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A FRIEND OF MINE RECENTLY bought a book called What You Wear Can Change Your Life. She commented that it was rather sad that society places so much emphasis on appearance. As someone passionate about clothes, I had to disagree. Even if you are one of those people who think clothes can't change your life, you can probably remember what you were wearing when your life changed. Although fashion provides a record of society's changing concerns and preoccupations, clothes can also document enduring emotion. As Anne, Countess of Rosse wrote and pinned to her bottle-green wool crepe dress: “Had a wonderful time in this dress, am ashamed to say. 1941!!”, page 54.
I have enjoyed the charming reminiscences of our contributors and friends about their most memorable outfits and I would love to hear similar stories from you, perhaps with a photograph. In this issue you will discover the way textiles punctuate our lives and are used to celebrate rites of passage: from the poignant Misuko shrines in Japan, that commemorate the loss of unborn children, page 52, to the joyous confections paraded in the high school proms from the 1950s, page 26. The cultural significance of cloth is explored in Brinda Gill's article on Indian weddings, page 30.
When looking for fabric to celebrate in we often turn our attention to silk. With its noble history and unique lustre it truly is the king of fabrics. Our Top ten Silks highlight some of the most beautiful furnishing fabrics around, page 38. Also see page 96 where subscribers can take advantage of our offers including a beautiful scarf by Celia Birtwell, Clarissa Hulse lavender bags and a unique badge made from a vintage silk scarf for every new subscriber.
Finally, quilts, one of the greatest repositories of history. Quilting bees were the group therapy of the past and the objects themselves treasured for their social history. Shelly Zegart traces the history of quilt collecting in America, page 46.
In January and February, when the weather is cold, warmth and comfort can become the only criteria we use when dressing ourselves. I hope this issue will encourage you to pause and consider your clothes in a different way, as emotional reflections and markers of time and place. •••
Polly Leonard Editor
We asked this month’s contributors what was their most memorable outfit.
EMMA O’KELLY pg 58
PTOLEMY MANN pg 86
SHELLY GOLDSMITH pg 52
It's hard to pinpoint a favourite outfit as there have been so many – stripy dungarees at 11, jumble sale finds throughout my teens, in particular a pair of psychedelic pyjamas which I wore to the first gig with my band at 16. For the moment it's the Pucci dress (pictured) that my husband gave me.
With a name like mine, I just had to have a Myths and Legends party on my 30th Birthday. I was Cleopatra, who was herself a 'Ptolemy'. I wore a backless 1930s inspired dress in Egyptian blue with a gold beaded collar and a headress designed by a friend for a RSC production of Anthony and Cleopatra.
I grew up with this picture of my mother and father dressed up for a 'dinner-dance'; I coveted the beautiful Indian print dress my mother wore. Years later, after they had moved to the USA I persuaded her to ship the dress back so that I could wear it to my 30th birthday party. It looked wonderful. subscribe advertise content back issues stockists www.selvedge.org
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I treasure the black Chinese-style jacket I wore at my wedding. Beautifully made of the softest silk velvet, it has lovely detailing and feels so luxurious. As its style is completely timeless I hope to be able to pass it on to my daughter so she can wear a piece of family history on her own special occasion. Diana Wolf writer
I have a beautiful woolly hat that I cherish and bought eight years ago from Egg in Kinnerton street and cannot live without; it was handcrafted. Also a suede appliqued skirt from Joseph that I live in every winter! Victoria Bain textile designer
Returning from a Peace Corps stint in West Africa, where my wardrobe consisted of shifts in African wax-prints, I stopped in London. I can't remember where but I came upon a Pierre Cardin dress of heavy cotton, the color of a ripe apricot. Lined in matching silk and hand-finished, it was the simplest, most elegant dress I've ever owned. Wearing it I felt beautiful, chic and ready for anything. Judith Weissman writer
I bought a black cashmere dress at a sale and although it was far too big I took the chance that several runs through the washer and dryer would shrink it down to wearable size. It did for a time and I wore it to my degree show at the Rhode Island School of Design. I eventually tumble-dried it one too many times and it would now fit a doll! Jessica Hemmings academic
My happiest memories: Sunday afternoons at my Great Aunt's chaotic house in North London and ballet lessons with the chainsmoking Mrs Ford. My chosen outfit recalls these: it's a Sicilian folk dancing skirt made by my Great Aunt for a dance performance when I was eight. Iliana Taliotis PR
I love the sea and it was for that reason I fell in love with my wedding skirt by Romeo Gigli. It was a murky grey-green, horizontally pin tucked with a couple of inverted pleats on the waistband. It billowed out in the air, floating along. To our delight the sea on our honeymoon was exactly the same colour. Clare Lewis journalist
At the LA premier of Girl with a Pearl Earring – I played the head servant – I wore an Issey Miyake dress. It was so marvellously simple but still eye-catching, which is just what you want on the red carpet. Subtle but complex – I love it. Joanna Scanlan actress
I wish I could show you the photo of me in my camel hair coat, aged eight and a little chubby. My parents tell me it was a lovely coat, but God, how I loathed it! To me it was the very opposite of cool. I was bundled into it on smart occasions, feeling horribly priggish. I squirmed with embarrassment if spotted by friends. Peter Shaw copy editor
Clothes are so important to me – after wearing my Israeli army uniform for the first time I spent the next weekend home making alterations to the patterns. At the moment my favourite item is a rough, woollen scarf; it has an African/Japanese look but is woven in India. It travels in my hand luggage wherever I go. Elana Dickson weave designer
Faded and abused, my quilted gardening jacket is a survivor. In its youth my aunt wore it for driving. When she died I took it on, not for its looks, but because it was hers. So all these years, we’ve kept each other company. Ruth Pavey writer
Twenty-seven years ago, little did I think that the textiles I collected while living in Jaipur would be worn by my daughters today. Husband Steve and I travelled each day on our Royal Enfield motor bike to work in the printing sheds of Sanganer or Bagru. Louisa Maybury writer
Jessica Maybury in a Banjara dress and Turkoman necklace collected by her mother in Rajasthan.
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