Category Archives: fashion

Fen-tastic

Right, so cheesy pun there. Rihanna has never been on my radar much; her music wasn’t particularly to my tastes, though I had nothing against it, and I thought she was beautiful and clearly talented but was not a fan girl.

Something that I have noticed recently, however, and perhaps I would have noticed this earlier if I had actually been a fan, is how independent she is. She’s a savvy businesswoman – her makeup line Fenty has changed the game by simply acknowledging that women of every shade should have makeup that suits their skin. Other brands have widened their ranges over the years, but Fenty set out to cater for every shade from albino to the darkest black from the outset. No tiptoeing around the edges, they just dived right in and what I find striking is that every woman has at least a couple of shades that might suit her. Everyone.

But what really impressed me recently was her body positivity, revealed in an interview for Cut Magazine in which she was asked about her approach to clothing:

“Well, I actually have had the pleasure of a fluctuating body type, where one day I can literally fit into something that is bodycon, and then the next day — the next week — I need something oversized; I need a little crop here and a high-waist there to hide that part, you know?

I really pay attention every day when I go into the closet about what’s working for my body that morning. I feel like that’s how everyone should go after fashion, because it’s an individual thing. And then, if you take it further, it’s like: What week are you having? You having a skinny week? You having a fat week? Are we doing arms this week? We doing legs this week? We doing oversized?

I love to play with silhouettes as well, but I think it’s important to make sure that you wear the thing that works for your body the best, and that’s flattering.” – Rihanna

There’s something beautiful and so very rare about a woman who is at peace with her body and makes the clothes fit her frame, rather than the other way around. I love that Rihanna is a positive role model and yes, she has stylists and custom made clothes, but while her wardrobe is out of reach, her attitude is something we can all adopt.

I remember falling in love with my thighs a few years ago. Not because they’re lovely  – far from it. But because they’re mine. They’re huge and strong and curvy and have cellulite but they are mine.

Since I was a teen I have hated my legs, especially my knees. But as I got older and my body changed, I found that my thighs bothered me the most. I steered well clear of tight jeans and skirts and sought to cover up my lower half whenever possible.

And then one day, at the grand old age of 30, I just stopped*. I looked in the mirror and liked what I saw, because it was very me. Men may hate or love them, and thick thighs are currently in vogue thanks to Nicki Minaj, but I try to make how I feel about my body my plumb line for self-confidence. It doesn’t always work, but like Rihanna, I find what makes me feel cute (nice underwear especially) and rock it. I’ve found the looks that flatter my shape and feel good – they aren’t always in fashion, but I’m true to my style.

 

*being in my thirties is amazing. I think I’ll have to write about it sometime.

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Grey Ambition

anthea.pngThis is going to seem really shallow, but I’m going grey and it has really unsettled me.

Getting older is a funny process. It’s only when you mention something in passing to your friends that you think is only happening to you that you realise everyone is figuring out what to do with wrinkles, the odd errant chin hair and skin that might go from oily to dry or even from flawless to teenage-style oily.

But the real issues are below the surface. For women especially, the ageing process is reveals so much about your conceptions of femininity and what expectations you have for yourself in terms of family and career.

It’s rare to see women with grey hair in the workplace, particularly in more corporate environments. It’s not perceived as distinguished and dashing as it is on men. Dyeing your hair to mask grey is not dissimilar to wearing makeup – For some, it’s an imperative to subscribe to the cult of youth, to others it’s just fun or they like how it looks. I don’t judge. But I was struck that whereas some of my friends may or may not wear makeup, or shave their legs, or pluck their eyebrows, the friends who have told me they are going grey all dye their hair or have weaves, wigs or braids that cover it, even my friends who wear their hair natural.

There’s something about hair. Perhaps because woman’s hair is almost emblematic and traditionally there has always been pressure for women to have long hair that conforms to the “feminine ideal”. Less so now; but still: everyone remembers the apex of Britney Spear’s troubled year in 2007 as the point when she shaved off her hair. The natural hair/weave/relaxed hair debate continues to roil in black communities. Shaving your head or growing a huge afro is seen a bold political statement.

Hair is tied up in our notions of femininity in a way that wrinkles are not. I have found myself unsettled, I’ve realised, not because I’m upset about ageing but because I expected to be in a different place in my life when this process became most visible.

This is stupid – I’ve had friends who went grey at 15 – but having interrogated my emotions, I feel like I did turning 30. It’s not the date that bothered me, just the disappointment of unmet expectations – expectations that I didn’t know I had. (to be clear: that I would be married, further along in my career, that I would have a career, children).

And that’s why the grey hair has thrown me for a loop this year. I didn’t really know that I had any thoughts about it until it happened and I feel strangely vulnerable still being “on the market” dating-wise as a visibly older woman. (I know, even as I type this I’m thinking, REALLY? But yes, this is an honest post).

I don’t want to dye it because I actually like my hair and all its colours (black and brown in different lights, now silver too) and I am loathe to change it. So I won’t. But it took me a little while to summon the courage to decide this, even though when it comes to other matters of hair removal or makeup or body image I am totally comfortable drawing my own line and walking it.

I’m disappointed in myself; I’ve clearly still got some way to go in terms of growing into my confidence as a 34 year-old. I’ve put a picture of the academic Anthea Butler here because I’ve always loved her look and thought that I’d try it perhaps when I got older.

Well, the first silvery threads are here and they brought friends, gathering into what appear to be two streaks at the front. They catch the light and keep surprising me. But I’m not going to dye them. I am learning to lean in and show up as that creature that society is alternately fascinated and repelled by – the (visibly) older woman.

 

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Ethical African Fashion

You know when something is on your mind and then you see it on TV?

That’s how I felt when I saw this report from the BBC Business team on fake fabrics threatening the African fabric industry.

I buy a lot of African print clothes. I love buying things from all over the continent and I’m pleased that they all have the clothes made ethnically in the respective countries, using fabric sourced on the continent. But after visiting Africa on the Square this year for Black History Month, the African celebration in Trafalgar Square, I was struck by how many businesses there were selling African print clothes. There was no discussion of ethical fabrics or processes. Since I know some of the brands that were there, I know some of the sellers definitely are ethical, but it was not advertised because it was not seen as a pressing issue.

I think it’s a discussion we need to start prioritising. In February I heard an insightful talk on this subject by Lorene Rhoomes of Akhu designs at the Women Fashion Power exhibition at the Design Museum. She explained in painstaking detail the history of African print fabrics, both on the continent (with a focus on West Africa) and outside (the Dutch and Indonesian connection). She also highlighted the problem of Chinese mass-produced fabrics stealing traditional designs and then undercuting craftsmen in the market place.

 

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Women Fashion Power

WOMEN-FASHION-POWER-Graphic-300-x-400I had the pleasure of finally visiting the Women, Fashion, Power exhibition at the Design Museum last night.

It ticked all of my boxes.

The evening talk, after the museum officially closed, was preceded by a private view of the exhibition of itself, that charts changing fashion and social status  for women. It looks at mass movements that affected ordinary women and those who occupied positions of power, from the early twentieth century until today. There were profiles of powerful women in positions of leadership from Ancient Egypt to China, but overall it primarily had a European/US focus. It was staggering to see how at times women have subverted the world of men, either by co-opting men’s dress or reclaiming their sexuality. There was a great section on the suffragettes and women leaders from different spheres of life from politics to business to human rights. Corsets, bikinis, beach pajamas (I want one!)…it’s all there.

It really made me reflect on my own style and preferences.

Then came a fascinating talk by Lauren Rhoomes of Akhu designs on the politics, spirituality and history of African textiles. Her focus was primarily on West Africa, but it was an engaging and informative talk, followed by a great head wrap workshop. Now I know how to do the great head wrap styles that I see around London.

Rhoomes also brought along some beautiful textiles from Nigeria that have been handed down through the generations of her family. She expounded on the weaving and printing techniques in Ghana and Nigeria in particular, and also made a powerful statement on the fair trade aspect to the textile trade, especially with the influx of cheap textiles from China.

I would give the whole experience five stars out of five if I had to rate it. The exhibition is a must-see, and I was privileged to hear Rhoomes speak with such authority and pride on African textiles, fashion, symbolism and craftmanship.

 

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Real Beautiful

Capture“It is real, it is honest, it is gorgeous” is how Marie Claire described the unretouched photos of Cindy Crawford that leaked last week. They weren’t supposed to be seen, but I have to tip my hat to Marie Claire’s communications team for classy handling of the affair.

They’re right, though.

At 48, she looks amazing. And real. Apart from a lucky few, most women have rounded tums and dimply thighs. We bear the scars of life: childbirth, bumps and scrapes, age.

One of the best things about being over 30 is settling into myself. I wish I had done it sooner. More than anything now, I just want to be strong and flexible so that my body can go the distance into old age. Our bodies are phenomenal, from the tips of our fingers to the organs inside – so much happens automatically that we take for granted.

So much time is wasted in an adversarial relationship with its quirks or in pursuit of an ideal, when your body is uniquely yours.

Real.

Honest.

(and quite possibly) Gorgeous.

 

 

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Princesses and Feminism

Full disclosure: I am a bit sick of Frozen. I thought it was ok, but I think I’ve read so many indulgent lifestyle articles in serious newspapers that talk endlessly about the author and their children that I’m just fatigued.

There was one that caught my attention this week, though, because I think it’s the peak of the trend: Peak Elsa, if you will: Jane Merrick in the Indepedent: Little Girls Dressing up as Elsa are the future of Feminism.

The future of feminism? Yes, Frozen was good in terms of bucking the traditional princess trend. It was actually about sisterhood instead, which made a nice change. It’s good for girls to aspire to be independent and strong, and not wait for a prince to save them. However, feminism is surely about more than your personal choices.

My neighbours on either side of me on my street have little girls who are obsessed, like every other little girl (and grown woman) with Frozen. Part of the reason I’m a bit ambivalent about the cartoon is because most mornings I am jolted awake by some discordant yelling singing of the theme song Let it Go as they get ready for school. Last weekend I got chatting to my neighbour about her home repairs. She remarked on how the women on my ethnically diverse and international London street, mostly single mothers, help each other out – from babysitting to house watching to school runs and all the little things that you need your neighbours to help with. I like to think I play my part.

I reflected on how wonderful it is when women work together; how each of us have such diverse stories and how much we all learn from each other. How we’re doing life together on this street. Those little girls dressed up as Elsa have an opportunity, living in one of London’s most diverse and not particularly affluent boroughs, to learn about issues to do with immigration, equal pay, refugees, childcare, the environment, human rights, homelessness, racial equality, and so much more. I hope that they learn not only that they aren’t little princesses that need saving, but how hard it is for the single mothers on the street to find affordable childcare. The immigrant stories of the women who weren’t born here and in some cases may have had their immigration status imperilled when their marriages broke down; access to services for refugee women – things that feminists should be fighting for. Women that other women should be taking up for.

Every street is different. But this is London; you don’t have to go far to find someone bumping up against an infrastructure that does women (and many men) no good. We need to dismantle it, smash it. Little girls can learn about it (and take part!) dressed up as Elsa; we just need to show them that it’s bigger than their lives; it’s about the women (and girls) who made that dress too.

 

 

 

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Time Lapse Hair styles

I’m a bit late to this party, but I loved the video of 100 years of Black hairstyles – especially the 1940s and 1990s styles, which I love for vintage nostalgia and (in the case of the 90s obvs) the lived experience!

Here it is side by side with the White version – it appears they were Part I and II of a series. Love it!

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All Glamour

Two coffee table books that I simply must have and which push all my beauty, glamour and fashion buttons:

tumblr_static_rocket88_vintageblackglamour_coverFashionAfrica_online_marketing_17july-wpcf_240x350Vintage Black Glamour, by the creator of the blog of the same name.

And Fashion Africa by Jacaranda Books.

 

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Yes, Ladies

In a mad dash to catch up with November’s blog post challenge (like the National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo but a blog post a day) I’m going to start posting some things that I adore that I haven’t blogged about yet.

So: The Redbook Sports Illustrated Plus-size Model Campaign. Yes, Ladies!

plus-size-swimsuit-cal-3

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Dencia Defending Skin Whiteners

“If you feel like your whole body is a dark spot…fine…say goodbye to dark spots.”

Cameroonian singer Dencia, whose cream I mentioned in my last article, defended the cream  on Channel 4. A very disingenuous interview followed. She alleges that the cream is for dark spots…but the advertising campaign just doesn’t add up.

 

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