For a long time, I simply didn't know how to dress. As a teen, I didn't feel tough enough to be a punk. I didn't want to slam-dance or get hit on the head or spit at people, so there was no reason to wear a uniform that implied I wanted to do any of that stuff. I also didn't want to be identified as a skinhead – even after I had shaved my head – because I'd heard about some alliance between Oi! and the National Front or some larger, unnamed racist group. As I got news about this stuff only from British music weeklies, which appeared only occasionally, I decided to skip all the punk symbols.
I loved the Jam, who seemed to be flag-bearers for mod as far as a teenager in New York could tell. The tweaked classicism of mod made it seem like a style cohort that was relevant to vague ideas I had of myself – and these were deeply vague.
But I couldn't afford tapered trousers or a scooter, so the best I could do was to wear a long green canvas trench coat, which I bought after seeing Quadrophenia. I am half English by birth but was raised in Brooklyn; without the right accent, the coat made sense for about a week.
Later, in college, when I was in a band, I bought creepers with floral print uppers. I thought these would be part of my on-stage look. I thought they were badass and subverted the dominant macho rockabilly style but, yet again, they could do this only for someone else. They should have been on the feet of someone in Prince's band, maybe, but not at the end of my legs. In these shoes, I looked 90% person and 10% crumpled gift wrap. The shoes gathered dust, and eventually went to a girlfriend who swore she would stuff the toes with tissue paper and wear them.
When I was 13, I bought a vintage band jacket from Canal Jeans, when it was still located on Canal Street. That was the year my parents were taking me to England. I'd been dying to go. MTV didn't exist but music videos had just started. I'd seen a clip of David Bowie's Ashes To Ashes, and I was all jangled up. Music felt new and brighter, and London seemed to be where all the lights were turned on or off.
I walked around Camden market and bought patches of bands I liked, to sew on to my jacket. I got Sgt Pepper's because I thought I was in the Beatles when I wore the jacket; Blondie; the Selecter; the Rolling Stones; and a union jack to go across the back. I was effectively asking everybody in the world to beat me up, but nobody did.
When I returned to New York, I wore it to school and felt like a clown. This was because I looked like a green clown in a too big jacket that some advertising firm had rented, spattered with logos, and thrown out.
Clothes are a language; this jacket was incoherent. It certainly wasn't sending any effective signals to other people wearing green vintage band jackets. It was, at best, an experiment in using clothes to figure out how I appeared in the world, concretely, to others, and what I sounded like, visually. That's how I thought of it, how I sounded through what I wore.
I was naive to think that a piece of clothing could turn me into a person, especially as I hadn't decided who that person was. Part of me thought I would suddenly be in the Buzzcocks if I wore the right T-shirt, even though I hadn't sorted out if I even wanted to be in the Buzzcocks. But the minute I got into the world, I realised, nope, it's just me, wearing something extremely green with a funny name on it. Mocking was more or less as bad as nobody getting the point.
There's a great documentary called Dirty Girls about high school girls in the 90s who dyed their hair funny and were the "different" girls in their social universe. They were submitted to some fairly brutal ostracism. Like those girls in the documentary, some kids have a hard time in high school, or at some point in their lives, and they need clothes to act as a force field around them, either to set themselves apart or to join the goofballs, the Jay-Z fans, the Star Wars nerds. I was never that unhappy, never an actual weird kid who needed armour. Whenever I tried joining a cohort with my clothing, it was trouble that led nowhere, neither placing me in a new peer group nor throwing me out of the village. I was missing that psychotic teenage flair and the upkeep was too much, so eventually I'd run out of steam and wear a combination of minimal Christmas gifts, hand-me-downs from Dad (the most stylish category), and the few clothes my summer salary afforded me.
I came close to finding my cohort when hip-hop was just beginning to kick in. I started wearing jeans, mesh hats and black referee sneakers with fat red laces. That lasted for a little while. But it was only in the last five years, as an adult, that I realised I could wear tailored clothing with good boots and look as if I resembled my own thoughts. I'd basically been waiting to be a grown-up, for a moment when my clothes weren't just a mute default position.
A few years ago, I gave my 13-year-old son the green jacket. Two badges were added for his two favourite football teams, Chelsea and Liverpool. He wore it out once, and returned in 15 minutes. "Dad," he said, "I can't be outside wearing this thing."
Sasha Frere-Jones is the New Yorker's music critic.
Twelve years ago I was working as a stage manager at a theatre company in Vermont for the summer. I was the worst stage manager of all time. I had just figured out that I could fall in love with people, and that I could be in love. I was already in love with one person and I started falling in love with lots of people. I felt very guilty about it, but it also felt like an appropriate response to figuring out you can be in love. I was in love with love. In high school I would have these horrible crushes on people but they were never reciprocated or the people were gay. Then, in college, I had the experience of looking into someone's eyes and saying, "I love you," and he said, "I love you" back.
I had this crush on, or love for, this actor at the theatre in Vermont. His name was David, and I thought he was so beautiful. He had this very soft button-down shirt. When I hugged him, and I would always invent reasons to do so, I would touch his shirt. It was very chaste, and nothing ever happened. I was in love with him, but he was 26 years old and I was 18, and when you're 18, 26 seems really old.
David left that summer before I did. We took him to the bus station, and I cried because I was 18 and dramatic. I watched him go and I felt bereft. My friends and I returned to the falling-apart cabin in the woods that had been our home that summer. I went to the room where I had a bunk bed. Hanging on my bunk was that button-down shirt, his shirt! Tucked inside the shirt pocket was a note. He told me I was beautiful and a creature of light.
Doesn't it just kill you? Can you imagine an 18-year-old girl coming back from the bus station to her room and seeing that the guy she loved had left his shirt for her? He knew. He just knew, and it was beautiful.
I always write in the shirt because it makes me feel as if I have a secret. When you write, it's good to have a secret because in a way you do. You have to nurture the secret until other people know about it. Maybe wearing this shirt connects me with a part of my younger self that was incredibly emotional and vivid, and those feelings, combined with that sense of having a secret, is how I like to feel when I write.
Greta Gerwig is an actor and film-maker, most recently in Frances Ha and Greenberg.
I keep clothing from people I love in my closet with the rest of my clothes. Like the scarf with "Mom" knitted into it, made by my daughter Chelsea several years ago. Or my own mom's sweatshirts, yoga pants and nightgown, which I keep in the drawer with my own nightgowns. In my closet, hanging with my blouses, there's a shirt of my dad's [Johnny Cash]. I don't do anything special with it. It was such an unusual shirt for him; it's bright purple with tuxedo pleats down the front, so different from his uniform of black shirts and black jackets, although he did wear it on stage a few times.
My dad died in 2003, and each of his children got some of his clothing. I got his heavy grey coats, some stage jackets, a pair of really nice boots that I'm saving for my son, and a couple of odd things, like one of the J Peterman khaki jackets that he used to wear in Jamaica. When we were going through his things, I didn't have a clear reason for taking this purple tuxedo shirt. My dad was a very big man, so the shirt is absolutely enormous on me, but once in a while I'll put it on. Sometimes when I look at the jackets and the boots, it makes me very sad and I miss him. I think of his big feet and those big boots. But I look at the purple shirt and I smile.
I'll pass this shirt along to my son, Jake, who was only four when his grandpa died. He's going to be a large man like my dad, and the only one the shirt will fit.
Rosanne Cash is a singer-songwriter and author.
I don't remember her name, but I remember a heady mix of baby powder and wild flowers with a sliver of orange. I had never experienced anything like it before. It was 25 years ago and I'd just met her; she was the prospective client in a pitch for a graphic design project. She was slender and elegant, with thin arms and a long neck. As an awkward, chubby, twenty-something New Yorker, I nearly always felt ashamed in the presence of women who projected her kind of confidence, but it didn't stop me from trying to emulate them. When I commented on her perfume and asked what it was, she said something that sounded like Fabergé, but I knew it wasn't Fabergé. I was familiar with what Fabergé smelled like: all the girls wore it in high school. This was not that fragrance, not by a long shot.
We didn't win the project but I couldn't stop thinking about that perfume. I went searching at Macy's, and tried Bloomingdale's and Loehmann's to no avail. I made my way over to Saks Fifth Avenue, but felt shabby and intimidated by the sophisticated saleswomen and was afraid to ask for help. I poked around the cosmetic counters, and when one of the makeup artists asked if I wanted a makeover, I shook my head. When she asked if she could help me with anything, I cleared my throat and asked if she had ever heard of a citrus-y smelling fragrance with a name like Fabergé. She thought for a minute and then her face lit up. She thought I might be talking about Faubourg, a new fragrance by Hermès. I asked her which counter might have it. She frowned and indicated that they didn't sell the fragrance at Saks, but I could get it at the Hermès boutique on Madison Avenue just a few blocks away.
I nearly ran to the store. When I got there, a man in a uniform opened the door for me and I entered the most elegantly expensive environment I had ever been in. Two hundred dollar scarves and $10,000 bags were neatly arranged on glass counters, shiny leather saddles hung on the walls, and everyone browsing looked very, very rich, except for me. I found Faubourg and gulped when the saleswoman stated the price. I wondered whether a bottle of perfume could be worth so much, and meekly asked if I could try it. I swooned as soon as the spray hit my skin and handed over my credit card.
Every couple of months I took the E train to 53rd Street and walked to Hermès for a refill, but couldn't afford to buy anything else. That changed when I visited the store in July 1990. A saleswoman beckoned me closer and whispered, "We are having a sale on selected items upstairs."
Even with the markdowns, I couldn't afford anything. And then I saw the most beautiful coat. It was the softest, most luxurious, ultra-bright lemony-yellow cashmere coat ever made. It had big, floppy lapels and a belt that cinched at the waist. I was certain it would cost thousands of dollars. And it did – $2,200. But the original price was crossed out! It was now $400.
I calculated what the expense would mean to my budget. Undeterred, I tried the coat on. It was at least one size too big. None of this mattered to me. I felt glamorous and beautiful. As the clerk wrapped up the coat in the biggest orange box I had ever seen, I knew this wasn't a mistake. I would wear this coat for ever.
And wear it I did! I wore it every day from September until March. I wore it to work, I wore it every weekend, I wore it on vacation in Vermont, and I wore it travelling to the west coast. The only time I wished for a warmer coat was en route to a client's office on Fifth Avenue one blustery sub-zero February afternoon. I was chewing a large piece of purple bubble gum and realised I'd have to get rid of it before my meeting. It was so cold I didn't want to take off my gloves to take the gum out of my mouth. Perhaps the temperature affected my judgment, or perhaps I was lazy, but suddenly I did something I had never, ever done before: I raised my chin, puckered up my lips and let my gum fly.
As it descended on to the sidewalk, I saw that a man walking towards me was about to collide with the arc of its fall. I made eye contact with him as the sticky mass fell at his feet. Horrified, I instantly realised I was face to face with Woody Allen. Mercifully, he sidestepped the gum. But his outrage was palpable. He shook his head in disgust and passed me by. I was too embarrassed and frightened even to say I was sorry.
Two days later I went out with my friend Ellen. She had snagged a reservation at the newly reopened Le Cirque and we got all dolled up for the occasion. I, of course, wore my yellow coat. We were seated between the coat check and the front door and, as New York City was still in a deep freeze, I decided to keep my coat wrapped round me.
Then I saw him. He was approaching the coat check with his wife, fumbling for his ticket. Wildly, I looked around for a place to hide. Ellen asked if I was OK and I hissed no. I motioned with my eyes. Ellen squealed in delight and he looked over at us. Once again, in the span of 48 hours, I was face to face with Woody Allen.
Our eyes locked and I saw him recognise my unmistakable ultra-bright yellow coat and the same frightened face. He grimaced. "You!" he said, as his wife pulled on his arm. I felt myself turn white and then red, as everyone turned to stare.
Two and a half decades later, I still have my beloved coat. It's lost its belt and much of its lemony sheen, and it hasn't left its special place in my closet in a long time. Maybe I'll wear it again one day. As Woody Allen famously said, "Eternal nothingness is fine if you happen to be dressed for it." I'll remind him of that if I ever bump into him again.
Debbie Millman is a writer, educator, artist and designer.
LCD Soundsystem never had a uniform or a cool look on stage. We all looked like substitute teachers: jeans, sweaters, T-shirts, sneakers.
When we started out, we had half an hour's worth of music to play live. Then the shows gradually got longer and more intense, and turned into these epic sets. I sweat a lot in general, but during those shows, I would sweat so profusely that my jeans would be drenched and I'd be soaked to the bone.
After a show, I'd hang my jeans up to dry in the tour bus, but people would get upset because they smelled really bad, like rotten cotton. I tried drying them in the cargo area of the bus but mould colonies grew on them. This was when we had relatively few creature comforts, and we didn't get to do laundry that much.
I needed a solution – something that would dry quickly and not rot – so I went to American Apparel and bought a pair of flesh-coloured nylon short shorts. I thought I'd wear them as a joke – you know, to wind people up. But it also totally improved the bus/clothing situation. Because they were made of nylon, I could wash them with hand soap, ring them out, hang them up on the bus to dry, and the next day they would be fine. And if I draped them over the door of the bathroom backstage and we rolled out without them, I could always replace them with another pair because there are American Apparel branches all over the world.
The shorts had the added benefit of coming in almost exactly my flesh colour, so, if we were playing a massive festival where people were a hundred yards back, it looked as if I'd come on stage with no clothes on. Fans came to expect them. When I walked out on stage in my tiny shorts, I got a little cheer. I'm shy but I have quite an exhibitionistic streak, and I like to do things for a laugh.
I have always had terrible stage fright. Once I play the first note of the first song, I'm fine, but before that, I can get paralytically afraid. The only way I could overcome the fear was to make sure that everything was the same every night.
I'm not a baseball fan, but the other day I was at a Red Sox game and one of the batters had this elaborate juju that he did with his batting helmet and gloves. He had to have everything just right so he could hit the ball. Each time before we played, I had to make sure my sneakers were tied just right, that the seat was just so, that my drums went exactly where they'd been marked on the rug. And although my shorts were very much the opposite of armour, they also became part of the ritual. I might have been tired or my hands might have hurt or I might have been hung over, but at least my clothing and physical proximity to the drums were always the same.
Knowing that I was going to be comfortable to play for two to three hours was hugely important. Then I could launch right into it.
Pat Mahoney was a founding member of, and drummer for, LCD Soundsystem and is lead vocalist with Museum Of Love.
Laura Jane Kenny
I have a small collection of men's garments that I've acquired from one-night stands. I've never taken something that wasn't given to me. Yet, whether I'm handed an extra T-shirt to sleep in or a scarf to wear home, I've managed to accumulate dating memorabilia and I don't know what to do with them.
I'm not a hoarder. I clean out my wardrobe diligently every six months. Yet I keep the remains of these escapades neatly tucked away in the back of my closet, empty shells of late nights and questionable decisions that evolved into nothing at all.
The first piece of clothing I kept was that of a young man named Roger, whom I met at a sports bar on Third Avenue. I left his apartment early on the morning that followed our long night – a pitiful but endearing pickup line, endless cheap drinks, a late-night invitation and an even later-night acceptance. After I finished getting dressed, Roger gave me an extra-large, royal blue sweatshirt, which was soft from frequent washing and had sleeves so long that only the tips of my fingers peeked out from the cuffs. He deposited the sweatshirt into my arms and kindly told me I would need it.
It was April, and still fairly chilly in the morning. Roger asked me to give it back to him the next time I saw him. He walked me to the front door and, as he kissed me goodbye, I was acutely aware that I did not have his phone number, nor did he have mine.
I remember it was Palm Sunday. As I headed for the train, dozens of people were walking to church in pastel-coloured clothes, carrying dead palm leaves, which swept the sidewalk. I was far out in Brooklyn, and my very presence, that of a tall, blonde twenty-something, was so out of place that two different people stopped me to ask if I was lost. I consulted Google maps as I walked to an unknown train stop. I kept my head down with my hair piled into a bun and my body wrapped in a stranger's sweatshirt that I would never wear again.
Maybe it wasn't even his sweatshirt. It could have been a roommate's or the remnants of some party. Maybe Roger thought the sweatshirt would pacify any requests for phone numbers or doubts regarding his follow-up. Perhaps he felt guilty that I would be cold, that I had travelled all the way into the depths of Brooklyn only to make my way home alone, stopping at a bodega along the way for Vitamin Water with last night's makeup still visible around my eyes. There is a small chance that he had some strange belief in serendipity or that he simply forgot to get my number, but I doubt that either of those is the case. After a long train ride in fluorescent lighting, I arrived home and peeled off the sweatshirt before I took a hot shower. And instead of throwing it away or putting it in my donation pile, I folded it neatly, the way previous retail experience had taught me. And I placed it at the back of my closet, next to old scrapbooks my aunt had made me when I graduated from college.
These garments that I've collected – mind you, there are only a few – are not special. In fact, few of them are even aesthetically interesting. Yet they possess a rare quality that borders on the metaphysical, housing connections to people and actions that have no other proof of existence. When I get home from late-night ventures, I want to get rid of the clothes. I want to throw them into the clothing abyss and have my wardrobe show no proof of actions that might be deemed questionable by onlookers or my retrospective self. This cultural ritual of hooking up is often quickly followed by a feigned physical and emotional amnesia. And it makes me wonder why we, why I, do something that I'm so anxious to forget.
I don't want the clothes but I don't want not to want the clothes. To throw them away, to donate them would be to leave these blurry nights unexamined. So I keep the sweatshirts and T-shirts and face my growing pile.
Laura Jane Kenny is a fashion writer living in New York.
I have loved vintage clothing since I was at high school, raiding the thrift racks or my grandparents' attics and closets. I attended a lot of morning college classes clad in old men's pyjamas. Skinny-lapeled men's suit jackets over miniskirts were a favourite in my 20s. I've worn crepe dresses from the 30s and 40s to friends' weddings, and when I was getting married I found my fiance the white silk suit of a dead Chinese diplomat to wear on the big day (I got one of the diplomat's wife's cheongsams for me).
In my professional life, I'm less inclined to wear vintage. When I was caught in a criminal case in federal court in Chicago in my late 20s, I wore my most sober grey and brown pantsuits to court arraignments and plea negotiations, because when you're appearing on the docket, believe me, you wish you could disappear into the woodwork of the courtroom.
However, when I went to Chicago for what I thought was my final court appearance, my sentencing, camouflage was not an option. I had taken a plea deal – 95% of criminal defendants do. As your case wends through the system, you barely speak in court; the prosecutor and defence attorney do most of the talking. Unlike 80% of criminal defendants, I could afford to hire a lawyer, and I was lucky that he was a very good and experienced one. He had advocated long and hard with the prosecutor on my behalf, and then the day came when his work and my case would be decided by the judge, a Reagan appointee to the federal bench.
Most criminal defendants wear whatever they are given by their attorney or family to their sentencing; a lot of people are too poor to afford bail, and so they have been wearing jailhouse orange for many months before getting their day in court. I was much more fortunate; when I flew to Chicago to be sentenced to prison, I had three choices of court attire in my suitcase. A cadet-blue pantsuit, a very severe navy coat-dress, and a wild card I had packed at the last minute: a vintage 50s pencil skirt suit I had bought on eBay, in coffee and cream tweed with a subtle sky-blue check. It looked like something a Hitchcock heroine would have worn.
"That's the one," said my lawyer, pointing to the skirt suit. "We want the judge to be reminded of his own daughter or niece or neighbour when he looks at you."
For someone standing for judgment, the importance of being seen as a complete human being, someone who is more than just the contents of the file folders that rest on the bench in front of his or her honour, cannot be overstated. To enter the courtroom ready for whatever would happen, I wanted to be dressed to represent me, which was much more than a few months of my life 10 years before. The eBay suit worked as a counterbalance to my decade-old neck tattoo (which would serve me so well months later in prison), two visual signals on the opposite sides of the scales of justice on that day.
Piper Kerman was sentenced to 15 months for money laundering and drug trafficking. She is the author of Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women's Prison, recently adapted for television .
• This is an edited extract from Worn Stories, by Emily Spivack, published by Princeton Architectural Press on 1 September at £15.99. To order a copy for £12.49, visit theguardian.com/bookshop or call 0330 333 6846.
All stories other than Laura Jane Kenny, Debbie Millman and Piper Kerman, as told to Emily Spivack
IELTS Cue Card Sample 116 - Describe your favourite item of clothing
- Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2016 02:29
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IELTS Speaking Part 2: IELTS Cue Card/ Candidate Task Card.
Describe your favourite item of clothing.
You should say:
- What it is
- When you bought it
- Why you bought it
and say why you like it so much.
Sample Answer 1:
Ooh, my favourite item of clothing! I’m not much of a clothes horse to be honest, I’m not very interested in fashion so at first, I thought this topic might be quite hard. However, I’ve thought of one. I’ll tell you what it is, when and why I bought it and why I like it so much.
The item is in itself unremarkable. It is a purple craghoppers’ long-sleeved shirt. It is made of a quick-drying poly cotton blend and the fabric has some stretchy qualities which make it easy to wear. The fabric keeps out the sun, and the design incorporates a couple of pockets, one of which has a zip so you can keep small items securely on your person. It is designed as a travel shirt, and to be honest, was rather expensive compared to clothes I would normally buy.
I bought the shirt online ahead of travelling to South East Asia. It was just coming out of winter in the UK, but I’d be going to a hot climate. I wanted something lightweight and comfortable to take with me. It was the wrong time of year to be browsing shops in England, they were all still full of winter clothes, so I just had to trust the description on the site that this would be a good buy, but I was nervous in case it didn’t fit or wasn’t practical. I shouldn’t have worried.
I LOVE this shirt. It is incredibly comfortable to wear, the colour suits me quite well, and even though it is designed as a travel shirt, it’s actually smart enough to wear for work if you match it with some respectable trousers (or a skirt I suppose, but I never wear skirts!). It washes brilliantly, and if you shake it out and put it on a hanger it dries crease-free within an hour or so. The hidden pocket is handy for carrying emergency cash on your person, and I like to have a hanky with me too – there is a pocket for that as well. Because the shirt is so comfy, and much harder wearing than I expected, I wore it almost all the time on my travels. This means that the shirt is now linked to very many happy memories of places I’ve been, people I’ve met and adventures I’ve had. I wish I’d bought loads of them at the same time. I’ll be heart-broken when it eventually wears out as one day it surely must.
Talking about it has got me thinking – would it really hurt to have another quick look at their travel clothes website once again? You never know, perhaps they’ll have a sale on and it would be a shame to miss out...
[ Written by - Lucy Marris | Careers Adviser (UK), TEFL teacher (Vietnam) ]
Model Answer 2:
I purchase my own clothes most of the time and there are many dresses I really like to wear and out of those the leather jacket that I have is my most favourite. This is a brown coloured stylish jacket that I purchased 2 years ago. I bought it from an expensive brand shop which mainly sells winter dresses.
After I moved to the capital city, I found my old winter dresses to become backdated and I was planning to purchase a new one. The jacket I bought is really a favourite piece of clothing I have in my collection. I bought it mainly because I needed a new cloth for the winter season and this one looked very stylish and seemed like made by good materials. I wandered in several shops and markets and was having a hard time finding a stylish and good looking jacket. All of a sudden this one caught my eyes and after trying it in the trial room, I instantly decided to purchase it.
I wear it only the winter season and this jacket gives me the warmth I need to protect from the chilly and cold weather. I like it very much as it goes with my choice and necessity. Some of my friends appreciated this piece of cloth and they inquired where I purchased it from. I can wear it with both the casual and formal dresses and that gives me a good advantage. Besides fashion, this cloth offers utilitarian values as well. I feel comfortable and protected in this dress and it did not cost me a lot.
I don’t have a huge collection of dresses and I do not purchase dresses that I would not wear. But sometimes I find myself in a dilemma when I purchase a dress and later on find it very ordinary. But this leather jacket was exceptional. I have felt a great joy after I purchased it and still this is the best winter jacket I have. For all those reasons this dress has become my most favourite piece of cloth I own.
Your ability to talk about this Cue Card Topic would also enable you to talk about the following Cue Card Topics as well:
- Describe your favourite dress.
- Describe an item of clothing you have bought recently.
- Describe a dress you wear occasionally.
- Describe a traditional dress in your country.