wore them, helped him to score amazing goals. When his grandmother threw them away and presented him with a spanking new (Seventies-style) pair for Christmas, he was distraught, and searched the bins for his old boots. Vinnie’s ‘Mini-me’ coat was like those boots. It conferred on him a sense of being, personality and performance. In it, he felt like the entertainer, and would sneak it on before you could say ‘Get that rag off and put your new one on.’ One day, I did say that, not wishing his mum to be exasperated yet again by his choice of outerwear. I might as well have just told him that both dogs had died. He became hysterical as we each pulled at Mini-me. I won the battle, but it’s one I wish I hadn’t started.

Today, the biggest problem with Vinnie is that his trousers have real difficulty staying up. No amount of ‘Did you know that fashion started on Death Row?’ will persuade him to hide his pants. Mind you, I can’t talk. It’s so difficult to get a good, old-fashioned pair of jeans that actually travel up over the hip that there’s many a time I’ve shown more of my backside than I’d planned.

And yes, they don’t let me forget it.

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