I remember the time a friend of mine showed me a pair of coloured jeans she’d bought in Paris. Immediately, it reminded me of a blog post by Natasha on Our Normandy Life which I featured on a BritMums Expat-roundup back in the day. Until then, it never occurred to me to talk about fashion as an expat experience but you know what, it is. Apart from the feeling of otherness, if you’re in the minority in your adopted country, there is also the difference in fashion (food and self-care). In Trinidad, my work-wear and occasion wear were made by a seamstress. It amazed me how casual some people dressed for work in England. It took me about two years to be reconditioned to ‘relaxed’ work-wear. 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, in 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 there were complementary to ladies of colour; bold Orange, Fuchsia and Burgundy. Yes, I got the job but I doon noticed that 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 the Classics Faculty Library at which point, wore my own suits. (Check me out in the pic below!)
When 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.
What’s the Dress Code?
A typical Trinis always wants to know, ‘what’s the dress code?’ For real, 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. On arrival, my suitcase contained custom made suits, a few evening dresses, along with some second-hand autumn-winter items from a cousin in Canada. Wearing second-hand clothing was nothing new to me, especially when I was younger.
Several years later, and based in London, I’m now a champion charity shop bargain hunter. I relish finding a special item and giving it a new lease of life. On the occasion when I do buy something new, I aim for good quality durable fabrics. I try to make environmentally sustainable choices where possible. Recently, I was introduced to hemp dresses. I’m not sure what I was expecting but when I tried on the jumpsuit made from hemp fabric, it looked and felt amazing. Ironing the garment was super easy as well, which is another important factor for me.
These days, my work look is more ‘business casual’ , although bloggy pal of mine said that term doesn’t make sense. Well, I explained to her it’s like the term ‘semi-formal’ which is a Caribbean thing… Pin stripes are still ‘a thing’ for me but I’ve swapped black for navy blue!
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.
Please comment below.
Disclosure: Jumpsuit seen in feature images is a PR sample.