Imagine, for a moment, that your wardrobe is Theresa May’s cabinet, every item in it a manifestation of her MPs. I know, awful thought, yet also, weirdly instructive. Each piece self-importantly fluffing itself up for your attention, acting as though it knows what it’s doing, bickering with all the others and ultimately coming across as pompous and simultaneously outstandingly mediocre.
And yet, these are all clothes you thought would be great in the voting booth, sorry, shop.. They might even in some ways, actually be great. But in the current climate – Spring – they’re failing to come together. You keep trying them on in different compromises, but somehow none meets the challenge of the hour. They lack imagination, seem dull, drone-y and exhausted.
They‘re in urgent need of a transfusion of energy and verve, because so are we. We require a signal that an end to winter is, theoretically if nothing else, in sight. That means clothes that bring a dose of playfulness and lightness to the table, but because it’s three degrees out there most mornings, we also need something that can be worn with thermal vests, tweed jackets, rain coats – and all the other British Spring fall-backs – without making you look like a cock-eyed eternal-summer optimist.
Step forward the not-so peasant blouse. I’m not going to try and stretch this metaphor any further by comparing this so-called worker blouse to Marxism. This blouse is not Jeremy Corbyn.
Yellow frill blouse, £75, Kitri
It is peasant in name only (actually, come to think of it, maybe it does share certain commonalities with JC….). It has delicate, artisanal looking details while being fully functional and machine washable. It can be relied on to add femininity (without the simpering overload of a full length ruffly, frilly dress) to jeans and combat trousers (the latter are back big time) and inject fragility and freshness to an otherwise austere tuxedo look. Just this week, Victoria Beckham demonstrated to her 24.8 million Instagram followers how she slips a frilly necked silk not-so-peasant blouse under a severe looking trouser suit – and voila, not so severe.
Victoria Beckham and Dree Hemmingway sport white peasant blouses
At heart, this is a question of bringing into play one of 21st century fashion’s favourite tweaks: the unlikely contrast, or the Yin Yang Outfit. This is the one where you mix disco sequins with librarian knitwear; hunting tweeds with Old Hollywood-boudoir camisoles, flirty heels with army fatigues, tailoring with (a small amount of) athleisure, ultra-vamp red lips with an otherwise naked-skin face. It’s effective and versatile when you get it right because playing an outfit all one note can often seem a bit old fashioned and because a single, considered purchase can revitalise a lot of over-familiar outfits. Given that there are set juxtapositions, this yin yang business isn’t as hard to do as it might seem.
You just have to be aware that the proportions and colours of those (initially) contrary combinations have a habit of subtly changing every so often. The early noughties favourite juxtaposition was a pair of denim hipster drainpipes with a sparkly cropped halter neck. Muffin top and whale tail in a single look – it may just be me, but that doesn’t seem very appealing now. Yet the general idea is still applicable: build a multi-nuanced outfit that can work for all kinds of different moods and events.
¾ sleeve blouse, £49.99, Mango
The Not So Peasant blouse is your yin – dreamy, soft and relatable. Better still, it has sleeves, covers midriffs and isn’t a one-detail-suits-all one season hit. (We’ve come a long way since 2004 and don’t let the doom merchants tell you otherwise). It might have frilled sleeves, a wide neckline, or ribbon ties. The peasant-y bit is open to interpretation. What counts is its relaxed, faintly Boho spirit and its ability to deliver all the loveliness and romance of a dress, in a more versatile package.
Embroidered blouse, £64.95, Massimo Dutti
Wear it to tone down a look-at-me-made-a-big-effort statement skirt; add a confident, unmistakably non-corporate nonchalance to a trouser-suit or prettify some dungarees. Layer up the beads, tooled leather belts and dangly earrings for a holiday vibe, or pare it right back, with white trousers and plimsolls for a chic summer in the city statement.
There are plenty to choose from, from Mara Hoffman’s white organic blend portrait neckline, Essentiel Antwerp’s hot pink glory to Kitri’s yellow ruffles. Some are inexpensive, others, with more work and more environmental awareness, are pricier, edging towards the price of a dress. Spend what you can – you probably don’t need to buy any more dresses so make this your splurge. Better quality always pays off and the top end ones will repay the investment and look fresher and crisper for years to come.