Jennifer O’Connell: Get ‘beach body ready?’ Don’t make me retch
What do women want for summer? Clothes that fit and sandals you can walk in
A real woman’s 'summer readiness' wish list has never had anything much in common with the fantasies that magazines keep trying to peddle us
And so, just like that, it is once again the June Bank Holiday weekend, the real beginning of the season I refer to as “Goodbye, beloved 80 denier tights; hello childcare spreadsheets”.
I love almost everything about summer. I love grand stretches, barbecued sweetcorn, and the indolent promise of an empty hammock. I love watching small children try to figure out how waves work.
I relish the sense of urgency that descends on people in garden centres, who suddenly seem to imagine they’re about to relocate to Hawaii, and stock up on giant inflatable hot tubs, olive trees, outdoor tables with built-in ice buckets.
I did say “almost everything”. I don’t love the scramble to patch together childcare for three children, obviously. I don’t like the disappearance of tights and sleeves. And I really don’t love the annual, humiliating ritual of magazines and advertisers snippily instructing us how “dress for summer” or – hold my hair back while I retch -- “get beach body ready”.
One summer readiness programme proffered by a British newspaper includes 23 items in a countdown, which starts with one month to go (use a foot file twice a week until your grotesque Hobbit hooves are no longer liable to alert the lifeguard to the possibility of a pair of stray tortoises wandering on the beach), and stops at “one hour to go”. I can’t imagine that a similar list for men would involve more than three items: 1) Apply sunscreen. 2) Grab towel. 3) Hit the beach.
Realistically, those of us old enough to remember a time before HD brows were a minimum requirement for leaving the house probably don’t get much beyond item 14) “the big defuzz”. And even that can be a time-consuming, painful, boring, costly process. (Note to the reader who wrote to say he hasn’t been able to read this page since I wrote I had hairy legs: it’s now safe to come back. Your columnist’s legs are entirely fuzz-free. I bet Fintan O’Toole never gets fan mail like that.)
I’ve been waiting for the backlash. I’ve been anticipating that, any summer now, women two decades younger – who are so much smarter, braver and more vocal than my generation – will decide they’ve had enough of the viral body dysmorphia, and the Kardashian-mandated buffing and polishing and waxing and lasering and highlighting and contouring and shimmering and disguising and shaming.
It hasn’t happened yet, but a glimmer of hope that we may be entering a more forgiving era of “dressing for summer” came at the recent wedding of a minor royal, Lady Somebody-ella Windsor. It was the dress sported by a guest, one Amelia Sophia Theodora Mary Margaret Windsor, which caused a sensation. Harper’s Bazaar said it was “playful while still looking royal wedding-appropriate”. Elle called it a “dream”.
At first glance it was not immediately obvious why. I’m not a fashion writer, but I’ll do my best here: imagine Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz launched a fashion house with Mr Blobby. It had smocking, giant cuffs, sleeves big enough to conceal a small child, and an ill-fitting sweetheart neckline that could have been a subtle nod to Gwyneth Paltrow at the 1999 Oscars. It was too big, and it was linen, the fabric choice of cruise-line passengers.
A real woman’s 'summer readiness' wish list has never had much in common with the fantasies magazines keep trying to peddle us
In fact it bore a startling resemblance to the raw silk, pink and ivory, boned, sweetheart-bodiced, puffball skirted number I wore to a debs in 1992, and which I will now be rooting out of the attic and flogging on eBay.
In a world where black tie attire for women has been diminishing in terms of volume and practicality until it’s only a matter of time before someone steps out with only a seatbelt wrapped around their nipples – hold that thought; I see now that Kim Kardashian already did so at the Hollywood Fashion Awards in February – witnessing a gorgeous 23-year-old swathed in layers of what appeared to be her nan’s bedlinen looked, if not what I would describe as “lovely”, then certainly brave.
Much as I hail the return 90s debs dress chic, what would be cool is if “fashionable summer dressing” for women didn’t mean either “virtually naked” or “looking like a refugee from the Laura Ashley catalogue c.1987”.
A real woman’s “‘summer readiness” wish list has never had anything much in common with the fantasies magazines keep trying to peddle us.
If you’re listening, fashion editors, here’s what women actually want to wear for summer.
- Dresses that can accommodate bra straps and pizza lunches, and don’t require an engineering degree to work out how the straps go on.
- Beachwear that is robust enough to swim in, but doesn’t suggest you are a novice nun on a day out.
- Waterproof mascara that doesn’t make your eyelashes fall out.
- A strapless bra that stays in position and simultaneously allows you to breathe.
- Fake tan that doesn’t smell disturbingly of curry-flavoured biscuits.
- Sandals that you can walk in without a trip to Minor Injuries.
In essence, clothing and make-up that don’t suggest the people making them hate us. Is that really too much to ask?