One of the things I like about my new job is that I can wear proper clothes.
For the last few years my working wardrobe consisted of nylon pyjamas that didn’t fit, usually had pen stains from broken biros around the pockets, and often smelled of curry. (We weren’t allowed to take them home and wash them, but had to hand them over at the end of every shift to be boiled. Which kills nasties, but doesn’t really get them clean.) When I started as a ward doctor I tried nice clothes for about five minutes, realised I valued sleep over ironing and that machine washable was essential, and started buying my cardies from Tesco’s. (They look quite nice for a week or so, but if you put them through their paces like I did, they end up resembling pan scourers. At the time I was too busy and too miserable to care.) For the last few years, I bought nothing but a new coat and my wedding dress and shoes.
Now I work in an open-plan office, with strip lights and hundreds of computers, and my own twirly chair. I can drink tea out of a mug, and not worry that it will be stolen or broken by the time I come back for my next shift. No-one shouts. I can wear long sleeves and things on my wrists, and dangly earrings aren’t downright dangerous. The chances of getting sprayed with urine or spilling someone’s blood are vanishingly small. My colleagues wear everything from denim miniskirts, flat knee-high boots and handknits, to wrap dresses, pointy sling-backs and heaps of gold jewellery.
But with so much possibility, how to choose?
Things changed while I wasn’t buying clothes. More polyester, more expensive. (I love this top, for example. But £70 for something made of plastic? No, thank you). The garments I’d imagined wearing to this job didn’t exist. Or not in the UK and not at my price point, anyway. Plus, I got older. My inner thigh gap disappeared. The clothes I like are designed for whippets, while I’m doing my bit for the British tourist board, peddling the national physique, a classic pear with bingo wings.
I bought a few things to fill the worst gaps, and have cobbled together a wardrobe I can mix and match to wear to work without feeling too frumpy or untidy. But something – many things – are missing. I’m starting to get an idea of what they are, but I’d like your advice, too.
So without further ado, here are some pictures of what I’ve been wearing to work. All were taken on my ’phone, at the end of the day to give you an idea of what these outfits really look like, by friends, my very patient husband, and the occasional kind and bemused stranger.
All clothes with links were bought specially, clothes without links are old. Bag throughout is Mulberry (style unknown), bought from the factory shop in Somerset five years ago, bright pink iPhone case is Smythson, from Bicester Village.
I love capri pants, but I couldn’t find any to fit me anywhere. These were cheap and are machine washable. They’re not very flattering, but as you’ll see I wear them a lot. When I find nicer ones they’re going straight to Oxfam … although at this rate they will have fallen apart by then. (I bought two pairs. One already has a huge hole in the pocket.)
Jumper: Uniqlo Scarf: Lyle & Scott Trousers: Theory Shoes: French Sole India Coat: Whistles
When I found these trousers I got that click of recognition. ‘Oh, there you are.’ They make me feel smart, competent and cool. Theory no longer sell them in Europe, and they have changed the fabric, adding polyester to the wool and elastane, so I am once again on the hunt for my perfect trousers. These will have to retire before too long because they are starting to fray a little at the hems and pockets.
One day I walked into Uniqlo looking for silk shirts, and found they were having one of their flash sales on cashmere. I bought quite a few of these jumpers. Brora they certainly aren’t, but they are warm and light, don’t need ironing, and seem to be bearing up quite well. I wash them in the machine on the wool programme, in net bags with a little bit of cheap, plant-based shampoo, on the lowest spin. When they’ve finished I spin them again on a much higher setting, then pat them out flat on towels to dry. To felt wool you need heat and friction at once, and this method means I can have a sweater clean and dry in 24 hours with minimum fuss (and no dry cleaning!).
I love the look of Boden clothes, but they don’t often suit me. These trousers were on sale the week I was looking for clothes for work, and were an attempt to replace the black Theory trousers. I don’t like the cut nearly as much, but they are pure wool and I can put them on and (mostly) forget about them.
Jumper: J. Crew Skirt: Primark Shoes: Jaeger Denim jacket: Helmut Lang Umbrella: Cath Kidston
When I was going to Cuba for my elective, I didn’t know what I’d be doing in the hospital or how I’d be able to wash my clothes. All I knew was that I’d need a white coat. (We don’t wear them in most UK hospitals because they’ve been deemed hygiene hazards.) So I went to Primark to stock up on disposable clothes – and found this skirt, which my mum picked out. I didn’t take it to Havana, but it’s been a faithful wardrobe workhorse ever since, paired with heels at work, or to stomp about in in knee-high boots in winter. Needless to say I still have most of the clothes I took to Cuba. Liti washed them by hand, in cold water at the sink outside the kitchen door. Even our jeans.
Shirt: Ines/Uniqlo Trousers: Theory Shoes: L. K. Bennett Denim jacket: Helmut Lang
I bought this jacket from Liberty the year before I went to university. I was supposed to be saving money from my temping job to go travelling, but I was much more interested in clothes. It was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought, and in my tiny room in halls I hung it on the side of my wardrobe so I could look at it, because I loved it so much. The turn back cuffs have long ago gone out of fashion, but I wouldn’t change them for the world. This jacket has magical powers.
Shirt: Uniqlo Trousers: Zara Shoes: Roger Vivier Coat: Whistles
Nothing to say here, really. I love chambray shirts. These shoes are very comfy.
Shirt: Laura Ashley Trousers: Boden Shoes: Zara Coat: Barbour
Another of those unexpected purchases, chosen by my mum. We were in Kendal looking for clothes for her, the Easter holiday before my medical finals. I would never have chosen it for myself, but I like wearing it and it always garners compliments – particularly from nurses. I have no idea why that is.
The Liberty print Barbour is one of those things that swept around my cohort of junior doctors like wildfire. Ruby bought one, then Angela (or was it Angela then Ruby?), then me, and suddenly everyone had one. The other thing that did the rounds like that was some diamante owl earrings from Accessorize, which I’ll show you another time. They started with Naomi, then Maham, then Marwa, then everyone, and finally, me. Yes, it was just like high school.
Shirt: APC Skirt: Whistles Shoes: Emmy Denim jacket: Helmut Lang
I bought this shirt while studying French in Paris the summer before I went to medical school. The sleeves are now too tight (they shrunk a bit in the wash, and I have got fatter), but I love it fiercely.
These were my wedding shoes, my something blue. I wanted these, but Emmy shoes are astonishingly comfortable, and very easy to walk in. I wanted to dye them cobalt, but I was working crazy hours at the time, so I thought I’d do it afterwards. I wore them a bit on our honeymoon, then boxed them up waiting to get them dyed, but a few weeks ago I broke them out impatiently, and lots of people have since admired the colour, so now I’m not sure. What do you think?
This was my first and last attempt at a midi skirt.
So, gentle reader, please dig in. Let me know what you like, what you don’t like, and what might be better.
Thank you very very much.