Saying Goodbye

Vintage green dress

Having mentioned her and her clothing cast-offs on this blog since its inception, it would be remiss of me not to mention the passing of my grandmother (affectionately referred to as Grandma Ship-Shape around these parts) at the start of the month. While it’s logical to prepare for loss as loved ones get older, it’s certainly not how I thought 2018 would begin.

Grief is a slow, tiring and unpredictable process, and you’ll never quite know how it will take hold of you until it’s too late. It’s also a very personal thing and, as such, instead of talking about how much she will be missed, I wanted to touch on the influence this special person had on my style.

As one of five sisters (and three brothers) growing up during World War II, there was an attitude of saving clothes for Sunday best and passing down belongings to ensure objects reached their maximum usage potential. When I was growing up this manifested in newspapers and Sunday supplements being circulated around the family so thoroughly, that by the time a copy of Stella, Sunday Times STYLE or The Telegraph Magazine made it into my hands, it was already a solid three to six months out of date. Still, I would relish those magazines and when I went to visit her, there would always be a piece of clothing that had been bought by one sister, borrowed by another and eventually given to my grandmother in case I wanted it.

I gleefully took pleated floral print skirts, large square paisley scarves and belts far too small for my thick waist. For a while we were the same shoe size, and it was a pair of her dainty cream peep-toe heels that I wore during my wedding ceremony, before slipping into a pair of white Converse to dance in. Friends can attest that I would wear variations of the same paisley scarf around my neck come rain or shine for the best part of a decade, and there was a brief period when the aforementioned pleated skirts were fashioned into dresses, secured with a waist-cinching belt and paired with gladiator sandals and over-the-knee socks. While I’ve since (thankfully) moved on from that particular look, if I happened to wear an old cast-off in her presence, Grandma Ship-Shape would exclaim every time that surely I didn’t want “that old thing!”

Vintage dress detail

As with my other set of grandparents, a visit to her house was always like stepping into a treasure trove for me – a home with memories, familiarity and comfort, but also full of objects just as intriguing as the clothes upstairs. A mish-mash of teacups, side plates, mid-century modern furniture and 1970s bedspreads, it was an appealing hodgepodge of belongings. While she was by no means a hoarder, her house was very different from the neat and tidy home I grew up in, and I’ve certainly inherited the gene that means I will hold on to almost anything “just in case” I might need it again.

One thing that was very evident not just while she was alive but also afterwards, when I helped my parents organise her belongings, was how much she saved for best. I wrote about this idea a few years ago, and seeing how many new or nearly new jumpers, shoes and skirts she eschewed in favour of wearing the same two pleated tartan skirts and handful of cardigans on rotation struck a chord with me. I have a habit of buying but not wearing or using things (clothes, shoes, lipstick, notebooks), when really I need to make the most of what I’m lucky to have, and to a degree that extends to making the most out of life, too.

I feel very grateful to have had a cherished grandparent in my life for this long, and even more grateful to know that there will always be part of her with me, both in the clothes I wear, and the way I wear them.

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