Jayne Dawson: Style criticism is wearing a bit thin

ANOTHER day, another kick in the teeth. Apparently we're rubbish at dressing for the cold weather. We already know we are the laughing stock of the planet when it comes to snow management, and now this.

I feel wounded. I expect you feel the same.

Snow is not our forte, we know that. We know that every year, when the flakes fall from the sky, it is as if the whole country has been reborn. We are all innocent babes who have never seen such stuff before: we marvel at it, we're afraid of it, we laugh, we sob, we gasp.

Eventually we try to go about our normal business, but the schools have locked their doors in panic at what has occurred, the buses have all been re-routed to a place called Not In Service and the roads are impassable, clogged with cars parked in inexplicable places by drivers who have left them there Just In Case.

All of that, and now this fresh burden. We stand accused of creating not just a white hell, but a fashion hell too.

Apparently, other countries do snow clothes better. What countries? Every country, according to fashion experts.

Other countries do sleek, practical, warm, streamlined. They wear things that combine style with a high tog value. They have coats that manage to both follow the shape of the human figure and keep the person inside warm and toasty, they have boots that look expensive, chic and keep the wearer upright on all surfaces. They have, astonishing though this sounds, adult, flattering hats.

The effect is casual, chic, expensive, and, you know, just somehow right. It says: "I am at home with this weather. I appreciate the exhilarating beauty that is winter. My soul thrills to the sight of a landscape pared back to the bare bones of its true beauty, I inhale lungfuls of sharp, clean air and feel renewed, I laugh, jump and skip joyfully across virgin snow with my children and then run home to toast crumpets on a roaring fire, which I prepared earlier. And if it's a work day, I have snow chains on my tyres and therefore I am never late."

I know. Amazing that a proper jacket can say all that, but there you go. That's the power of clothes for you. Don't ever let anyone tell you that the fashion industry is trivial.

But what about here? What are we wearing while we're sliding around the roads for fun, sliding round the roads, watching all the buses make their way to Not In Service?

Basically, we have two schools of thought: a) ignore it; b) wear everything at once.

Those in the Ignore It camp tend to be blokes, or girls on a night out. The blokes can be spotted all over Leeds city centre on a weekday lunchtime, striding about in their suit jackets, as if it's a normal temperate day on our temperate isle. The hands clutching their sandwich bag are blue and their faces are white with cold, sometimes there is a light glazing of frost on their hair, but they are proud to laugh in the face of ice and snow, or they would if their muscles still moved.

The girls get their photographs in the papers every winter as they stagger from bar to club with only God's mercy and a backless, sideless mini-dress between them and hypothermia.

Instinctively, they fall back on basic survival techniques to get them through, linking arms with their mate to maintain skin contact in a bid to avoid actual frostbite.

Those of us in the Wear Everything camp take a different approach. On the day we wake to a winter wonderland we search out gloves, scarf, hat, big coat, cardi, jumper, boots and we wear them all at once, with no thought as to form or figure, making anything match, or how many fashion years have passed since we bought these items.

This means we resemble nothing so much as well-fed, mismatched penguins as we waddle around the streets. Every so often our hat will fall over our eyes and that hat will inevitably be embellished with a pompom, or a pair of ears, a nose and a mouth.

But we cannot lift our arms to adjust it because they are tightly stuffed, sausage-like, into all our jumpers with our only winter coat on top.

We can't see our feet but we know that they are clad in our wellies, and that should we be stranded it will be okay because we will be found by the light of those wellies which glow eerily in the dark because they are bright yellow, having been bought in a year when red wellies were all the rage, only the shop had run out of red ones that day.

Both of these very different approaches to winter dressing seem fair enough to us, but to those from Other Countries they apparently say: "I am not at home with this weather, I do not appreciate its exhilarating beauty, my soul is not thrilled and I do not have a roaring fire on which to toast crumpets. I am British, I am frightened of snow, and I wish I lived at Not In Service, because that's where all the buses are going today."

It's irritating, isn't it? We can't do right for doing wrong, but console yourself this way, just think: "Okay, we're hopeless with snow, and our winter outfits are strangers to style, but you should see how great we are in the middle of a scorching summer...". Oh yes, see what you mean.

27 October 2017.
The view from the top of Leeds Town Hall.
Leeds Civic Hall.

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