Summer knitwear

If I could just wear knitted jumpers everyday of the year for the rest of my life I would have no complaints, I feel as if I am constantly looking for that jumper perfect for all occasions, exactly the right shade of grey, and preferably under a fiver? Ebay? Craigslist hit me up. Despite this, when the summer months start to arrive the knitwear begins to feel heavy and unforgiving against the glare of the sun and I realise it is finally time to expose my pale skin to the outside world. To my great disappointment I tend to stay reasonably pale throughout the summer, probably due to my irrational fear that over 30 minutes in direct sunlight will definitely cause severe heatstroke and should not be risked.

Last year I discovered the dream that is summer knitwear, and lets be honest i’m never going back.  There are only so many chiffon skirts and denim shorts a girl can take and, for me a jumper is like a safety blanket, without that extra layer of protection I tend to feel a bit lost, similar to the feeling of having forgotten something, like maybe to put on some trousers, but really its just warm enough to go out without a coat. A few months ago I found the perfect red mini dress, fine knit, bright red, a little bit sparkly round the collar and although dangerously short, stable enough not to do that thing when the wind blows and your underwear is exposed to friends, family and distant relatives who should definitely not know the colour of your pants. Although i’m aware knitted clothing can have its downfalls- matching family christmas jumpers are never a good plan- I would aways rather be wearing a cable knit than a body con dress and even though summer and knitwear aren’t as compatible as some may wish, much like Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston- there seems to be a mini dress shaped solution. 

Wearing- Bella Freud mini dress,  River Island sunglasses (similar)

What to Wear When Relaxing & A Custard Cream Recipe

I wrote last week about how I’ve spent most of my summer working and how hard I find it to relax. And while this remains true (I write this post sitting on the floor of my bedroom working in pyjamas while the Notting Hill Carnival takes place right outside my window) – I have still spent a large portion of my summer trying my best to ‘chill out’, ‘max’ and ‘relax all cool‘.

Incredibly unhelpfully, one of the things I find hardest about relaxing is what to wear when this relaxing takes place. I wake up in the morning – a beautiful empty day of sun, family and pretending to read Madame Bovary ahead of me. ‘I will be calm’ I tell myself ‘I will be serene, and chilled out, I will wear no make up, my hair will be coiffed into the perfect messy bun and I will rule this relaxing day like a boss’.

Half an hour later I am lying on the floor still trying to figure out what this ‘perfect relaxed day’ outfit might look like. By this point I’ve tried everything – all my jumpers are too baggy or too tight, leggings make me look like I’ve just come back from a run which is most definitely not true and all my dresses completely contradict the ‘Oh I just threw this on’ look that I have been painfully trying to achieve.

The truth is, I will never be chilled out. I will always try too hard, always overthink everything, and always get too excited about a new episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashian’s for anyone to ever truly believe I am a calm and collected person.

In the end I opt for my favourite jumper, a skirt, and tights. Not quite the low slung sweatpants and cropped gym top that the ‘calm’ girl of my dreams is wearing but close enough.

I spend the day baking, reading, going on a long walk with Posy who never has to worry about whether or not she looks relaxed enough and watching that previously mentioned new episode of KUWTK. I’ve written a lot in the past about how much baking helps me when I’m anxious, and this summer has reignited by love affair with anything containing baking soda. After a year of trying to cook in my minuscule New York kitchen and realising that when you live alone you have to do all the washing up yourself, I didn’t get to bake as much as I would have liked. In the picture above I’m icing the Pumpkin Cake from the painful Horticultural Show nightmare, but my favourite new recipe of the summer has been for homemade custard creams.

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My brother gave me a custard cream stamp for my birthday and I came up with this recipe to try and imitate the real thing. Much like everything homemade – they actually taste better, and if you happen to have a day off where you’re trying to relax, I would highly reccomend spending more time making these and less time panicking over how to dress so everyone thinks you’re not the kind of person who would panic about their outfit.

To make the custard creams: mix together 100g butter, 100g flour, 50g sugar, 50g custard powder and a teaspoon of vanilla extract until they form a dough. Roll the dough out onto a floured surface and cut into whatever shape you choose. Then bake for 10 minutes or until biscuits start to turn golden brown. To make the filling cream together 75g butter, 100g icing sugar and 50g custard powder until you get a buttercream and sandwich it between two biscuits. Enjoy!

Wearing – Bella Freud Jumper. Betty Crocker Icing.

Culottes..?

When I came downstairs in my newly purchased culottes (coo-lotes? kul-ots?) they received mixed reactions. My mum, in her ever positive mindset said they were v cool, which is exactly what I wanted to hear, however the one sided mum compliment wasn’t completely doing it for me so I decided to seek further reassurance that my new trousers were socially acceptable from my dad. This didn’t go down so well, the words “disgusted”, “disappointed” and “The Bay City Rollers” were thrown around and feelings were definitely hurt. I was now questioning my purchase and feeling relieved that I had held on to the packaging and not yet taken off the label. I didn’t want to be put off by one person’s view and still believed the trousers had potential. I decided to research The Bay City Rollers, thinking it couldn’t be that bad and that they were probably really on trend in the 70’s. This was a mistake, they were not cool and I most definitely looked like their 6th member in the worst possible way.

My confidence had taken a hit but I wasn’t yet ready give up hope, it was nearing the time we needed to leave the house and to be completely honest I couldn’t be bothered to look for a new outfit which meant finding a way to make the culottes work. I found browsing the Instagram ‘culottes’ hashtag and assuring myself that I too looked cool, androgynous and not remotely like 1970’s pop bands from Scotland helped slightly. It also occupied the few minutes which had been reserved for fretting and possibly an outfit change, therefore by the time I left the house I felt vaguely more confident in the wide legged, awkwardly cropped trousers and didn’t really have any time to back out of my decision.

What i’m really trying to say is that it’s hard not to get overly influenced by other people’s opinions, and even though I appreciated the honesty I received, I realised that I had been sure all along about my decision. Last year I wouldn’t have even dared move out of my comfort zone in any area let alone my fashion choices, living mainly in black leggings and dark grey turtleneck jumpers to draw as little attention to myself as possible. But I’ve grown to realise how personal the process of getting dressed is and that what I wear isn’t really about anyone else, it’s not about looking cool or attractive, but about feeling confident in my own skin. When i’m out with my friends or sitting at home watching Gossip Girl and Facebook stalking people I don’t actually know, I want to feel as if I’ve chosen what I’m wearing by myself, not moulded by the media’s perception of what looks good or bad or by the ideas of people surrounding me. This doesn’t mean i’m not constantly inspired by my friends and family and people in the public eye, it just means that the limitations that are set by society can be restricting and don’t work for everyone, the ‘one size’ model presented to women/men can become very narrow and for me its important to keep in mind that its okay to not abide by it.

Wearing- Topshop funnel neck and denim culottes

A-180924-1336735983-8878.jpeg The bay city rollers ^

Dressing like a Grown Up

As someone who finds that too much free time often leads to too much free thinking time which often leads to nervous thinking, sad thinking, or general anxiety – the idea of a 3 month American University summer sent chills down my spine. Depression and illness have meant that having a month off to chill out, watch TV and war my pyjamas, only brings back memories of being ill, so it’s been my goal this summer to try stay as busy as possible.

I spent years thinking that taking on too much responsibility would just make my anxiety worse – that the clearer my schedule was, the clearer my mind would be. Tentatively throwing myself into university last year taught me that this assumption might have been wrong. For the first time in years I had classes, homework, responsibilities, a real reason to wake up in the morning. And despite feeling overwhelmed at first, getting back into routine meant that I wasn’t letting my depression run my life. I had a reason to wake up in the morning, and something I wanted to achieve. And while this  wasn’t always enough to fight off a big wave of sadness or panic attack – it played a huge part in helping me fight through those days where the anxiety was just biting at my heals, begging me to turn around and listen to it.

I’ve ended up working for most of this summer, which has been incredibly helpful in not letting my mind get too stir crazy and run off to bad places. Another reason I find work helpful is that it forces me to get out of my pyjamas in the morning – which anyone who’s ever had a sad day will know can often be the hardest part. Dressing up for work makes me feel, (even if it’s only for the first half hour of the day before I pour hot Ribena down my top) like I’m a proper grown up. And if I ever find myself thinking that I’d still quite like to be wearing my pyjamas – matching tops and skirts feel like the best (and sneakiest) way to achieve that. 

Wearing: American Apparel lulu crop top, American Apparel skirt, Acne jacket.

A Blue Leather Suit, A Pumpkin Patch Cake & A Major Disappointment

Hey look! That’s me! Looking very grumpy and awkward and trying to pose in my blue leather suit which might just be my favourite outfit I’ve ever worn.

Let me start by telling you the story of the blue suit. Then I will tell you the story of the pumpkin cake. And I shall finish with the tragic tale of the huge disappointment.

I bought the blue leather suit about 2 months before leaving New York and coming back to London for the summer. Browsing the aisles of & Other Stories, once my hands touched the creamy pastel leather I knew, no matter what, I would be leaving the store with significantly less money and significantly more blue leather than when I entered. Eight weeks, one long haul flight and many trips out of the closet to be paraded around my bedroom in front of the mirror and the blue suit finally had its moment to shine at the wedding of a family friend.

The day of the wedding (which was amore beautiful event than I could ever possibly put into words leaving me disinclined to try) also happened to fall on the day of the village horticultural competition. Baking is my happy place – the activity I turn to in times of stress to reduce my anxiety and send my swirling, stormy brain into a place of calm and icing sugar. But this wasn’t your average bake – pitted against my mother and a group of family friends who were also entering the competition I was in it to win it and the night before the competition was spent feverishly decorating and icing until the early hours of the morning.

The next morning, we dropped our cakes off at the village hall at 9am and rushed off to enjoy the wedding (which I cried almost the entire way through). The results weren’t to be released until the afternoon and I tried my best to put the competition out of my mind. But as 4pm rolled around I was itching, and me and my mother broke away from the wedding to meet the judges decision. At this point – I’m going to admit – I was quietly confident. My pumpkin patch cake not only included a vegetable (the requirement of the baking category this year) – it was also the result of hours of labour and was adorned with cake pop pumpkins as well as a Kit-Kat fence – how could I lose?

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It turns out – pretty easily. Not only did I not even place in the competition, the prize was robbed from my hands by my very own mother, the women who gave me life, one of the people in this world whom I love the most.

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It was a huge disappointment, a painful blow, an undisputed tragedy. My only consolation – the Great British Bake Off’s very own Mel and Sue told me my cake was secretly their favourite, and I can only hope, that one day in the future, like Van Gogh or F.Scott Fitzgerald, my work will finally be appreciated in the way it deserves.

Exams

On Thursday morning my lazy summer days were rudely interrupted by the reality of exam results. Waking up at 8.30 in the morning and getting the bus to school was an all too familiar process, the bed that was uncomfortable and too hot the night before felt much more appealing in the early hours of the morning, and the routine of getting up and going into school in the middle of August felt wrong. I feel as if exams are universally acknowledged as a anxious time, and during those weeks of stress this brought me comfort, knowing that it was not just me lying in bed at 2.30am trying to remember the framework of an amino acid. They also provided my brain with something to focus on, allowing my anxiety to centre on my exams and not on every other aspect of life and this made things easier in a way. People seem more accepting of exam stress than everyday stress, general anxiety having a slight stigma associated with it because of its lack of focus, meaning when i was feeling a bit shit due to general life, exam stress was a good scapegoat.

Thursday morning refreshed my memory of the exam season, which had been forgotten the day summer began. Exam’s are not an obvious fashion opportunity due to the early morning starts, the preoccupation of remembering every date associated with the german reformation and the fact that at this point you’ve probably stopped caring. In my mind its all about comfort, normally opting for a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt, I also take in a bottle of water topped up with some rescue remedy incase of any mid exam fretting which is usually expected. With exams comes major superstition, after completing the first paper and not having a break down, there is always a part of my brain that questions, if i change my outfit for tomorrow will things not go as well? I try to ignore these thoughts and like to think that the fact my exam outfit did stay the same for the duration was just a coincidence. What brought me comfort in this time of questionable sanity was to see my friends superstitious rituals, one of them carrying with her a four leaf clover in a tiny wooden box and another dressing in themed outfits to correlate with each examination.

After emerging from the room of tiny tables and exam papers there is always the immediate feeling of relief, that the exam is over and your results are now out of your hands. About 3 minutes after the initial relief, people usually begin discussing what questions they answered and which boxes they ticked which can often be a huge slap in the face, forgetting everything I wrote down and feeling a little bit panicky that i didn’t mention that Martin Luther translated the Bible into German in 1522, which suddenly seems like a major error and one that would probably ruin my life. However, after a few months and quite a lot of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, exams don’t seem as important as they had in that tiresome last term of school.

Wearing- Topshop ribbed polo neck, Vintage cardigan, American Apparel ring

Scarlett’s Summer Reading List

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if I don’t want to feel sad, I have to read. All the anti-depressants, therapy, ice cream or yoga in the world will never help me not to feel bad as much as a good book or audiobook will.

So for the interest of other slightly sad readers, this is what I’ve been reading and listening to this summer – please leave a comment with your book recommendations ESPECIALLY books that cheer you up when you’re sad.

  1. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert. There are only so many times you can pretend during an English class that you’ve read Madame Bovary before you should probably just actually sit down and read Madame Bovary. Flaubert has been my ‘intellectual’ challenge for the summer but to my delight it hasn’t turned out to be anywhere near as challenging as was previously expected. The new translation by Lydia Davis is brilliant and I ended up loving this book more than I could possibly have imagined. If this is on your list of ‘books to one day read’ I would definitely recommend pushing it up and getting lost for a while in 19th C France – it’s kind of a beautiful place to be.
  2. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. It was hard to pick which Anne Tyler book to put on this list as I’ve read 3 in the last two weeks and find myself completely and utterly obsessed. Last summer I made it my mission to power through the works of Philip Roth and Jonathan Franzen and while I’m always going to be fans of theirs, there’s something so touching, feminine and beautiful in Anne Tyler’s writing that’s almost impossible to find anywhere else. I appreciate that I’m so late to the party on this one that the party’s over and we’ve begun cleaning up – but I’ve just started my fourth book by Tyler this month, and there’s no way I’m looking back.
  3. The Gossip Girl Novels by Cecily von Zeigesar. Whenever I’m asked how I truly became passionate about reading I always feel the need to claim was Gatsby or Austen or something that makes me sound smart and educated – but the truth is the books that made me love reading were the Gossip Girl books and I feel no shame. The Gossip Girl books are the Custard Creams of the trashy, teen fiction world. Yes, they aren’t great for you, no, they’re not exactly the best quality, but – they are leauges above their competitors and actually kind of miraculous. I’ve been re-reading some of them this summer when I’ve felt like Flaubert was getting a bit too Flaubert-y and despite my trepidations I think they might have brought me more pure joy than anything else on this list. they’re very well written, full of amazing, hilarious fashion and pop culture references and the characters are actually incredibly real and believably in their own ridiculous way.
  4. How to be Both by Ali Smith. My dad bought me this book at the beginning of the summer purely based on the fact that he liked the picture on the cover (he’s rather superficial). I too was taken in by the cover but once I started it I couldn’t stop and finished it in about 2 days. If you liked A Visit From the Goon Squad (one of my all time favourites) I would definitely give this a go. It’s beautifully constructed, very witty and masterfully written.
  5. The Woman Who Stole my Life by Marian Keyes. In my opinion, Marian Keyes is a genius, a complete, and utter, genius. And I’m pretty sure if her books didn’t have pink covers or where about ‘women’s issues’ they would be studied in universities, although that might be a topic for a whole other blog post. To keep things short, The Woman Who Stole my Life is a masterpiece. It’s a hilarious, beautiful, moving, and incredibly brilliant book and I would recommend it to anyone and everyone including my cat, and he doesn’t even like fiction.

Airport panic

Ever since I had a panic attack at a luggage carousel in an airport when I was 10, travelling has been my least favourite thing. Planes are my greatest travelling fear. Even the thought of passport control, salted peanuts and the surprisingly loud noise the toilet makes when it flushes makes me feel anxious, not to mention the idea of being 40,000ft in the air. Even worse than flying are those people who tell you that flying is actually “the safest form of travel”, this news is not helpful and will probably make me silently resent you for your positive attitude. I have, however, realised that I cannot avoid travelling, my family often need to go abroad for work and the fomo that would come with not joining them is definitely too much to bear. Therefore, I have had to overcome my fear to an extent, silently enduring long haul flights with clenched fists while observing the seemingly excruciating sleeping positions of surrounding passengers and watching the available reality TV shows. Travelling clearly ticks all the anxiety boxes for me and this is why I normally avoid leaving the country. However, I am writing this post because I am currently on a train to France and i’m surprisingly feeling good about the trip so far. Train’s are definitely my favourite way to travel, associated for me with the Christmas film ‘The Polar Express’ and Agatha Christie novels, although hopefully without the murder and just the 1920’s decor. A few months ago when the idea of going to France was proposed it seemed scary, but also manageable and I feel this is definitely progress.

How to dress when travelling is a vital step in getting prepared for the journey ahead, trying to figure out how to look good incase you bump into a handsome stranger on the way,  while also trying to achieve optimum comfort for the journey ahead. I’ve found there are many ways to go wrong in the travel outfit department. Hot pants are a definite no, not to mention the obvious wedgie concerns, air conditioning is normally used to its full potential on planes which could result in being uncomfortably cold. This also goes for skirts and dresses which, in addition, pose the problem of not being able to sit with my legs crossed or up without the fear of flashing pink (often animal print) underwear to the entire carriage. For me jeans are the obvious choice, stretchy and comfortable yet they still enable you to look like a functioning member of society, especially on the trip from the station when passers by don’t understand you’ve been travelling and assume your pastel tracksuit is a conscious fashion decision. All black outfits and sunglasses are also a good option and make you feel like a celebrity while simultaneously covering up any under eye bags or signs of crying, although this may cause disappointment when there are no paparazzi crowded outside Heathrow.   

Arrival is definitely where peak stress occurs. Airplane landings kind of make me want to cry, bringing the realisation that I am now in another country and that if I want to go home I have to endure the entire journey again. Normally my younger brother begins to feel motion sick at this point, which  is when the volume on my headphones is turned up to that level when you know everyone around you can also hear Taylor Swift ‘Blank Space’ but you don’t really care because you are currently functioning in crisis management. Once landed there is also the unwelcome heat that hits as you step off the plane, made even more unbearable by the winter clothes which seemed appropriate for the London weather but now feel suffocating and unnecessary, but are not removed due to being overtired and stressed. Although each journey leaves me with the feeling that i’ve just suffered a trauma, i’ve decided that its a small price to pay for visiting other countries and exploring the world. Although I’m not planning to become a frequent flyer I’m hoping that, like a form of exposure therapy, travelling will become less scary the more I do it,  and even if it doesn’t at least I will be able to look foreword to the relief of arriving at my destination and having at least a few days before I have to start stressing about the trip home.

Wearing Topshop Jamie jeans,  Topshop loved T-shirtAdidas superstars

The Struggle of the Summer Dress

I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that my wardrobe, carefully curated over many years of dressing with only the desire to cover as much of my body as possible, consists of almost 90% jumpers and knitwear. Which means when it comes to dressing for a Christmas party I am the belle of the ball but when it comes to finding an outfit to wear during summer I find myself incredibly, agonisingly under-prepared. Just the word ‘heatwave’ breaks me out into a cold, nervous sweat as I try to figure out which of my woollen jumpers is the thinnest and might withstand a muggy August in London. The heat makes me automatically self-conscious; worried about how red I am, worried about making sure my legs are smooth and shiny and not their usual hairy and slightly scaly and worried about whether the sweat patch creeping over my back is imaginary, or in fact very real and dripping on the chair I’m sitting on. It’s all stressful. It’s all hot. And it’s all a bit sticky.

This year I decided it was time to stop trying to mould Christmas-wear into summer-wear and try to find a few heatwave appropriate dresses that I actually might feel comfortable in. The problem with an easy, breazy summer dress is that they’re rarely as easy or breazy as one would hope. There are so many things that can go wrong. They can be too short, too tight, to arm-y, too back-y. I can handle dresses in the evening, when I’ve got time to prepare myself and know I’m only going to be wearing it for a few hours, but a dress in the day time has to be appropriate for every possible social interaction the day might hold, withstand the inevitable post-meal bloating AND be comfortable enough that I don’t go home and change into my pyjamas as soon as lunch is over.

So far on my search I’ve found two I quite like, both from Topshop, as a shopping trip in which I visit more than one shop is much too stressful for my easily overwhelmed brain. As someone who hasn’t worn a pair of jeans for over 5 years (more on that to come) I rarely peruse the MOTO section of the Topshop aisles (what does MOTO even mean?) but this year, Topshop’s denim dresses came to my rescue. Denim dresses are a bit like armour, sturdy, solid and able to protect you against anything the day might throw in your face. They’re not flimsy, flowery little summer frocks. They are proper, grown up, ladies dresses. Cool, calm and collected. Durable, not clingy, and not remotely too hot or remotely too sticky.

Wearing: Topshop stripe button pinafore dress, Topshop denim dress, Adidas mesh trainers.