Social Fabric 5-6 June 2021

Glasgow Green Dress

On the far right hand side of my wardrobe, where I hang all of my special clothes, my Glasgow Green Dress swings on its coat hanger, waiting to be worn. On the occasions when I roam into this shadowy section, filled with fabrics in the dark tones apt for black tie dress, this particular garment stands apart from the rest. Its chameleonic shade that sometimes glows gold always reminds me of the metallic nail varnish I wore when I was young. As my hand wanders the rail close to this particular dress, the slight sway of movement makes its shoulders slip, animatedly, from their plastic coat hanger perch, as if it were asking to be worn. An action made redolent by the fact that I have never actually worn this dress out of doors. I have, on several occasions, stood by my wardrobe, one hand on my hip and a coat hanger held in the other, contemplating it as an outfit option. And I’ve even packed it into suitcases with intentions giving it it’s long overdue debut. But, still, the fabric of my Glasgow Green Dress has never felt fresh air in the five years that I’ve owned it.

I was given the Glasgow Green Dress as a promotion present by a former boss back when I worked full time in fashion design and production. Then, it signified success, its reflection and refraction of light shined. I’d cut the Glasgow Green Dress from a pattern in the studio archive. I’d been borrowing and wearing the sample made from this archive pattern for a while and was hoping my boss would forget to ask for it back, but he did. Still, the old dress was black and this dress was going to be green. And Green, of all kinds, is my favourite colour. Perhaps this is why, out of all of the garments I worked on over that time, I became so attached to this particular dress. Its sandwashed silk crepe de chine cloth, with all the luxe of silk satin and without its attention seeking gloss, was not a single green but a spectrum of the colour. Its tones are perhaps closest to the colour of Glasgow Green, in the muddy Scottish autumn, where the studio was based and after which the dress is named.

Like its colour, the cut of the dress blurs boundaries. Symmetrical ties grow from either side of its trapeze-shaped silhouette and can be tied together at the centre front or back, forming its wide width of fabric into fluid folds in one of two configurations. Elsewhere, the entrances to two unexpected in-seam pockets sit parallel on either side-front seam – spaces which enable access to the warmth of the body so often disallowed by the pocketless cut of silk dresses. When the dress is tied at the front, in my favourite of its two formations, the private sanctuary of its pockets is made all the more satisfying when found under the swathe of fabric that conceals them. The ties and hem were constructed with raw edges, which fray gradually with each wear to generate a textural trace of wornness.

As I recall, around three metres of fabric were needed to make one Glasgow Green Dress, which would explain the slow motion sway of its abundant cloth as it moves, on the hanger and on me. I still remember trying on the finished sample, fresh from the factory. Without fastenings, it simply slipped over my head and down each of my arms before washing my body in cool cloth as it smoothed over skin. I sashayed about in the sample Glasgow Green Dress, like I always do in anything made from silk crepe to chine. Somehow, the slinkiness of silk penetrates my skin, making me move in a way that follows the fluidity of this molten fabric. There’s something magical about this liquidity of silk, the way that its heavy weight, felt when it hangs on a coat hanger, disperses once you’re dressed in it. Wearing silk is like being surrounded by water, once you’re submerged it somehow becomes weightless.

I was at the London factory when the Glasgow Green Dress went into production. The thought of that place is enough to replay the industrious sound of a dozen sewing machines humming in tandem and the periodic click of their automatic stop and start function in my mind. Back then, I knew the names of the majority of the staff who worked there, all of whom exercised the kind of all-consuming concentration that I have only ever achieved when engaged in the practical act of constructing clothes. Those machinists knew how to sew. They worked with slippery silk crepe de chine as if it were as structurally sound as plain weave calico, even when cut on the notoriously disobedient bias. I was always in awe of their skill, and never more so than when I had one of the garments they had made for us in hand, like my Glasgow Green Dress.

I was wearing a different green dress when my sister called me at work to tell me that our Mum was in hospital, they’d found a blood clot on her brain. The blood clot turned out to be a catastrophic stroke, causing the brain damage and resulting disabilities from which she hasn’t recovered. The Glasgow Green Dress probably arrived at my parents’ house about three months after that phone call, on which I immediately travelled to the hospital in my hometown of Hull, where I stayed. I didn’t go back up to Glasgow for about six months after that. So, my things slowly followed me to the family home, where I had not so much moved as turned up, unexpectedly. I don’t distinctly remember receiving the Glasgow Green Dress; I don’t really remember much from those first six months in much detail, but I can imagine how it might have made me feel. Even now, each sighting of it in my wardrobe is like stepping into that past life, a life which somehow happened to have been mine. But, back then, the dress triggered the kind of acute anguish that you feel physically as well as emotionally. I think I saw it as symbolic of a part of my life that had met an abrupt end before it had really begun, a carefree time of doing exactly what I thought I was destined to do in the city I loved. In that way, it made me feel sorry for myself, a feeling that I was ashamed of given what my Mum had gone through.

Perhaps this is why the dress then spent a spell of three or four years in a bin bag in my parent’s attic, out of sight and out of conscious mind. Just over a year ago, ahead of a house move, I decided to raid my parent’s attic for forgotten homewares, which is when I came across the Glasgow Green Dress. It was clustered in that same bin bag with the other clothes I’d hidden away, on reflection, in an act that attempted to hide the fresh emotions I hadn’t wanted or been ready to feel. On this sighting, it looked out of place to me. No longer a metaphor for my loss it was now a materialisation of memories that I was ready to relive. I returned it to my wardrobe.

In February of this year, I decided to take my Glasgow Green Dress on a trip to Paris for its overdue debut. I was back in the city for a long weekend, it was the first time I’d been there since I’d worked the Paris Fashion Week showrooms, where I’d once sold multiple Glasgow Green Dresses. I brought it out of the wardrobe a week before I went, fittingly, to French seam the raw edged ties that were so characteristic of the studio where I had worked. I’d grown out of those frayed ends. Alterations made, I packed it in my suitcase. On a couple of evenings I thought about putting it on but I never did, I always found some arbitrary reason not to.

The wedding of one of my best friends is coming up and I’ve imagined wearing my Glasgow Green Dress for the occasion. I met her in Glasgow, when we were both studying there, so this dress seems a fitting and somewhat sentimental choice. But wearing it to her wedding will also represent a move away from its past life, which seems to have haunted it, and me, for too long. While the memories associated with most of our clothes fade away with each passing wear, those attached to a choice few seem to weigh them down, burdening them like coat hangers laden with the heaviness of a generously cut silk garment. My Glasgow Green Dress belongs to the latter camp. So, in the same way that putting on a silk dress somehow makes it weightless, maybe this upcoming debut of my Glasgow Green Dress will unburden it of the memories it has become loaded with, and let it live a future life instead of just reliving the past.

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