Spring has sprung in England. This is what it means: it’s hot, it’s cold, it’s windy and wet, there’s sunshine and hail, all within minutes of each other. It’s more unpredictable than trying to make a living from gambling.
I’ll tell you what this means from a wardrobe point of view, it’s impossible to know what to wear. This causes a crisis for me every year – one that has me staring at my closet with an increasing level of despair, flinging clothes this way and that until I settle on something that is vaguely unsettling.
Growing up in the warmer, predictable climate of southern California, I had few wardrobe worries. I rarely wore socks (imagine the joy of that), didn’t own a single scarf and could pretty much get away without layers of any kind.
I could wear dresses without worrying about bare legs, almost all year long.
I was an innocent child when it came to dressing for a cold climate when I first arrived in London all those years ago. Which is why I wore an ugly coat from Macy’s that first bitter winter. I’d bought it in San Diego, a place where winter dressing is not high on people’s priority list.
Hence, there’s not a huge amount of choice.
I eventually migrated to a coat with the name of ‘Stinky’. I bought this brown sheepskin ‘beauty’ at Portobello Market in London. It got its nickname from its rather unfortunate musty smell, which seemed to permeate other clothes worn under it.
When I tried to get it dry cleaned, I learned that it would cost more than the coat was worth. So I forgot about it and tried to forget about the smell.
Years later I learned to love 60 denier black tights, a favourite of the English woman and worn by millions of them. They are so dark and thick it’s like trying to see through soupy fog, but they’re an essential for skirts and dresses and can even be worn under jeans on really cold days.
I wear them for about five months of the year, which leaves my legs looking like the colour of a jaundiced baby by spring. This is the colour my legs are now.
Come April, however, there is something rather wrong about walking around in bright sunshine with tights that are as dark as a December evening, even if the weather is hardly conducive to the beach look.
Fashion magazines here will tell you that springtime means putting the dark tights away until next autumn. But the fashion pack behind these column inches must literally freeze to death every April, facing the capricious month with an army of bare legs and – dare I say it – strappy sandals.
Some of these fashion-forward women have recgonised the plight they are in. The more practical among them have started advising wearing socks with sandals (I kid you not). This gives me recurring visions of Birkenstocks teamed with white socks. It makes me shudder more than the stiff breeze blowing from the northeast.
But you have to hand it to the English: they are creative when it comes to dressing for their unpredictable climate.
No wonder they are known for their fashion worldwide. They’ve had to get good at it. They’ve had to learn to reinvent fabrics, to layer their clothes like champions and to make tweed look chic.
Their weather has forced them to be good at tailoring and to become masters of the cutting edge.
It’s not like they can just wear a t-shirt, shorts and flip-flops for most of the year, a look that requires about as much thought as boiling an egg.
So this is my flimsy theory: the nearly year-round cold and damp has led the English to be excellent tailors and inventive dressers.
I just wish some of the inventiveness would rub off on me when I’m frantically looking for something to wear in the mornings.