Freedom of dress

Without going into too much detail on the whole ‘Britain first’ awfulness I wanted to comment in particular on one image making it’s rounds on facebook recently, in the days since the terrorist attacks, as below.

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I equate freedom of speech and freedom of dress. Banning any element of religious dress gives fuel to the few racists and bigots who unfortunately will need little enough encouragement to verbally or even physically attack people ‘breaking the law’ by choosing to wear particular clothes. Banning the burka would also mean that those forced to uncover themselves (and those who support them) might feel persecuted by the state – fuel for the extremists’ fire!

I vehemently disagree with the philosophy behind wearing the burkha but banning them is not the answer. Should we ban balaclavas because a few criminals choose to wear them? People have as much right to wear a bikini without being hassled as a burkha and I will defend their right to that choice.

My university dissertation was in part about how ‘Modesty’ is relative and respect for such choices should be encouraged. Victorian anthropologists insisted on uncovering the genitalia of some near naked African tribes with the idea that their being so nearly naked meant uncovering the tiny bit they chose to cover was no matter – no one would argue now this was not offensive in the extreme. In the 18th century it was unlawful for women to cover their cleavage at court, low necklines (amongst other things) were mandatory – that seems fairly crazy to us now! Forcing any one to uncover, or cover anything they prefer not to should be what is banned.

We should lead by example by showing respect for the human body, for the owners of those bodies and for their right to express their beliefs outwardly in a harmless manner.

I recently spent 7 Saturdays with 4 young moslem women, (students aged 15-21). They chose to wear hijab and were eloquent about their reasons why, but if one had come in a burka I would not have felt threatened. If the negative reasons behind some women’s choice (or pressure) to cover themselves more than conventionally for our society, need to be addressed it should be on a individual or at most community level, not by a law. And remember some women wear it genuinely through positive choice, they feel safer and happier, and who are we to judge them?

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Your wedding dress: Please yourself, don’t compromise to please others

As a bespoke dressmaker I have met many, many brides embarking on the thrilling experience of deciding what they want to look like on their wedding day and I try to mention a few things at our first meeting. I will touch on more of these in future posts, but here is one I feel so strongly about I will use it as my ‘maiden speech theme’. I tell them: “Please yourself!”

You will love your dress but no one else will love it as much as you do. Don’t compromise on anything to please others.

I have met brides with very different tastes, body shapes, budgets and priorities. I have designed and made so many different styles of wedding ensemble I can’t possibly describe them all; from boned corsets with beading, hooped skirts and historical touches;  an understated satin shift; or ethereal draped and layered silk Georgette. Almost always I love the dress design we come up with together and almost always I get an effusive thank you letter afterwards or a tearful and happy bride at her last fitting. “You understood me, this is perfect, I feel amazing, I feel comfortable, this is the most beautiful dress in the world.”

What a lovely job I have! To make people so happy – to make people look and feel amazing. Yes, not just good but amazing! Wedding dresses are always amazing, they are always out of the ordinary. Even a fairly typical of-it’s-era strapless, ruched to one side, a-line, ivory satin dress is very out of the ordinary compared to what we all wear in every day life. But it’s the whole package that does the magic, THIS bride, in THIS dress, on THIS day. Another girl would not pull off the same dress as well, not even if it fitted her, not even with the best photographer in the world. There is something very special about a bride, in her own dress, that no staged shoot can re-create (which I suppose is why the real weddings features are so popular).

My job is to create a costume, a ceremonial garment, not to transform my clients into anything they are not, but to bring to the foreground a bride’s real, hidden inner-self. My dresses set free, for just one Cinderella day, all our inner princesses, be that princess a medieval maiden, ultra modern fashionista or subtle, classic, English rose. But however successful your wedding dress is at making you beautiful, confident and happy it is not, despite all those positive, warm bubbly emotions, all of mum’s tears when ‘the dress’ is found, it is NOT the most beautiful dress in the world. And no one else wants it. Harsh, I know, but true.

Think how many weddings you have been to? How many of those dresses do you honestly remember in any detail? Unless you are a recent bride or a bride-to-be yourself then wedding dresses really are just a haze. Fifty percent of the people at your wedding are male, and for the most part not that interested in fashion.  Of the female half left, another 25% aren’t interested because bridal fashion has moved on too much since their own wedding day for them to understand the nuances of each choice you made. The last section, your best friends and contemporaries will almost certainly have different tastes to you. While they might honestly love your dress on you,  they wouldn’t be seen dead in it themselves on their wedding day.

For this reason do not compromise.

There will be a few people who’s opinions seem to matter too much to ignore. Your mother, your best friend, your fiancé who has said: “Please don’t wear anything big!” There is advice to be given here but I will touch on this aspect again  in another post. I have heard too often a client say “I don’t want that style/colour/neckline” because she believes others will think X, Y or Z of her if she wears it – even though it is the best style for her and she secretly loves it. I suppose some people might think X, Y or Z, or A or B or even M! But so what?

You can’t predict what other people will make of your wedding dress.  One person’s ‘full a-line’ is another’s enormous, god-awful, meringue. (Oh! Don’t get me started on that terrible phrase ‘meringue’, there’ll be a whole post on that I promise!) Your perfect, floaty, Grecian number evokes the intended classic simplicity to one viewer, an odd predilection for shapelessness to another and their mothers’ dated and embarrassing draped evening dress to the third. You have chosen the fabric, the neckline, the button-up back, the pretty lace edging and the medium-length train to evoke a traditional, old fashioned, English country rose vibe but you can’t predict for sure that anyone else at your wedding will have the same association as you for any of those elements. And even if they do, they may not deem such themes desirable. So why bother?

But I want you to bother. I want every aspect for your wedding dress to matter, to be mulled over, to be a necessary part of the whole, to be perfected during the fittings until the most beautiful dress in the world emerges before your eyes. But you must know it is only made so by YOUR wearing it and YOUR gaze in the mirror. For almost everyone else is is only a dress. But if I have done my job right, everyone, if asked, would agree that no other dress would have told the story of you and your wedding day with quite the same truth. Perhaps one or two people will think it is objectively beautiful, but I would put money on the idea that not one person in a thousand would choose your dress for their own wedding day.

And why should they? You probably wouldn’t have worn their first choice of wedding gown either. The purpose of your wedding gown is not to please others, nor to set the trend for future brides, to be the pinnacle of bridal design or to satisfy your in-laws opinions on modesty. It is to please you, and no one else. If it pleases you, others will see your inner happiness and confidence and know you are beautiful even if it is not to their taste. The dress is merely a frame, you are the picture. But the wrong frame will spoil the picture. Choose wisely, choose instinctively and choose to please yourself.