I’ve identified another first-world problem, to rank alongside status anxiety and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out – more common among digital natives, I understand), and it’s one I’ve suffered from for decades.
I’ve called it Others’ Outfits Envy Response, or OOER for short, and it describes that feeling you get when you go out perfectly happy with what you are wearing, and then you see someone who makes you wish you’d dressed like them. To give an example: for once it’s a warm sunny day, so you go out in a brightly coloured dress to celebrate. But later you will spot a woman in an austerely cut black linen shift, and she will make you feel like a superannuated Shirley Temple. So when the next sunny day happens along, you drag something dark and unstructured out to wear, but you can guarantee that at some point someone in a gaudy frock is going to float past like a gorgeous butterfly, leaving you feeling like an Italian granny in an olive oil ad.
I’d be prepared to bet that men are rarely afflicted by OOER. They usually decide what they are comfortable wearing and stick to it through thick and thin. To cut down on the horrors of clothes shopping, they buy their favoured garments in multiples of five. In any case, they can always climb into the nice, safe, anonymous armour of a suit.
Of course there are plenty of decisive women out there who have the courage of their convictions. Top of the list is Angela Merkel, who wards off an inappropriate interest in how she dresses by wearing the same thing all the time: black trousers and a series of long-line jackets in different colours, so you can always spot her in EU ‘family photographs’. Leslie Kenton, at one stage, wore nothing but white (clearly she didn’t have to travel on the tube every day). I asked a friend who knew an Oscar-winning costume designer what she wore, and he replied ‘Oh, she always wears black trousers and a white shirt.’ Betty Jackson wears nothing but black, as did Louise Wilson, fearsome Professor of Fashion at Central St Martins until her death last year. Conversely, part of Camilla Batmanghelidjh’s unique charm is the fantastical riot of patterns and colours adorning her. I can’t imagine any of them ever experiencing OOER.
I must add that I’m not breaking one of damesnet’s founding tenets – that women are more than clothes horses. We’re not talking high fashion here, just about the choices that I make every day from the totally random selection of garments that have silted up my drawers and wardrobe over the years. There are some that must have seemed like a good idea at the time, but I can’t remember why now.
But even I can never have experienced the intensity of OOER that Jilly Cooper did when she turned up to a fancy dress party as a sheep, creatively clad in a black body stocking studded with cotton wool balls, only to discover . . . you can guess the rest.