Lucy Mangan

“A coat can be ugly… and still loved”

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When fashion and celebrity stylist Angie Smith arrives at my house on Sunday afternoon, my hairbrush has been missing for three days. I had to use the baby’s on myself this morning.

We go upstairs. Angie is here to cast her expert eye over my wardrobe and ‘edit’ it accordingly. Why? Because I have no taste, no time and no idea what I’m doing. When it comes to fashion, Angie is here to help me use my time, money and emotional resources more effectively. I leave her in the bedroom to get started while I go and make her a cup of tea. When I come back, I ask her what she thinks of my clothes so far. “I think,” she says thoughtfully, “I could just throw everything out and start from scratch.”

I’ll admit this is something of a blow. I am no shopper but even though my basic philosophy is that if I make it through the day with my flesh fully covered in approximately clean clothes I’ve done my duty by god, society and my mother, I did think I’d managed to collect a few decent things over the years. We all, I realise, as the pile of rejected items on the bed grows, have our delusions. “Your problem,” says Angie, “apart from the check shirts and low-slung skirts is that you’ve got a lot of very feminine stuff that doesn’t quite work. And when feminine doesn’t quite work, it looks frumpy and ageing.”

She has, within minutes of her arrival, articulated the vague but increasing dissatisfaction I have started feeling about my clothes over the last year or so. With a baby and eight months of broken nights behind me, things that don’t quite work will no longer cut it.

Angie, meanwhile, is powering on. “You can have these back,” she says severely, holding up a pair of khaki Gap trousers, “if you ever decide to become a Brown Owl. Until then…” The pile gains another layer. I learn a lot over the next two hours. Mainly that:

1. I’ve got to stop buying things in the sales. Especially if it’s just because they are in the sale.

2. It is not enough that something fits. It also has to suit me. Apparently these are not the same thing.

3. I may keep my biscuit-coloured top for wearing to feed the baby because “It makes you look like a rusk. And it’s fine to be sick on.”

4. I should never be allowed to buy jeans unaccompanied ever again, but if I do, I am to remember that the local dry cleaners can take a V-shaped wedge out of the back of any pair, thus making both bum AND waist fit even on the pearestshaped of people.

I may keep my biscuit-coloured top because ‘It looks like a rusk and is fine to be sick on’

And that while I’m there, I can also get the arms of jackets taken both up AND in, which will make my description of said items as ‘fitted’ less preposterous. I see all of this. Under Angie’s firm but fair (and, as I hope you can discern from the fact that I am laughing rather than opening a vein in the bath, friendly) tutelage, I admit that things need to change. And yet, as the heap of discards on the bed grows, I grow mournful and mutinous. That, after all, may look like an ordinary black V-neck to the uninitiated but it’s the one I bought the only time I’ve ever been to New York and every time I wear it I am kept as warm by the memories of the holiday of a lifetime as I am by its now long-bobbled wool. That rose velvet coat from Zara may have seen better days but I bought it the day I walked out of my job as a trainee solicitor to be… well, almost anything else, which was one of the happiest days of mylife. Clothes are emotive. They mean much more to us than simply fit or form. They enshrine our memories as well as shroud our bodies.

Nevertheless, I can’t escape the fact that these pieces are only a tiny proportion of what is, inescapably, a vast mound of mistakes. When Angie has finished I am left with just 31 items (mainly black Uniqlo tops I’ve promised only to wear under things for warmth) out of hundreds. The next day she emails me a list of sartorial rules to live by (fitted jackets, fine knits andbuying classics at full price) and a selection of possibilities from various websites. They are all brilliant and I shall do my best to cleave to them. But I’m keeping my coat. I may not wear it again, but I’m keeping my rosy coat from my rosiest day, forever.

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

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