Recently a friend of mine showed me a pair of coloured jeans she bought in Paris and it immediately reminded me of blog post by Natasha on Our Normandy Life which I featured on September’s BritMums Expat-roundup. Until then, it never occurred to me to talk about fashions as an expat experience but you know what, it is. Apart from feeling of otherness, if you are in the minority in your adopted country, there is also fashion (food and self-care). It amazed me how casual some people dressed for work in England. It took me about two years to be reconditioned to be more relaxed with my work wear. These days at a stay at home mum, if my socks match and my entire outfit reflects the season, it’s a plus. Seriously, fashion is a big part of our identity which makes it a part of the expat experience.
Who took the colours away?
My first job in England was in retail for Marks and Spencer, Cambridge town centre. During my interview I was asked what did I notice about the shop floor? I vaguely remember pointing out that the colours that were complementary to ladies of colour was Orange, Fuchsia and Burgundy. Yes, I got the job and I was probably the only member (of staff outside of management) who wore the entire suit on the shop floor. I can’t tell a lie, I love a pin stripe suit. And my Marks suit was sweet! After three months I changed jobs and went to work for Cambridge University, in a faculty library at which point I wore my own suits.
Out of uniform, it didn’t take me long to settle into the staple black and beige side of life. It seemed to me every other person was wearing a black. Also, I didn’t spend much time looking at myself in the mirror. Black was the safe option, no need to worry about the lack of colours to suit my complexion.
When I moved to London, there were more options. Places like Roman Road Market, Green Street Market and Camden Town were sensory overload. Then, Primark came on the scene! It was easy for an island girl to get carried away. In fact I wore a fire engine red three-quarter length trouser on my first day with Teddy (now hubby). Coming to think of it were people watching us an interracial couple or my bright ensemble? What can I say; Caribbean people like colour and flair … but I digress.
What’s the Dress Code
Trinis usually like to know, ‘what’s the dress code?’ For real, typically, men and women alike want to get it right. As newbie expat, my sponsor always chuckled when I asked her ‘what’s the dress code?’ whenever she invited me out. My suitcase contained custom made suits and a few evening dresses, along with some autumn-winter items from a cousin in Canada. My cousin was a dress size bigger than me. As a result, for casual affairs I was a bit baggy.
I’m looking to return to the work; after seven years of being the main carer for my kids. I’m lost as to what my new style will be. I tried the ‘business casual’ look recently and a bloggy pal said that term doesn’t make sense, to which I replied maybe it like the term ‘semi-formal’ which is a Caribbean thing…
As an expat have you even had a fashion faux pas? How did relocating affect your fashion sense? I’d love to hear from you.