Lynn Enright: Why I Own An Excessive Amount Of Grey Sweaters

LYNN ENRIGHT – once a twentysomething trend obsessive, now a thirtysomething grey sweater connoisseur – examines how we ESCHEW FADS as we get older, OPTING FOR COMFORT instead

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I always imagined a Carrie Bradshaw life for myself in my thirties. I saw a walk-in wardrobe, packed full of flamboyant, eye-catching designer pieces. Shocking pink Oscar de la Renta gowns, slinky Dior dresses, rows and rows of Manolos. Turns out, however, that only the super-rich can afford walk-in wardrobes in expensive, crammed-to-capacity cities. And turns out that thirtysomethings don’t actually wear flamboyant or eye-catching clothes; they wear grey sweaters.

Well, I – a 31-year-old journalist specialising in fashion, sex and relationships: you can see where I got the Carrie comparison – wear grey sweaters. I currently own a dozen. I have seven sweatshirts, ranging from snug to oversized; some light for spring/summer, some heavy and fleece-lined; some plain, others with embellishment, slogans or patches. And I have five sweaters, all completely plain, all crew-neck; three lambswool and two cashmere. I wear my grey sweaters with slouchy boyfriend jeans and with full pleated skirts. When I write at home, I wear a cosy and comfortable grey sweatshirt from Uniqlo, and when I went on my first date with my now-boyfriend, I wore a tight grey cashmere knit from Joseph. They serve me well, my grey sweaters, and so I keep adding to their number, eschewing flashier buys for reliable comfort.       

It hasn’t always been this way – in my twenties, I would splurge on expensive trend-influenced designer buys, as well as indulging in fast fashion on the high street – but as I have, well, aged, my shopping sensibilities have shifted, my interpretation of what it is to be a woman in my thirties seemingly influencing the way I spend my cash. And it’s not just me. A 31-year-old fashion journalist friend of mine, who writes for New York magazine and has amassed an impressive cashmere sweater collection, relates. “As the years have gone by, I’ve definitely become less experimental with fashion,” she says. “That’s because I now know what suits me, and if something doesn’t, then I don’t bother with it. I’ve become more conservative about how I spend my money.”

I choose quality fabrics over fast thrills, perennial style over fleeting trends. It almost doesn’t feel like shopping when I buy yet another grey sweater because in a post-recession world where depressing headlines dominate, it seems appropriate, sensible even.

That sense of conservatism has a lot to do with my fondness for grey sweaters. I choose quality fabrics over fast thrills, perennial style over fleeting trends. It almost doesn’t feel like shopping when I buy yet another grey sweater because in a post-recession world where depressing headlines dominate, it seems appropriate, sensible even, to have a rather sombre, rather rudimentary uniform. Normcore – that now-ubiquitous term used to describe the trend for unpretentious, average-looking clothing – captured our imagination for a reason.

Having a dependable uniform makes mornings more manageable too. “My wardrobe is probably more boring than it used to be,” admits my journalist friend, “but it does make the whole getting dressed thing a lot easier, and there’s less stuff taking up space in my wardrobe.”

Indeed, since American academics Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper published a ground-breaking study outlining how too much choice is demotivating, psychologists have been telling us that we are all much happier when we have limited options. Clever retailers and designers have tapped into this feeling, with brands like Equipment doing one thing well, silk shirts for example, and for the most part sticking to it. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, customers are grateful for the guidance, and often buy one style in several colours, or snap up subtly different iterations.

I’ve been shopping for a new bin for the bathroom and it’s taken me weeks to find the right one. The effort that I used to make with clothes, I now make with homewares.

Often the wane in levels of satisfaction derived from trend buys coincides with a disturbing new interest in homeware and comfort. An immaculately turned-out art director friend has given up on cheap buys completely – “I am 34 and I will not wear polyester!” she says – and so, besides buying two or three carefully chosen items a season, she spends all her disposable income on soft furnishings and furniture for her flat. “I’ve been shopping for a new bin for the bathroom and it’s taken me weeks to find the right one. The effort that I used to make with clothes, I now make with homewares,” she says.

Personally, my lessening interest in faddy fashion and greater desire to carve out a more comfortable, more sensible adult life, has manifested itself in a serious baby clothes-buying habit. Perhaps I now see myself as a warm and generous provider rather than as a sexy young fashion-obsessed thing, or maybe it’s because I’m getting broody, but I can’t resist the teeny pieces. When I recently received a gift voucher for J Crew, I spent 35 minutes wandering around the vast London flagship store, past the colourful separates and the playful Sophia Webster for J Crew shoes, on the lookout for a frivolously pretty little present for myself.

But I ended up buying a tiny cute dress for a six- to twelve-month-old who hasn’t even been born yet. And a grey sweatshirt. Obviously.

What do women spend their money on – and when

Stylist, in my 40s:

“I can’t stop buying Converse trainers. I have them in five different colours, and I have a variety of styles – high-top, low-top. I buy a new pair every couple of months. Besides that, I spend loads on expensive cheese. I never buy cheese from the supermarket anymore, just the deli. Manchego is my biggest weakness.”

Teacher, in my 50s:

“I’m always on the lookout for the perfect jeans, not skinny, but not overly baggy or slouchy. I prefer a tapered but not tight style – they suit fiftysomethings best. Frame Denim and MiH do good versions. When I find a pair I like, I’ll buy them. You can never have too many pairs of perfect jeans. I also buy a lot of fresh flowers – more than I should.”

Artist, in my 60s:

“People say that scarves distract from a lined neck but I think they’re a bit dowdy and conspicuous. A nice necklace is a much jollier way of brightening that area up, and I can never resist costume jewellery. I love J.Crew and Kenneth Jay Lane, and I have more than 30 necklaces. Besides that, massages.”    

Image by Rasha Kahil

@LynnEnright

This article appeared in a previous issue, for more features like this, don’t miss our July/August issue, out Thursday July 7.

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