Vintage denim shorts

On finding clothes to wear in the summer - vintage denim jeans, capsule wardrobes and modest fashion and trying to figure it all out. More on my blog, Our Story Time ourstorytime.co.uk

I used to dread summer because I never knew what to wear. I never had anything to wear.

My mother was strict about making sure my clothing covered me. She tugged at tees that rode up my back, disapproved of sleeves too short. This stuck with me even when I was grown and lived alone and could, in theory, have worn whatever I wanted to. I have always loved fashion (indeed, my nickname at one time was simply, Fashion) and I have always loved to shop for clothes. But browsing through rails of light camisoles and soft cool dresses every spring, every summer, I felt stung that I could not wear any of these things because of my upbringing, my religion, my culture. I wish I could say it did not matter to me, I wish I could say I was above and beyond it, that I was less materialistic, more spiritual and obedient, but it did matter. It mattered greatly to me. I resented the rules, especially when my brothers got to lounge around in shorts all summer long.

Later I remember envying the lightness of the summer wardrobes of other women I used to see, breezy in sandals and floaty florals and bare legs even in the office. So pretty, I used to think. Not like me. I imagined people were looking at me, laughing at me, still in my sweaty thick jeans with half an exposed forearm the extent of my summer style. I disliked summer for the way it limited me. Summer did not suit me at all.

But it's different now. I don’t need to dress to work in an office anymore and in more recent years I’ve had fun buying clothes I love, curating a simple summer wardrobe of soft fabrics that keep me feeling light at this time of year. Though I don’t necessarily seek it out, the term “modest fashion” has become a keyword, a trend. There are more choices now for women and girls who wish to stay covered yet cool than there ever were when I was younger, when I desperately wanted to fit in.

***

Last summer I bought myself a pair of vintage denim shorts. My first shorts. Sweet in shade, like light forget-me-nots. They are soft, worn-in and slightly frayed.

It felt thrilling to purchase them, as though I was breaking the rules because, I suppose, I sort of was. It sounds absurd for I am a woman - an adult, a mother. I should be able to choose what I want to wear but it is hard to shake the way one is raised, especially when it comes from a place of belief. It is hard not to remember being scolded for wearing this or that. If ever a girl was described in our circle of family friends as “wearing sleeveless” it was meant as a slur. They meant: she was too modern, too independent, not modest or marriageable enough. “She wears sleeveless,” was something I knew I was not supposed to let people say about me.

There is a lot to unpick here, I imagine a therapist might say.

When I was a journalist, I wrote often about various subjects relating to various Muslim women and was often asked to comment by others on the hijab, the jilbab or the burqa because Muslim women were and still are so often reduced to the sum of what they wear by the press. I have written strongly and in national publications about why I don’t think any of these items of clothing should be banned, not because I have ever worn them but because I don’t believe anyone has the right to tell anyone else what they should or should not wear, nor judge them morally for it.

You should wear what you want to wear. It is that simple.

So I wear my shorts on those hot, hot London days when the heat is dry and the sunlight plays patterns through the trees, still only in the privacy of my home and garden. Somedays I feel my heart thump when I imagine what my mother might say (for the record, we get along well), or what those people I grew up with might say if they could see me - because when you grow up as a girl with Pakistani parents in England, it is always about what other people might say.

But that feeling quickly vanishes because I remember that I have choices and then I feel good. I remember that the clothes I wear, just like the clothes anyone else chooses to wear, do not make me immoral alone, no matter what the naysayers may think (the very same naysayers, I might, who forget that it is not their place to judge in anycase). I remember that I feel like me. Also, I don’t feel quite so hot and sticky. It is also that simple.

***

(So I wear my shorts in the garden. It is growing now. We water it together. We watch it grow.

To one side grows the honeysuckle, voluptuous and heavy. I had hoped it would twine along the trestle neatly and I had tried in vain to twist it this way and that into place but it still falls forward, uncomplying. Now I let them trail whichever way they like, their tendrils twisting like messy braids. I have learnt to let them follow their own ways.)

Did you know you can still buy and download Postcards Home, my summer writing course? It’s available to purchase until the end of August, to print off or upload onto your device and take with you on holiday. For summer writing inspiration, read more about my summer writing course.

A kitchen without a window

open kitchen shelves kitchen styling shelf styling ourstorytime.co.uk

I wish I had a kitchen window.

I’d do the dishes and they wouldn’t even feel like a chore with the sun slanting in. I’d keep one eye on the kids up to mischief in the garden, instead of half-dreading what sort of mud-filled situation I might find them in once I emerge from where the kitchen is, down in the basement. If I had that window, I’d sure as rain take my time, sip my tea, maybe even water a planter of herbs that might sit there right on my sill, alive, in the glory that is natural daylight.

Alas; I do not have a kitchen window.

I have an off-kilter skylight which filters light cleverly down the stairwell and just about spreads it into our below-ground basement kitchen but it’s not at all the same. Kitchen windows seem to be a curse that follows me around. One time, when I lived alone in, my kitchen was literally an alcove (no window here either). As newlyweds, we did indeed acquire a kitchen window only this one looked out over the ugly construction sites of King’s Cross (one of the first things I did, then, was to put up window film).

I have written about our small, 70 square foot kitchen before mostly because it is both curiously and delightfully different (a little rabbit’s hole of a space below stairs) but also because it is a challenge to me most days. There are steep, angular stairs to brave, while carrying trays laden with little people’s dinners up to our dining table. There’s the problem of our incredibly tiny fridge which at full capacity, has strawberries and blueberries rolling right out of it like overflowing marbles. There’s the larder, into which you have to side-step to see anything at all. It’s a tricksy little space.

I have learnt, however, that while it is a pleasant distraction, there is little purpose in daydreaming about bigger, light-filled kitchen spaces as seen in magazines or moodboarded all over the place. So instead, I turn to like-for-like and look for practical ways to make the most of our dark little space. I find this way of thinking immensely useful; it serves to make the most of what we have instead of hankering over something imaginary. It’s a way of thinking that may even extend beyond comparing kitchens. I am reminded that while our kitchen is tiny, it somehow has just the right space for what we need. This too, a note to self: more only begets more.

My kitchen does not let me down aesthetically. A scheme of white, wood and little flashes of copper, it is to my taste for we were fortunate enough to replace it when we first moved in. But there were a few little things I had not thought of yet and would like to include, the most pleasing of all being the idea of adding a mirror into this windowless room. A mirror, in a kitchen; I sort of like the exuberance of it.

It helps that I have just the thing already; a bevelled, angular mirror hanging from a chain which we bought as newly-weds from a vintage market in Camden Passage. This mirror has been passed around from room to room, but had not yet found a place in our home. It is one of the few pieces that I have kept, wrapped up carefully in my wardrobe, wishing I wouldn’t have to let it go. It makes sense to me, now, to hang it in the kitchen and I only wonder why I never thought of it before.

Also in the spirit of an on-going spring clean, I am finding small and simple ways to freshen the kitchen up. A basket of bright tough-skinned lemons sits atop the counter, to descale the kettle and scrub the sink (and also, for this sort of thing). A few drops of eucalyptus oil clear out the drain. We’ve been juicing big, fat oranges rather a lot lately, and that sweet smell alone brings the sunshine in. Elsewhere, a dredger of baking soda and lavender oil keeps our fridge fresh. Last summer, while on holiday in a sleepy village on the Danish coast, I brought home kitchen linens from an architect’s home-turned-museum at the bottom of our lane and I hope to add a few more too to this collection, the sort I would not mind to fold over the oven door (which also reminds me, it’s been four years since we’ve lived here and we still don’t have oven gloves). A few rounds of clumsiness and several broken mugs and plates later, there are gaps in our crockery that shall slowly be refilled. These are on my mind.

With all of this to think about, I suppose that I should count myself lucky, then, that I don’t even have a water-stained window behind the sink demanding, of all things, to be cleaned.

ps it perhaps goes without saying that the photo up above of our nook of kitchen shelves is completely un-styled. The motley crew of our everyday.

Elsewhere:

On Spring Cleaning

A dream kitchen nevertheless

Speckled plates

Flecked cups

How I maintain a calm and tidy home with children

How I maintain a calm and tidy home with children

There's a magical moment that comes every day, around 7pm, when all my children are in bed and I step down the hallway, alone for the first time since morning, and tread lightly down the stairs so as not to stir any little boys that are not yet in a deep sleep. I pass into our lounge and there I sit in silence, waiting to make sure they are asleep, listening for shuffles and mumbles and those little sighs. While I wait, evening shadows pass like clouds over the wall and the sky shifts across the skylight, the light softer and gentler now. 

The last thing I want to do in this magical moment is be on my hands and knees, picking up building blocks and tidying toys away. And so in a roundabout way, I don't, because I've taken steps to keep that at bay.

After years of neglecting my own well-being for the sake of bylines and deadlines, I have come to value clarity and calmness and being kinder to myself. This is what I want our home to feel like - calm, uncluttered, loving and warm - and I try to infuse these feelings into our home because as a family, an immediate sense of calm grounds us and helps us be kinder to each other too.