Caitlin de Moranista, Saturday Magazine, the Times
“Perhaps it’s austerity or the rise in “modesty” clothing. ...Maybe a designer somewhere met an actual woman with a bum. …(in 2018) women can put as little though, effort or discomfort into getting dressed as men - but still be absolutely trendy. ...comfortable, practical, pretty things”.
Caitlin de Moranista
October 2016. At a routine psychologist appointment, after a mission, one of the last questions is, 'Has your style noticeably changed as a result of your mission?'. Bang. The mental film projection is set off; starring me either in a white t-shirt and sleeveless vest, both with an NGO logo - or naked. I see myself naked through the burnt-out-sleepless-hours behind the closed doors of the darkened room of an overpopulated rented house; I see myself naked in the bathroom of a hotel room, washing my duty clothes in the sink; naked on night swims after busy dusty camp days; I see myself waking naked in the already-hot dawn, putting the white t-shirt with the logo on again.
Dressing up ‘normally’, after five months on a mission, turned out to be a quasi impossible thing. 'What do you mean?’, says the psychologist. She is very patient, 'Do you dress differently now in comparison with before the mission?’. I don't want to tell her that whenever I look at my ‘normal' clothes I feel like I’m in a dream. Clothes that look ‘normal’ stop looking normal once I get out of the house. I look down and see my legs wrapped in a dark blue, richly draped silk jumpsuit. Like for a wedding. Not normal at all for a Thursday, October morning, in London. But then I say, 'I still wear this’ and point to my Lifebelt.
Despite it being largely meaningless, my answer does the job. She ticks a square.
I bought it in Athens, on the first day of my second mission in Greece. 'They call it a Pussypurse in the States’, says the still pretty, old hippy, in American English while belting it on me. It’s black suede. I don’t hesitate.
t’s for my personal belongings. They go like this: front left the juice, the cable, the keys; front middle, two mobile phones (personal and duty), lip balm; front right: portable wifi, cigarettes, lighter; inner middle, near the body: passport, hard currency, credit cards; back pack (over the bottom pocket) local cash (tickets and coins).
(The professional belongings go into the ten pockets of the sleeveless logo jacket. The only personal thing that goes in the sleeveless jacket are sunglasses. They are tiny as they go in the pen-pocket, next to the other pen-pocket where the actual pen lives.)
Back to the Lifebelt, also known as Pussypurse aka Bumbag and whateverelsenot. It's popular. In the Jungle of Calle, on the Italian shores of the Mediterranean, on the beaches of the Greek Islands. It's popular among some of the tens of thousand Humanitarian Lara Crofts, that are there to: drag men out of boats, cover women with thermal blankets, carry children to mobile clinics, collect hundreds of orange false life-vests from polluted shores, drive MediBuses, inspect hundreds of pairs of hands for scabies and hundreds of heads for nits, cook food in massive cauldrons, distribute nappies, play with children, watch the seas with binoculars looking for overpacked tiny boats.
In a nutshell, they are very popular with the thousands of women who need the use of their two hands at once, at all times. Those Humanitarian Lara Crofts who think thoughts like, 'How do I keep this child busy while gynaecologically examining her mother?'; 'How do I get water going in the old fire station, where 188 people just arrived?'; 'How do I get the medication bag, together with the laptop and the patient out while the tent flies up as it’s blown by the torrential rain and wind?’; or, even, 'How do I get this pregnant woman up this slope?’… rather than ‘Now, where did I put my handbag?'.
Yes, the Lifebelt is the sort of bag that keeps your hands and head free for work and useful thoughts.
Concerning the physical benefits, it not only takes the strain off your spine, but also by weighing on the hips it liberates the vertebraes at the level of the lower back. But, whoever cared about health and physical wellbeing in fashion? So this last paragraph should be scratched out. As a child I was more into the world news on the telly than into the goodnight children’s programme. Then, just like now, whenever there was a report from the scene of the event: earthquake, air crash or terrorist bomb, there would always be scattered shoes in the camera's eye. 'Why do they always go astray?’, I’ve wondered since then. Well, while the answer to this question remains unclear; the mysterious phenomenon explains why, when in the French jungle, on the Italian beaches, the Greek shores and throughout the camps of European mainland, the women and men of the humanitarian front line like to wear...
… and, preferably, with laces. For those go well on wet rock and dry sand, just as much as on green grass and black asphalt and, above all, they never fall off by themselves.
Ankle boots are not the best for running, it’s true, but that’s fine as you never want to run in camps, unless you provoke chaos; you just walk, but very quickly.
Ankle boots’ physical well-being advantages? They protect you from snake and insects bites. Also, from little stones between the toes and sand under the toe nails. The last can be scratched out, as whoever cared for health in fashion.
Ugly trainers and sportswear
Now, just like the previous reasonable and practical fashion items; these two also come from the border-war-line-zone embedded on the Mediterranean shores and European mainland. But the ugly trainers and eccentric sportswear represent the tails of the head described above. Or it depends on the point of view. Because, if the people running from war zones and dehumanising living conditions are the initiating force of the humanitarian effort, then they, together with their fashion, are the heads, while the humanitarians, and their fashion, are the tails.
‘Anyhoo' (de Moranista), the ugly trainers and eccentric sportswear represent the other part of the equation: the pretty 19 year old boy lying on the couch in the medical tent with insomnia and medically unexplained pains in the whole of his body. He's wearing the sports bottoms borrowed from a younger neighbour, stretched tightly at his thighs and reaching slightly under his knees (he couldn’t go to clothes distribution being the sole carer of his older, paralysed by a barrel bomb explosion in Aleppo, brother) and this same paralysed brother's trainers (‘Fine with socks.’) are at least three sizes larger than his feet.
(Unaccompanied minors that arrived last July, eight months later, still wear their summer clothes. Clothes money, still hadn't come through, for one reason or another, and they take turns to wear a single winter jacket belonging to one of them, inhabitants of a council hostel in Central London. This jacket looks different on each of them).
That’s why they are ugly, these fashionable strange trainers and sportswear. Not because they are cheap, but because they are meant to fit somebody else. Imagine a camp of the size of a small Olympic village where, in order to arrive, boys and girls, men and women, grans and paps, babies and toddlers have competed in disciplines such as mountain jump, icy mountain river cross, desert-smugglers triathlon (stay en route to your main destination, don't get sold for slavery, stay fit to continue, despite being beaten and raped) be-not-the-one-push-off-the-dingy sea challange. And then, the trainers, oh, the trainers (see above, the ankle boots). There are no shoes that can stay put throughout the sea journey. At the bottom of Mare nostrum must lie a carpet of their shoes. Once the original shoes are lost, stage left comes the trainers of the younger/older brother/sister/friend. Ugly. Deformed from multiple users. Always damp from other people's sweat.
So you have the heads and the tails, and the tails and the heads of the designers’ inspiration dear de Moranista. Come Friday, here are the Humanitarian Lara Crofts raiding Paris, Rome, Athens, the fancy Mediterranean islands, jumping off their logo-ed vehicles straight from the nearby fields or camps, into the bars they drink and then drive off with whosoever is there to dare check on their Pussypurse content. This from left. While, from the other side, via the bus/train station on the right, the handsome young men come in from these same camps or fields; with heels hanging out of their fathers' trainers and their shanks stretching far out of their younger sister's sports bottoms. Wild, curious, attractive, a different type of power.
This is the source of 2018 fashion. It's war time fashion. It's fashion in the time of cholera. Whoever has been there, on the shores of Italy, on the beaches of Greece, between the tents of the jungle; left a piece of themselves there, on the rocks, on the sand, on the sea; and then brought back a little fashion habit, a Lifebelt, an ugly trainer, that they'll always carry around and never leave behind.
For this is never the case, my beloved de Moranista, that ‘good’ is inspired by ‘normal'. Let alone in fashion. Once more, fashion is inspired by powerful, strange muses. Goddesses and gods in flesh and blood walking this old wretched earth. Alien muses walking, this time, closer than ever to the designers' studios and catwalks.