A wardrobe for the senses

First came the dress that rustles when I move. Although it’s not a party frock it very much sounds like one, and this startled me at first. I bought it second hand sometime around 2009, and the design is clearly based on a 1950s wide-collar full-skirt dress. I loved it from the second I tried it on, but the rustling sound the skirt makes was a little odd the first time I wore it to work. It evoked a taffeta skirt my mum made for me when I was a child – a ra-ra style that was pure 80s joy – and that wore only for parties and Christmas. Hearing that sound again somehow made the everyday seem special.

Then came the skirt I purchased with a gift voucher that my kind colleagues gave me as a leaving gift in 2014. I adored its shape and structure when I saw it on the hanger, but it was the feel of it which made me want to own it. Made me want to live in it. It’s a relatively unassuming grey polka-dot full skirt with box pleats, midi length, but the shape it gives comes from the choice of fabric; a thick squishy ‘scuba’ style material with a soft cotton surface layer. The sort of fabric you can imagine bra cups being made from, but not a huge skirt. The tactile nature, the deeply practical side pockets, and the chunky exposed back zip mean that putting this skirt on and wearing it all day is an absolute joy.

Now I have a coat that has tiny patches where the pile of the velvet is wearing away, showing where I’ve held one handbag in the crook of my elbow – like my gran, or the Queen! – and had another slung across my back, like a small child heading to school. The cuff edges of the sleeves, which are somewhat too long for my short arms, also show wear and I stare at this in fascination while I listen to podcasts on my daily commute. The coat is soft to the touch which is a huge part of what drew me to it in the first place, but it’s the visual signs of wear which now fascinate me the most. Someone once told me to stitch up the pockets to keep the line of the coat intact, but I ignored that advice and my coat now looks lived in… with those big pockets sagging due to being stuffed full of hands, gloves, books and even my lunch.

I have always been fascinated by the sensory aspects of clothing, but it took me a while to think of this as anything other than the feeling of a curve-hugging vintage nylon slip or the sensation of stroking a soft fluffy dressing gown. Now I know it’s also the feeling I get from merely looking at a textured knit, from the way my wide leather belt holds me in like a corset when I fasten it tightly, the tantalising swish of a 70s maxi-skirt around my feet, and the self-assured click of my winter boots’ heels as I stomp towards the optimal spot on a Tube platform. I like to feel my clothing. And, yes, I even love that musty vintage shop smell too.