Saturday, January 16, 2016


“Hey Lady Gaga, where did you get the eyebrows?” The teenager screams as he cycles by, flashing a sarcastic smile then slows just enough to gage my reaction. I’m right outside Theatre Royal about to meet Emily-it’s been an age-and we are planning a catch up over dinner, and I’m determined not to let this young man spoil my evening, so I look ahead as though nothing had happened. It must have been divine karma, because just as he pulls the breaks a little to see if his verbal assault had hit home, he swerved onto the kerb and nearly upended himself.

I’m gracious enough to keep walking, but my shoulders are shaking as I try to control my laughter. Later as I sit in L’Atmosphere, a divine French restaurant, layering butter onto warm bread and drinking Burgundy like it’s the last bottle on earth, I tell Emily what had happened. Emily, being unashamedly confident, and managing a career in Human resources, plus 4 children between the ages of 3 and 9, and a husband who figures that his wife is such a natural multi-tasker- why interfere with a perfectly run house- takes everything in her stride except obnoxious males.

“What an out and out little bastard Agnes!” Her voice raises enough to turn the heads of fellow diners.

“Darling it’s fine” I respond “that’s the thing about dressing as you want to, there will always be someone who voices a negative opinion, you just have to expect it and get over it, or you will inevitably crumble."

Emily nodded and smoothed down the front of her Sarah Pacini, round neck, mocha coloured dress, and took a sip from her wine glass.

“It’s true you know Agnes, I remember having quite a strong sense of my own style when I was a teenager and I wasn’t always popular, I remember being labelled up-myself, and it affected me so badly that I began to choose clothing that was less stylish and allowed me to blend in more. Can you believe it? but these days I still find myself getting anxious when I spend on quality clothing, it’s not the money, it’s more what people will think or assume.”

That’s the thing about the past, no matter how much we are mindfully aware of being in the moment; the past is omnipresent.

Looking at her it’s hard to believe that my successful friend ever has doubts about anything, least of all her fabulous style, so this was news to me. Two years ago I went on a weekend break to Venice with Emily (well more of a shopping weekend) where she spent vast sums on what she called long term investment pieces, and then spent the evening worrying about wearing them back home in front of the girls at work. It seemed very out of character, and of course, years later, I had forgotten about it.

That evening we stepped into a plush, red velvet lined Gondola, tottering in our glamourous heels. The sun was just setting and the sky was a blaze of hot pinks and cerise. The small canal wound its way past picturesque palazzos and ancient and exotic Byzantine architecture. Balconies burst with flowers, candle lit lanterns littered windowsills, and our gorgeous Gondolier even burst into song a few times. Emily wore a sumptuous, figure hugging, Valentino cotton lace dress in the palest pastel pink and let her dark straight hair cascade down her back. She was drawing admiring glances from the Italian Stallion that was rowing us through the streets. I completely reassured her as to just how dazzling she looked, and later as we walked through the Piazza San Marco to a few delicious wolf whistles from some rather dishy Venetian men, it was a Venetian woman who stopped with her husband to compliment Emily on her style, and that’s really what meant the most to Emily.

So I had to wonder, in the style wars that secretly rage across the globe and infiltrate our daily wear as dictated by fashion moguls, do we ultimately end up dressing to impress other women? And in the battle of the sexes, who exactly are we fighting? Are we our own worst enemies? And is a holiday truly a passport to fashion freedom?

Emily is a case in point, she surprisingly doesn’t like to wear her gorgeous clothes to work, for fear of female criticism. I have to confess, that young man on the bike I hardly gave a thought to, but if the same comment came from a woman, would I get hurt?

Men, while making comments about a girls clothes in the negative, are often being sexist, there’s usually an underlying demeaning message of some sort, it’s predictable, but when a women criticises another woman’s style, they are so much more savvy and in the know, that it can really sting.

As a gal who turns to her wardrobe when she really needs a boost, I understand the therapeutic and transformative qualities of clothing, my scary credit card bill testifies to this. Wearing well-chosen ensembles alters me for the better. So is it that we are not what we wear …..But….. we become who we are supposed to be when we wear it?

I share my immediate thoughts with Emily. We are at this stage on dessert, melting chocolate puddings no less, I’m desperately trying to order a second while Emily muses over what I said.

“If that’s the case Agnes, then I’m somehow apologising for who I am when I dress down and don’t wear my favourite clothes."

Typical Emily…insightful to the point of making me cringe.

“I can’t argue Darling, but let me tell you this. It’s one thing to feel intimidated, but it’s entirely another thing to know why. When you know why, you sort of have to act on it…take personal responsibility and all of that jazz. I’m a great believer in Fuck-it therapy. Emily you are in danger of paralysis through analysis” I said, throwing out the only new age platitude that meant anything to me “Not to mention having a wardrobe of clothes you are reticent to wear, and that most women would die for.” I felt I was on a roll, so continued.

“I’m always in the line of fire for criticism Emily, but I try to be true to who I am, I’m not always successful with that” (I omitted the time I went out in a fabulous white Chanel gown that turned out to be a Bridal pregnancy ensemble, and was asked throughout the night ‘when was I due?’)

“I just throw on whatever the hell I like in the morning and fuck the begrudgers. Give it a try Honey, and if they look at you crossways, just lean over, smile, (Emily has fabulous teeth) and say ‘Prada Darling’ and like most bullies, they will back down, because you are letting them know you are onto them.”

It must have been the Burgundy, it always sends me ranting, but there was more than a grain of truth in what I said. Emily manages large teams of people, she’s assertive and confident in her work, and it’s hard to see her not embracing her fabulous sense of style for fear of attracting criticism.

Emily was nodding her head in agreement. She poured out the last of the wine, and I felt I was giving my swansong.

“Criticism Emily, silent or otherwise, is a bit like a shroud, it can cover you, alter your appearance, it can so easily become a garment that others can get you to wear, but with your taste Honey, you just don’t need any help dressing.” 

Edited by Roland Thackaberry 

Photography by Matthew Reilly


Saturday, January 02, 2016


This morning at 2.00am I flung my bathroom scales out the second floor window. I watched it crash onto the garden patio and explode i...
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