Things to Save in a Fire...

By Lucy Harbron - 19:04

If your house was burning down what would you save? My mum will the computer for all the family photos, my Dad will say us and nothing else, you might say books or artwork or childhood teddies. I think I’d run to my wardrobe, as shallow as that sounds.

I’ve written before about how attached I am to clothes, now trying to clear out my wardrobe is never as simple as what fits and what does when I’ve weaved too many memories into pieces I haven’t worn for months. But even beyond that, while my mum saves the computer for the photos, I’ve got a wardrobe full of the garments within them, lucky enough to have gifted important hand-me-downs that come with a warning that should I ever lose or damage them, there would be hell to pay.

I asked on Instagram what people wanted to read, and a lot of people asked what my favourite pieces are. But talking about my H&M jeans felt silly and temporary. In a couple of months, they’ll be worn through and unwearable, in a fire I’d let them burn, holding no memory beyond that time I went out for dinner and thought I looked nice. In the conversation around sustainability we talk a lot about lifetime purchases, but how about 2 lifetimes, hopefully, 3 or 4 by the time the whole thing falls apart and is retired to an attic. Garments you’d run into a burning building for, coats you’d contemplate sacrifice to save.

They met in a nightclub down the road. My mum and her friends have perms as was the trend of the time. They’d wear jumpsuits with attached waistcoats, snowsuits in bright colours, polka dots and little gold hoops. My mum’s friend had a habit of stealing men’s ties as a way of flirting. One night she wore this jumpsuit, he was there too and they met. I wear it to exams, to work, to galleries on weekends, it fits me perfectly.

My Aunty was incredible. I always knew it, grew up seeing medals framed in her house, but our times together were spent hunting down cats with my sisters and having barbeques on good days. In the days before the visit, we would go from shop to shop trying to find a treat to take her that she could eat, talk of our excitement to race her wheelchair around her home that felt like a mansion. One time I saw her cat press the button and go downstairs in her lift, it all felt like a dream. And she was a hero, brave and bold like in the books. She was world champion disabled water skier, she was an English literature and language graduate, she was kind and funny, and she wore this coat that I wear now.

Sometimes you have to slip into hedonism for self-protection. I find it an extremely useful protector for the ego, just spending some time caring about yourself to an almost disgusting level. Spend £20 a week on coffees, smother your face nightly in an expensive facemask that’s doing pretty much, nothing for your skin while you eat remarkable unhealthy but manage to stay slim. Buy a lot, buy books, jewellery, theatre tickets, ridiculous shoes and even more ridiculous clothes. Fill bin bags with them and run home happy with new things to cling to, wrap your body in and treat like bubble wrap while the surrounding air hands out punches. On the day that someone you love leaves; you really only have two choices. You can wallow, call your mum and cry, wrap yourself up in your bed and hope the world will reverse back to them being there or back back back further to disappear back into itself. Or you can wrap yourself in yellow snakeskin, in a one of a kind coat you got for £2 at your dream internship, wear it even though it’s far too warm for a coat just to cover yourself in the reminder that things are far better than okay right now.

On my left hand, I wear my Grandma, fished out of a jewellery box as we all sat around a kitchen table reeling from the loss. It felt smaller than it did back when I was 5 and was gravitate solely to the string of blue beads. At 21 I gravitated to this ring of red, gold and crystal, the gems look like stars and it felt selected for me, fits perfectly on my ring finger like a marriage to a memory.

On my right hand, I wear my Nana and the tradition she started. At 21, she fished it out of her own jewellery box, making damn sure of remembrance as all the women in the family unwrap a piece of her life to adopt into their own. She was sneaky and let me select my own, treating me to the luxury of exploring a dressing table drawer that feels like an archive of old coins and gold chains from first wedding anniversaries or shipped over from my Grandad’s travels. She laughs that she can’t remember the story of this one, but I wear it and it’s enough that it’s simply from her.

In the middle I wear a cheap circle of gold-coated metal bought for £12; Camden market, summer 2018, matching the one I bought for my mum; Camden market, summer 2019. I pattern it with cliché sentiments of being full and complete, echoing the circle with the affirmations I leaned on. It’s cheap and doesn’t fit perfectly, but it’s a piece of there and then, I circle it with my thumb when I feel anxious and think of my mum, busy markets, Hampstead Heath and the smell of fresh orange juice at the entrance.

I’ve always held certain images of what success and wealth looks like; a gold drinks trolley stocked with branded gins and whiskeys, Agent Provocateur lingerie worn casually, a home with a driveway you can turn your car round in, a Burberry trench coat. Writing that sounds stupid, you learn that all kind of means nothing when you’re given a hand-me-down drinks trolley and find a vintage Burberry trench in a charity shop for £40. I’d planned to save up for one, dedicate months of work all for the day I’d walk into Harrods, pick my coat and hand over the money. I imagined I’d leave feeling invincible, my life would be awash with fresh power and I would be instantly more confident, more put together, bigger and better all because I owned that coat that I’d worked for. But I found one in a charity shop, paid £40 and got my mum to wrap it up for Christmas. I broke a button off under my heel during a burlesque routine, which I’m reminded now that I need to replace, but still, when I wear it I feel powerful. I cheated the image of success. When I pass it down to my children, I’ll tell them the Harrods story, that sounds far more impressive.

I don’t remember my Grandma wearing anything by black trousers and a different coloured top; polo shirt in summer, a sweatshirt in winter with her collar over the top, black shoes and a zip-up coat in a faded bluey-lilac with a texture that felt like velvet. It was always that, sat in the same chair, taking us to the same places, baking the same cakes and pies in the loveliest cycle of delicate routine and regularity. When you see someone always the same of course you’d never imagine any different. I think I assumed she’d worn that same outfit forever, born in a pink jumper and raised in that chair. But we found this coat, incredibly tailored sheepskin with fur lining and collar, seemingly unworn in pristine condition. We found photos, of her and my grandad and their penchant for wearing matching outfits, sat pre-night out in those same chairs but lined with a material that screamed of the times. She wore little dresses and pinafores, her hair was always done up, wearing the same jewellery she always wore but gleaming in its newness and golden in its context smiling next to the man that gave it to her. There are no pictures of her in the coat, who know if she ever wore it, but I wear it a lot with mini skirt and berets and heeled shoes, I like to think her younger self would approve of the effort I put in.

I’d save it, I’d try and save them all, run away from the flames with arms full of fabric. 

  • Share:

You Might Also Like


Talk to me...