This was the early 2000s and while most of my friends favoured either the head-to-toe black look or the sugary sweet style of early Britney Spears, I remained unenamoured by clothes.
If my clothes were a house, they would include mix and match cushions, Ikea furniture and upcycled pieces with the odd statement buy thrown in. In short, I hadn’t found my style.
You could say that I was a late bloomer in the fashion department, but when I eventually fell in fashion love, I fell hard. The memory is imprinted on my heart and still makes me smile.
At the time I had no concept of vintage fashion. I’d set out that sunny Saturday with an innocent wish for the boy in the coffee shop to return my smile, and a need to find something to wear to a family BBQ that weekend. College was out for the summer and I was staying with my aunt Roz at her home in Brighton.
Free from the confines of my day to day life, I was ready to try something new. I was curious and open to finding something different to wear.
But I wasn’t sure about shopping in vintage boutiques and charity shops. It was Roz’s idea to take me round the independent clothes shops that day, insisting that the best fashion buys weren’t found in high-street chains.
We entered a tiny shop, crammed full of clothes and accessories. While Roz pilfered the jewellery like some kind of magpie, I browsed the rails of tightly packed garments. Idly sifting through dresses and t-shirts with one eye on my aunt and the other on my watch, I was curious but cynical.
And then I found it. Sandwiched between a tan faux leather jacket and a long beige raincoat was the most beautiful jacket my teenage eyes had ever seen. Single breasted with a tailored cut, the delicate black piping around the edges complemented the dove grey fabric. The style reminded me a little of vintage Chanel.
My heartbeat increased as I ran my hands down the sleeves and my fingers found the decorative buttons on the undersides. Such pretty detailing. I had to try it on. I wasn’t sure it would fit but the silk lining felt cool against my bare skin and the buttons fastened easily.
The jacket pulled me in in all the right places and gave me curves. I marvelled at the girl standing in front of the mirror. She looked like me but she stood a little straighter, lifted her head a little higher.
Roz said it was probably late-1950s vintage. In that moment I wasn’t sure I minded what it was, it was just beautiful. I began to imagine the woman who had worn the jacket before me and I knew that she had treasured it. I bought it there and then.
Folding the jacket between duck egg coloured tissue paper, the assistant placed my fashion love in a stiff cardboard bag while I watched with a stupid grin on my face.
Later, as I trailed around the shops with Roz my hand clutched the bag tightly and burned, so conscious was I of the special fashion gem inside. I could wear the jacket with that long skirt, or perhaps with the long dress, I thought, half hearing Roz’s chatter but not really listening. And there began a love affair.
I wore the jacket to two 18th birthday parties that summer, despite the heat. I wore it on nights out to Liverpool with friends and I dressed it down with jeans and trainers for a day out at the shops. We were inseparable and it became a running joke with my friends – Karen’s bringing The Jacket as her ‘plus one’ again, they’d laugh.
Aside from the joking, I’d finally found something that I felt I belonged in. That fit me in every way. I grew into the garment and in turn my confidence increased. Even now the impact of my first fashion love lingers. I’ll admit, I veered off the fashion rails in my early twenties, blinded by fast fashion and confined to a student budget, but I never felt truly comfortable with my fashion choices.
Recently I’ve found what works on my shorter frame and it’s the same lesson that my first fashion love taught me – tailored pieces that enhance, not engulf, are the way forward. When I think about my first fashion love now, I realise that we found each other at the right time. I was young and unsure about being myself, and finding something that instilled confidence is a message I’ll never forget.
Before my first fashion love I’d only ever worn clothes, whereas the jacket fit me in every sense. And that’s a different thing altogether. We’ve all realised the power of fashion at some point. Its power to change, to inspire and to instill confidence. Fashion may be your armour: the red dress you wear to work helping you kill it in the boardroom. To others fashion might be a way of saying, hey world this is me and I’m not going to apologise for it!
What we wear is more than just about how we look; it’s about how our clothes make us feel. And that’s what matters. Although fashion trends may come and go, I’ll always remember my first fashion love.