At a recent dressy school event, Edie, my 18-year-old daughter, wore a two-piece floral suit I’d bought in the days before children, when I didn’t think twice about dropping a couple of weeks’ wages on a single outfit. She made the look her own: wearing it knotted at the waist to reveal a taut inch of midriff and pairing it with trainers. It added an extra 100W to my proud, megawatt beam as her friends complimented her outfit. “It’s one of Mum’s,” she said, without a flicker of embarrassment. And if I hadn’t told you otherwise, you would have thought we’d coordinated our outfits, as I wore a lilac floral dress with a purple wicker handbag.
Only two years ago, such a show of sartorial solidarity would have been impossible. Until recently everything I did, said or wore – and especially what I wore – was a source of sighing embarrassment, especially in the days when I’d collect Edie from school straight after work. “Can’t you just wear a tracksuit like Emilia’s mum?” she’d ask, not remotely impressed by the rainbow of Matthew Williamson jackets and handkerchief skirts, or towering Louboutin heels (sample-sale bargains acquired at my then job at the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar).
This coming together of wardrobes signifies a new chapter in our relationship – one that feels closer, happier and certainly more coordinated. For her 18th birthday party, Edie’s Insta Stories showed us in matching flowing white dresses, in keeping with her chosen fairytale theme of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. “Can you tell we’re related?” she quipped in the caption. She even seems to relish my quirky “extra” moments, as she calls them; when I appear in a headband of giant pink silk roses by the brilliant hat designer Piers Atkinson, and ask: “Is it too much?” her response is pure joy: “I love it,” she says, her face lighting up. But really it’s me who is thrilled. At last, an endorsement from my style-icon daughter. It’s been a long time coming.
I have always offered up my pre-loved clothes as an olive branch across the chasm of adolescence, but until this year her style fell firmly into the “athleisure” camp. Aged 16, she would turn her nose up at my treasured vintage clobber – the bags, the shoes. Even the McQueen brocade skirt which has become rather snug but which is perfect on her, was relegated to the charity-shop heap. But what a difference a year makes in the world of teen fashion. While a motherly hug still makes her go stiff with embarrassment, clothes have become a point of connection, an intimacy we can share without any “awks” moments. The daily fashion parade through my bedroom, the piles of discarded items, the endless debate about what to pair with what, so mundane yet magical. And of course I love my role as fashion mentor. Not that my daughter is shy about doling out her own style commandments.
“I feel you’ve done that look,” she’ll say, from the vantage point of the bath as I present her with the options for a party. I’m reminded of the fashion doyenne and Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, who dictated memos from her bathtub, wearing nothing but pearls and bubbles.
Over the past year, our shared wardrobe has developed into a Venn diagram of style, with trainers – dozens of them – and sweatshirts falling into Edie’s section, and “serious” coats and dresses in mine. But it’s the intersection where the magic really happens. Back in the summer, in a mission to find a school prom dress, I climbed a wobbly ladder to retrieve long-forgotten sequin numbers from the loft. While her friends were madly running around Oxford Street in search of the perfect outfit, she recycled a sparkly silver mini dress.
“Look at my Instagram feed, Mum,” she says, when I ask which of my clothes she likes best. “Every photo has an item of your clothing in it.” There’s that pale grey Donna Karan coat that I’d pair with a severe dark grey shift, bought for a wedding so long ago the couple have since divorced. It pops up on Edie’s Instagram Stories as part of her “snake” costume, paired with a velvet bra top and fake snakeskin skirt, for her friend’s animal-themed 18th.
Then there’s the silver sequin jacket we both wear to festivals, and the pretty pink Preen dress, which I’m really not ready to part with. Ditto the green chiffon Antonio Berardi coat dress, which we have fought over. There’s a moment of outrage when I think, “That’s mine!” But I love seeing her wear my old clothes. It’s like watching my life played back through outfits. There’s the Gucci floor-length dress from an early collection by Tom Ford that served me through three pregnancies and somehow always snapped back into shape. And the little zip-fronted 60s leather dress, bought on Portobello Road for £9 in the early 90s, a snip even then, which I wore to the Notting Hill Carnival the year I met her father. We wobbled back to Maida Vale, with him on the handlebars of my bike, to spend our first night together at his flat. I could no more throw out that dress than burn my wedding album. Or throw out my mother’s lace brown gloves, the only item of hers I have inherited. This is surprising because, like Edie and me, Mum loved clothes. She was an excellent seamstress – one of my father’s favourite stories about her is how, if he asked her to dinner in the morning, she would have run up a new outfit by that evening, the whirr of her Singer sewing machine the backing track to my childhood. When I was eight, she made us matching hot pants, which we were photographed wearing in front of our purple-painted, pebbledash house. Would I have worn her clothes if Dad hadn’t thrown them out after we lost her to a brain tumour, shortly after? Soaked in memories, faded by 70s sunshine, would they have made me cry, or lifted my spirits?
“Do you think you’ve inherited my style?” I ask Edie, fishing for compliments.
“Yes”, she says firmly. “But style is nurture, not nature.” Did I nurture a style icon, when I could have raised a Nobel prize-winning scientist or an eco-warrior? I feel a slight pang of guilt as I remember the favourite childhood book about the French cat Fi-fi La Foue, who goes to Paris to order a hat and “see the real haute couture”. “That’s you,” says Edie’s friend Rae, and she bursts out laughing when she sees it.
In my defence, I also read Dr Seuss’s The Lorax a million times, too. Why isn’t she an ardent environmentalist? Perhaps it was the fashion workshops at Port Eliot Festival that did it, or maybe the shoot we did together for Harper’s Bazaar, or the McQueen exhibition at the V&A that I insisted she came to, that left a lasting impression. Either way, I can’t take all the credit or blame. Her father is something of a clothes horse, once suited and booted in razor-sharp suits from his friend, the then fledgling tailor Ozwald Boateng, or wearing a hand-painted leather jacket, decades before Louis Vuitton commissioned artists to customise its leather bags. It was when he turned up in that jacket with “Justice” daubed across the back – he was a defence lawyer at the time – that I thought: “Yes, he’s the one.”
Having a daughter has made me much more aware of the value of keeping clothes. Much to Edie’s distress, most of the clothes I had at her age are gone. Perhaps this is a good thing when I think back to the 80s. The silver and purple space-age jumpsuit, the knickerbockers and ruffled Adam Ant shirts, the pink thong leotard… The odd item remains. A silk petticoat brought on Floral Street in Covent Garden in 1986, a vintage jacket from Cloud Cuckoo Land in Islington, with a nipped-in waist, in the style of Dior’s New Look, and big paste buttons. But most of the clothes I owned before 30 are conspicuous by their absence. This pains us both. When Edie sees old photos, she asks, not, “Where were you?” or “Who is that?” but, “Where’s that dress? I want it.”
I am no longer a follower of trends. I just zone in on items that lift my spirits. I like textures, colours and cut. Things that make me feel good. But in my 20s and 30s, I studied magazine hot lists and invested strategically: Marni ponyskin clogs, an outlandishly expensive Voyage devoré skirt, a Matthew Williamson peacock dress. Edie does not study the catwalk trends. Her fashion bible is Instagram, where the whole world is a fashion show, though she is well tuned to the joy of vintage. In fact, our most successful trip together was in Berlin, where we unearthed a startling silver Lurex trapeze coat for me and Rupert Bear check trousers for her. The coat made an entrance at our local library, where Edie was revising, paired with trainers and tracksuit. When it was my turn to take it for a spin, I wore it to a party with a midnight blue floor-length dress. Her look was far cooler.
There’s only ever the occasional tussle as Edie always asks before she borrows and rarely pounces on new buys, unless they look like they’re for her. “Oh I love. Is this for me?” she says, picking up a white Ana Heart sweatshirt with the price tag still on it. I do buy things I’d like to wear, but which you could say are not quite age appropriate, so they slip into the communal closet. Edie has no such qualms. “You’re going to enjoy these great Mickey Mouse trousers, Mum,” she says after a shopping spree in Shoreditch. “They’re really cute. You’ll love them.”