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“I love fashion but it scares me a bit”

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I own three pairs of jeans (two skinny, one – I don’t know, baggier), four dresses, three pairs of ballet flats, two pairs of trainers so fetid they are one stray electrical spark away from developing independent life, a nice posh top, a horrible posh top and 1,400 long-sleeved T-shirts in a colour I like to call ‘overwashed black’. Oh, and a brown stripy one. Don’t know where that came from. Must have been a present. I wear that when I’m feeling particularly upbeat.

You may be deducing from this that I hate, despise or at the very least have no interest in fashion. You would be wrong. I love fashion. I pore over the magazines, sigh with admiration at the clothes, the models, the make-up and, above all, the style and grace with which they are all assembled. I hate and despise people who affect to be ‘above’ fashion and proudly proclaim their ignorance of it – ‘I reject FUN and a wide field of human endeavour! Hurrah for me!’ Why be proud of your lack of knowledge about anything? I know bugger all about art, music, poetry and most points in between and although I have no plans to change this (especially not now Sky Atlantic

has launched and the new series of Gossip Girl has begun – who has the time?). I certainly don’t revel in it.

But I am frightened of fashion. I feel much the same way about it as I did about sex when I was a teenager and my friends were losing their virginity all around me (not literally – or at least only occasionally, if it was a very cramped party); like I have largely missed the boat and the stretch of life in which glorious experimentation, mistakes and happy chance discoveries of what works for you are the order of the day. And as with sex, it now feels like it is beyond me to catch up.

I look at my wardrobe and weep. When I go out, I stand before the mirror and sigh. I don’t look utterly ridiculous (or at least, I don’t think so. I’m not wearing Crimplene or legwarmers or anything) but I don’t ever look a) how I want to look, or b) quite right for whatever event I’m going to. Not that I know quite how I want to look, or how everyone else will be dressed when I get there – I just know that the reflection before me isn’t quite cutting it.

I despise people who proudly proclaim their fashion ignorance

The problem, of course, is style. Some people have it, some people don’t. I – and given the name of this magazine, I am aware that I am probably writing my own P45 here – don’t. Occasionally in my job (as with the byline pic you see before you), I have the luxury of being placed in the hands of people who know what they are doing and don’t let me get involved. The rest of the time…

Of course I can copy, and I do periodically resolve to go shopping armed with pictures of suitable ensembles ripped from magazines and not to come home until I have bought exactly what is shown there, but that is not really the name of the game, is it? Fashion is meant to be fun.

The big lie that Trinny & Susannah-style makeover shows sell us – and this is true whether they are about personal overhauls, or home renovations or garden redesigns – is that we can all do it. We can’t. Most of us can get so far and, crucially, no further. That’s why experts are experts and have jobs showing the rest of the multitude what to do. That’s what I look at magazines for, that’s what I sigh in admiration at.

Fortunately, most of us also have at least one friend who is gifted in the areas we lack. And since with age and extensive changing room and futile purchasing experience comes wisdom, it has recently become my practice not to go shopping alone. I grab one of my stylish friends (by which I do not mean insanely glamorous or slavishly fashion-following – in fact, almost exactly the reverse) who is able to infuse my decisions and my wardrobe with a little of her talent and make me, and the people who have to look at me day after day, a little happier.

Contact Lucy Mangan at lucy.mangan@stylist.co.uk and on twitter.com/lucymangan

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