4 weeks ago

A Reader Writes on Fashion: How Neoprene Found A Place In My Wardrobe

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Like many people, my work wardrobe has changed dramatically over the last six months. Pre-Covid, versatility was key as outfits needed to transition from morning presentations to daily meetings to hosting clients in the evening.

I mostly opted for tailored or wrap dresses in natural materials, something comfortable that allowed me to breathe. One of the challenges was trying to rotate outfits and avoid being seen in the same dress over and over. Bulk shopping in sales and mixing high street with a few quality pieces was my modus operandi.

Since I began working from home, formal and tailored dresses have been moved to the back of my wardrobe. A lot of my work clothes are now redundant. Pretty but professional-looking tops have taken over. I judge outfits based on Zoom compatibility.

The transition hasn’t all gone smoothly. My wardrobe re-organisation has resulted in the embarrassing discovery of multiple Breton tops. My shelves have more stripes than a circus tent!

On the plus side, I have diligently avoided leggings or anything with an elasticated waistband. The only thing keeping me from the larder mid-afternoon is the very strained top button of my jeans.

Another unexpected addition to my capsule collection is neoprene. During lockdown, I was dizzy walking in two-kilometre circles. On the outermost boundary of my allowed perimeter was the sea. I am a useless swimmer, so although I love the view I rarely ventured into the water. But the combination of increased time and reduced activity options meant I took the plunge.

In the bottom of an old rucksack was a shortie wetsuit I had used while learning to scubadive in Asia. The fit was unsurprisingly snugger, but the zip went up and thankfully the material didn’t disintegrate on contact with water.

The first few forays were short and sharp. A great deal more time was spent trying to warm up in the shower after my swim, than was spent in the actual sea. After a few weeks, I found myself structuring my day around high tide, getting up a bit earlier for a morning bathe, a quick dip at lunchtime or a more relaxed evening lounge in the water.

My new pastime is far from unique. A bevy of virgin swimmers has taken to the water. There is now a rush-hour for cars and parking at high tide. Seaside dress codes vary from serious athlete, in full wetsuit with personal safety buoy, to teenager in thong bikini. Regulars wander around in dressing gowns while newbies sport pristine DryRobes. Ultimately, we all look the same when bobbing about in the water. The sea is a great fashion leveller.

Although I’d love to say that my swimming has improved it would be a lie. Instead I’ve learnt to appreciate the quality of moments and moments of quality. I no longer have to battle daily commutes or late night finishes, instead I can just float.

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