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

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. 

On Birthday’s

I think an often un-talked about part of growing up is the process of figuring out a few definitive statements about yourself that you don’t believe can change. We all have them – a few facts that we keep on file in the back of our heads, markers that tell us who we are and provide answers for the dreaded question ‘Tell me something about yourself!’

‘I never, ever go on roller coasters’, ‘I don’t like fish’, and ‘I love Christmas more than you love Christmas’ are just a few of mine, and until recently ‘I hate Birthday’s’ was almost top of that list.

Up until this year, I’ve never had a birthday that didn’t end in tears. When I was younger, year after year, I would blow out the candles on my cake and immediately burst into sobs of tears. Even at the age of 8 I hated the idea of growing up, every night leading up to the ‘big day’ I would run into my mums bedroom wailing that I wasn’t ready to be older yet and I just wanted to say the way I was now.

As I did, inevitably, get older, my birthday turned into a recurring marker of failure. After leaving school when I was 14, birthday’s became sickening reminders that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be, that my life wasn’t going the way it should be going, that I was losing the game. I turned 16 without any GCSE’s. I turned 17 without having had a boyfriend. I turned 18 and had to leave my tiny birthday tea early, in tears, because I felt too anxious with the pressure of everyone looking at me.

This year something changed. On June 21st I turned 20 years old. And as the day approached I found my yearly mounting dread had turned into tentative joy. I couldn’t wait to leave my teenage years behind. I was excited by the thought of entering my 20’s. And slowly, I began to think about what it might be like to actually celebrate my birthday, to commemorate this day, not as a signpost of how badly my life was going, but as a celebration of the fact that things are actually starting to go quite well.

So me and my mum began to plan a party… as I’m still not really a grown up we essentially planned the perfect tea party for a 10 year old. Mini scones, mini sandwiches, lots of bunting and a make your own flower crown table.

As a teenager, I had a habit of wearing tutu’s. Not small, discreet tutu’s, but proper, big, full on, poofy, tutu’s. The sadder, sicker and more confused I felt on the inside, the bigger the tutu’s got, and it finally reached the point where most day’s I would leave the house in a tutu and tiara.

I had this theory – that if I only wore pink, sparkly, magical outfits on the outside – then no one would see how sad and painful I was feeling on the inside. That if my exterior was happy, shiny, fluffy, a characature of a fairy princess – then it wouldn’t matter so much that my interior was rotten and black, full of pain and sadness and hope that was slowly dying.

Over the past year, as things on the inside have begun to heal, the need to dress up to mask the sadness has also ebbed away. And as I’ve started to feel lighter and brighter in my head, I’ve begun to wear more black, no longer gripped by the need to trick everyone into thinking I’m okay – because I actually am okay.

On my birthday – I wore a tutu. Not because I was covering anything up. Not because I was trying to pretend I was happier than I was. But because for the first time in a long time I felt like my exterior and interior were starting to match up. As I stood in my garden, surrounded by all the people I loved most in the world, people who had been there for me in times that were so bad, people who should have ditched me years ago because I was grumpy or weird or never replied to their texts or barely left the house, I felt happy. Really happy. Truly happy. I felt like a big, pink, sparkly, ridiculous tutu. Full of love, genuine love, for the people I was looking at.

For the first time in 20 years, I didn’t cry on my birthday. I didn’t hate the idea of growing up. I didn’t try to pretend that the day wasn’t happening. Instead, I wore a tutu, made a flower crown, ate a mini scone, and felt excited, properly excited about finally growing up.

Birthday Group
 
Wearing: American Apparel wrap top, Ted Baker tulle skirt, Adidas mesh trainers.

Prom…

I had no idea what prom would be like, I knew it was going to be a party with my friends and I knew i needed a dress and to decide how I was going to wear my hair. But it was prom, what was going to happen to set it apart from just a normal party? In my mind prom was associated with films in which it was a major milestone in the lives of american teenagers, filled with excitement and glamour, slow dancing, spiked punch and generally a happy ending. However I was also aware that, living in England, with an anxiety problem and not owning a brightly coloured maxi dress my prom would be slightly different.

A few days before, I realised I was actually quite nervous. Excitement confused with anxiety was causing me to feel nauseous whenever I even thought about leaving the comfort of my bedroom and actually having to socialise, even if it was with people who I go to school with everyday in a building 20 minutes away from my house. To me the fear was real, although admittedly completely irrational. I arrived with a group of my friends after having had a few glasses of prosecco and taking a few too many photographs. My gold mini dress and black high heels felt like suitable prom attire, the emerging blisters, to me a true sign that i had achieved the vague and unhelpful guidelines of ‘smart’.

My initial impression of prom was that it was slightly disappointing. As I walked in, the large room was mostly empty except from a few of my school friends, one or two teachers and a DJ, the much anticipated night suddenly seemed like a bit of a let down. I came to realise that because of my expectations of the night either being really fun or really scary i hadn’t considered the possibility that it would just be ordinary and due to my ability to wildly overthink situations, the night was destined to be a bit disappointing. Prom night consisted of all of the aspects that make a party, a dark room, music, me dancing while trying to ignore the fact that I have no rhythmic ability, a couple of drinks, someone being sick in either the bathroom or the bushes outside, and all of my friends. Had this been a normal party I probably would have had a lot of fun, however the idea that prom was just like a regular night felt wrong. Despite having said this, prom did have its high points and I would definitely recommend prom-ing to others, even if it is a bit shit and you have blisters for weeks at least you’ll have some great pictures of you in a nice dress looking like you were having fun and some very toned calf muscles from those high heels, undeniably worth it.

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Wearing – Bella Freud metallic shift dress, Topshop suede tie sandals