Lessons in Self Creation with Frida Kahlo

The second in the new “3 lessons in personal style” series will be Mexican artist and icon Carmen Magdalena Frida Kahlo y Calderón.

Frida Kahlo smoking with pre-Columbian statue
Frida Smoking, Gisèle Freund

Where to begin when discussing Frida Kahlo? Her’s is an image that we know so well. Her trademark dark braided hair decorated with bright flowers, her colourful blouses and long, flowing skirts, indigenous jewellery, her ribbons, her distinctive monobrow are all familiar to us. She herself even feels familiar. And everyone seems to want a piece of her.

She was well-known in life, but became iconic in death. Pop culture’s fixation on Frida commenced not long after she died, with the “second coming of Frida” beginning in 1983 with Hayden Herrera’s biography propelling her into the pop culture limelight. The 20th Century artist’s striking image has cast a long shadow over the fashion industry since then, with designers from Jean Paul Gaultier to Dolce & Gabbana taking inspiration from her, and Givenchy sending Frida-inspired dresses down the runway as late as 2010, 56 years after her death. 

Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo with monkey
Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo, 2002 Photographed by Annie Leibovitz

In 2002 Salma Hayek’s portrayal of Frida brought the artist to the big screen, right on queue. Only 2 years later a Pandora’s box of her personal belongings was opened and put on display at La Casa Azul, her home in Coyoacán. Her popularity may have reached it’s apex last June as some of the most famous and significant pieces of her wardrobe were put on display at the V&A in London, shown outside of Mexico for the first time in the hit exhibition Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up. Meanwhile, Designer Roland Mouret dedicated his Spring 2018 catwalk show to her and in March of the same year Mattel launched a Frida Barbie to mark International Women’s Day. There was even a Frida snapchat filter.

Yes, “Fridamania” is well and truly in the mainstream.

Frida Kahlo posing for full colour Vogue picture
Frida Kahlo on a bench, carbon print, 1938 Photo: © Nickolas Muray / Courtesy of The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of 20th Century Mexican Art / The Verge, Nickolas Muray Photo Archives

But isn’t all this appropriation and commodification, the Frida t-shirts, the Frida fridge magnets, the Frida vinyl bags and the plastic flower crowns, a distasteful encroachment on a woman who stood steadfastly against Capitalism? Is it not an insult to the very core of her identity? Maybe. But perhaps it does not have to be. 

Frida Kahlo holding up her shawl to catch the wind posing with large Mexican plant
Vogue, 1937

Jess Cartner-Morley, in an article for The Guardian, explores this idea. She quotes the curator of the V&A exhibition, Circe Henestrosa: “I’m not at all sure that fashion has glamourised or sanitised [Kahlo], I think she was incredibly glamorous and sophisticated already…Kahlo loved to shop for clothes, revelling in colour and fabric; she was always strikingly made up.” It is even said that she is “so intimately associated with the clothes she wore that staff at the Blue House in Mexico City, where her clothes are now displayed, have come to believe that the brocade skirts and embroidered shawls get heavier after dark, and to infer from this that her spirit comes back to possess them.”

Clothing and self-adornment were actually mediums through which Frida could express herself: her identity, her culture, her politics. She was very much, to quote the V&A, “making her self up.”If we treat her memory and her image with respect and understanding, if we take the time to learn about her life and the philosophy behind her look, if we don’t reduce her to a tacky t-shirt, a barbie doll or socks, then we can really learn a lot from her.

She used her aesthetic to take control of her own identity not just as a women but also as a painter, as a Mexican, as a bi-racial person, as a Marxist and as a person with disabilities. None of it was accidental. Every part of her image had a philosophy behind it. With this in mind, Frida Kahlo becomes all the more inspirational. She was truly original, truly inimitable but we can still learn from her some valuable lessons in self creation.


Here are 3 lessons in personal style from Frida Kahlo


1. Celebrate your roots

Roots painting by Frida Kahlo
Roots, 1943, Frida Kahlo

Frida was nothing if not a proud Mexican. While still at school she engaged deeply with Mexican culture, political activism and issues of social justice. Her school promoted the concept of indigenismo  “a new sense of Mexican identity that took pride in the country’s indigenous heritage and sought to rid itself of the colonial mindset of Europe as superior to Mexico.”

Her love for her country and her connection to its history and culture manifested in her appearance. Interestingly, Frida appeared to have this experimental, introspective approach to her clothing before she was even an artist. Photographs from her youth reveal that she was inventing her iconic self image from as a very young age. For example, in one family portrait of the Kahlo y Calderón family, Frida appears dressed in her father’s three-piece suit. Her defiant disregard for 20th Century gender expectation are not dissimilar those of another Weird Sisters style muse, Colette. But unlike her French novelist counterpart, men’s suits come early in her style evolution, to be replaced by traditional Mexican dress.

black and white family portrait of the Kahlo y Calderon family with Frida Kahlo far left dressed in men's three piece suit
Frida Kahlo (far left) in a family portrait, c. 1924

 By the 1920s Frida’s sisters and most young women in Mexico had their hair in the fashionable bobbed style and wore the contemporary waistless shifts. Meanwhile, Frida ignoring the trends of the time, was busy carving out a unique visual identity for herself with traditional long, centre-parted hair coiled up in ribbons and braids, and clothing inspired by her mother’s indigenous roots. In her early 20s, Frida started to wear a personalised version of traditional Tehuana dress: “full skirts, embroidered blouses and regal coiffure associated with a matriarchal society from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Oaxaca, Mexico”. It was a proud assertion of her ethnic and national identity.

Frida appeared to share her mother’s propensity for “dressing up” to reflect Mexico’s history and culture. Her husband Diego Rivera had been credited with encouraging her to wear traditional Mexican dress. However, images of  Frida’s family dressed in Oaxaca’s regional costume, and of her mother dressed as Adelita, a revolutionary heroine of Mexican lore, indicate that it was woven into her childhood, in her blood even.

Matilde Calderon dressed as Adelita
Frida Kahlo’s mother, Matilde Calderón y González Photographed circa 1897 by husband, Guillermo Kahlo
Frida Kahlo painting My Grandparents, My Parents and Me
Frida Kahlo, My Grandparents, My Parents and Me, 1936

Frida represented the duality of her nature, mixing European and Mexican styles to reflect her own unique heritage. Her father was of German and possibly Jewish-Hungarian descent, while her mother was of  indigenous Mexican and Spanish descent. Her refusal even to remove her striking facial hair, her monobrow and moustache, speak to her commitment to authentically representing her heritage. She appears to have inherited her characteristic monobrow from her paternal grandmother and wore this family trait like a badge of honour. Likewise, she wore vintage clothing before vintage was concept, borrowing from her mother and grandmother. She used her own image to demonstrate her allegiance to her roots and particularly to her home, Mexico.

Frida’s devotion to her homeland is particularly evident in her jewellery. She liked to wear pieces from Pre-Columbian Mexico, historic pieces handcrafted by native Central Americans. For her, it was about more than simple aesthetics, it was representative of centuries of cultural tradition. It was a political statement. To be sure, it was not in keeping with the fashions of the time, in fact Frida was often said to be the butt of jokes when she went out in public boldly wearing her traditional Mexican dresses and her flamboyant jewellery. But her image, complete with an extravagant traditional Mexican hairstyle, was not intended to fall in line with the fashionistas. It was a message, a black-lash against cultural whitewashing and the intrusion of Capitalistic fashions from Gringolandia.

Frida Kahlo self portrait along the boarder line between
Self Portrait Along the Boarder Line Between Mexico and the United States, 1932 by Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo self portrait with necklace
Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with a necklace, 1933

The necklace Frida wears here is speculated to have been made from jade beads, excavated from a Mayan archaeological site in the late 1920s. It seems that she acquired these beads and made them into a necklace for herself. She literally wore her country’s history around her neck.

This notion is so poignant. Even if you are not of Mexican descent, you can still take  inspiration from this idea. If you can acquire something that has meaning to you, something that represents your history and culture, it could be a historical coin, some beads, a religious figurine, an antique trinket, semi-precious stones native to your country, even a piece of carved wood. Have it made into a necklace or, better yet, make it into a necklace yourself. Coin necklaces in particular are very popular currently, a way of inconspicuously wearing your country’s history proudly around your own neck. Frida teaches us to look back on our history whether it be Mexican, Nigerian, Korean, Scottish, Sri Lankan or any combination and celebrate it in our image.

Frida Kahlo seated in photograph with pink flowers in her hair and a bright pink shawl
Frida Kahlo, c.1940, by Nickolas Muray


2. Wear what you believe in

Frida had been an avowed Marxist since her schooldays. She had even formed a group that put on plays, debated philosophy and discussed the Russian classics known as the Cachuchas (“the titled caps”), many of whom would go on to be some of the leading figures of the Mexican intellectual elite. Her ideology was woven into the very fibre of her being. She even claimed that the year she was born was the first year of the Mexican Revolution, 1910 (rather than 1907), so that she could claim to be a “daughter of the Revolution”. She joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1927 and was introduced to a circle of political activists and artists, including the exiled Cuban communist Julio Antonio Mella and the Italian proto-feminist photographer Tina Modotti. Her political ideologies were encouraged and reinforced by this group of intelligentsia and by her passionate relationship with Diego Rivera – a Communist to his core – whom she was introduced to at one of Tina Modotti’s parties 1928. She even hosted, and had a brief affair with, Leon Trotsky when he was seeking asylum in Mexico.

Mexican Nationalism and Socialism shaped Frida’s thinking. It was a hugely influential part of her life, which, as with every part of her identity, was revealed in her self image.

Frida Kahlo self portrait with red cap
Self portrait with Red Cap by Frida Kahlo (From the collection of Museo Dolores Olmedo), c.1925 by Frida Kahlo

Side note: Acknowledging’s Frida’s Communism makes the commercialisation of her image all the more bizarre. Last year Theresa May strangely thought it appropriate to wear a – pretty tasteless – plastic chunky bracelet that featured Frida’s face on all sides. Ironic given that, to quote Ayoola Solarin in her article for Dazed, ” austerity has led to a worse standard of living for disabled people, ethnic minorities, and women in the UK, so how the Conservative PM could think that her fashion moment was a good move is indicative of how far Kahlo’s appropriation has gone.”

All the more reason to wear what is symbolic of your actual beliefs, as Frida did. Her left-wing ideologies are observable not just in the traditional anti-colonialist Mexican dresses, but also in the Cachuchas’ red berets and her more modern and more masculine outfits.

black and white photograph of Frida Kahlo wearing a sombrero with Diego Rivera
Frida wearing a sombrero (Unknown photographer)
the Zapatistas with Emiliano Zapata at the Library of Congress Washington DC
Emiliano Zapata (seated, centre) with staff, c. 1912. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Frida’s uncharacteristically plain and masculine outfit, complete with sombrero, is reminiscent of those worn by the Zapatistas, headed by Emiliano Zapata, one of the leading figures of the Mexican Revolution and now considered a national hero. Her commitment to socialism was also displayed in her adoption of non-Mexican articles of clothing such as the Russian headscarf

Frida Kahlo at Communist protest with fist raised
Frida Kahlo protesting whilst wearing a Russian-esque headscarf (Unknown photographer)
20th century Russian communist poster
20th Century Russian poster (unknown artist)

Nevertheless, as Historian Alejandro Rosas asserts, “Mexicanness, socialism, and even certain touches of the Mexican Revolution were not Frida’s greatest source of inspiration. The origins of her creativity can be traced back to 1925, when the bus she was traveling home on one day was hit by a streetcar. Her fractured body filled her life with pain until the end of her days.”

black and white photo of Frida Kahlo painting the two Fridas
Frida painting The Two Fridas, 1939, by Nickolas Muary


3. Become your own art

Frida was often the subject of her own art, about a third of her paintings are self portraits in part due to the vast amounts of time she was forced to spend in solitude recovering. She famously said:

“I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”


“I am my own muse, I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to know better.”


Themes of pain, of being injured, fractured, mutilated are often present in her work. She had suffered from Polio as a child, which had made her right leg shorter and thinner than the left. Then, at the age of 18, she was involved in a violent bus accident that killed several people. Frida’s own injuries were near fatal, her ribs were fractured, both her legs and her collarbone broken and she was impailed through the pelvis with a handrail. The accident destroyed her dream of becoming a doctor, her ability to have children and left her with lifelong pain and immobility.

Frida Kahlo the broken column painting
The Broken Column, 1944 by Frida Kahlo

Despite all this pain, her clothing, her art and her appearance served as creative mediums through which she could express the pain and overcome the challenges of living with disabilities. The traditional blouses she wore, the loose skirts and the elaborate hairstyles served to demonstrate her dedication to indigenismo, but also to cover what lay beneath. In an article for the New York Times, Hettie Judah discusses the dual purpose of Frida’s wardrobe with curator at the V&A Claire Wilcox: “The last thing you’d be thinking of when you saw her were her disabilities. The flamboyance was distracting.” The boxy shape of her traditional huipil blouses could drop loosely over a back brace or plaster cast, while her long flouncy skirts could disguise her wasted leg and their motion helped to hide her limp. Frida used her clothing and her self image to conquer her disabilities and physical imperfections; “she masters them, she supersedes them, she transcends them.” She even used a cast, something so uncomfortable and so restrictive, something that made it difficult to breathe, as a vehicle for self expression. She literally wore her political allegiances, the Communist hammer and sickle, on her heart.

Frida Kahlo wearing a corset hand painted decorated with communist hammer and sickle
Frida Kahlo wearing a cast decorated with a hammer and sickle, c.1941 by Florence Arquin


Ultimately, the greatest lesson we can take from Frida Kahlo’s iconic image is how transformative the power of self creation truly is. We can learn from Frida to not let allow ourselves to be defined by or dictated to by anyone but ourselves. Instead we must ask: How do I want the world to see me? What story do I want to tell?


Frida Kahlo inspired fashion for the 21st century


Embroidered Blouses

embroidered Mexican blouse from Puebla state V


Frida Kahlo self portrait
Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait, 1929


The Mexican colonial style blouse (blusa or camisa in Spanish), inspired by the European chemise, is a staple of Frida’s wardrobe and perhaps the easiest way of paying homage to her through fashion. Beautiful, comfortable and very easy to wear in 2019. Due to their history, embroidered blouses are quite culturally ambiguous so you won’t look necessarily like you’re trying to wear a costume or imitate a certain culture.

white peasant blouse

M&Co., Petite Floral Embroidered Peasant Top, £13


Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 19.46.08

Shein, Floral Embroidered Blouse, £17.99


Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 19.19.47

M&Co., Floral Embroidered Peasant Blouse, £19.60
white embroidered peasant blouse

Shein, Flounce Sleeve Drawstring Knot Embroidered Blouse, £10.99


white cap sleeve

Shein, Frilled Neckline Puff Sleeve Fitted Top, £14.99


If you would like an authentic huipil blouse, you can find them online here. The blouses are ethically made, come in a range of colours and are hand embroidered in small villages throughout Central and Southern Mexico.

Alternatively, if you would like something totally unique, you can learn how to make your own; the V&A have published an article that explains how here. Having your own one-of-a-kind homemade blouse is very Frida.


The Velvet Dress

Frida Kahlo self portrait with velvet dress
Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress, 1926, Frida Kahlo

This wine coloured velvet dress is quite a rare look on Frida but it does showcase the diversity of her taste and the ways she liked to recreate and invent her own self image. The deep sensual red and provocative wrap style makes the dress as alluring now as it was in 1926.

dark red velvet maxi dress

Shein, High Split Velvet Wrap Dress, £22.99

If you’re looking for a more subtle nod to the dress in the painting, there is a similar dress available in black velvet at &Other Stories and a wine-red wrap mini dress available at ASOS.

black velvet maxi dress

&Other Stories, Velvet Midi Wrap Dress, £89

wine red mini wrap dress

ASOS, Wrap front tie waist dress, £11


Floor-length Skirts

Maxi skirts, another Frida staple, are also ubiquitous to most cultures and therefore easily adoptable to almost anyone for a comfortable and relaxed look.

Frida Kahlo painting Frida and Diego Rivera
Frida and Diego Rivera, 1931 by Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo with cigarette and white dress 1929, Photographed by Guillermo Davila
Frida Kahlo with cigarette and white dress 1929, Photographed by Guillermo Davila
white tiered maxi skirt
Roman, White Tiered Maxi Skirt, £25
purple lace maxi skirt
Doorway to Fashion, Cotton & Lace Maxi Skirt, from £13

(available in over 10 colours)

OCHENTA, Bohemian Maxi Skirt, from £16

(available in over 15 colours)


Marxist Headware

If you’re inclined towards the Left…

bright red wool beret

&Other Stories, Wool Beret, £23

(Available in the classic Communist colour of choice: red. But also in mustard yellow, powder blue, cream and black)

&Other Stories, Lightweight Scarves, from £35

In case you are wondering, yes I am aware of the irony of using Capitalist means to recommend Communist-inspired clothing. There’s no excuse I suppose, but most of us have got to buy our clothes somewhere.


The Rebozo

Frida Kahlo folding her arms gently
Frida Kahlo, 1939, Photographed by Nickolas Murray

The Rebozo (or shawl) was often worn by Frida. Shawls such as these, again, are common across the world from India to Ireland. But, as explained by the V&A, they hold particular significance in Mexico, having “evolved during the colonial period to become a symbol of womanhood and — after Independence — nationhood. Nineteenth-century paintings and lithographs show Mexican women of all social classes wearing rebozos.”

Pashminas and other tasseled scarves look very similar but are perhaps a more culturally sensitive option that still references Mexico’s heritage and to Frida Kahlo with respect.

Amazon, Soft Pashmina, £9.99


The 3 lessons in personal style Frida Kahlo teaches us:


1. Celebrate your roots

2. Wear what you believe in

3. Become your own art


“I am nothing but a “small damned” part of a revolutionary movement. Always revolutionary, never dead, never useless”

– from The Diary of Frida Kahlo


She was certainly right about that. Frida Kahlo’s legacy, her very own revolutionary movement, may never die. Until it does, Viva la Revolución.



*Images are not my own. No copyright infringement intended

Colette, the Original French It-Girl

First in the new “3 lessons in personal style” series, we’ll be taking a look at Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (better known simply as ‘Colette’).

Colette dressed as Cleopatra in Dream of Egypt

Keira Knightley’s dazzling performance as the proto-feminist fin-de-siècle author and performer Colette may spell a revived interest in her legendary personal style.

In Colette, we see the author’s novels, and particularly the mesmerising character of Claudine, take Paris by storm. Colette’s own life experiences did much to inspire her writing, so too, her formidable fashion sense influenced and inspired the women who read her novels. In the film there are mini Claudines seen dotted about Paris, all sporting a pseudo-demure school girl black dress with a white collar. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see a few Claudines roaming the streets of Paris, London or New York today. A more likely source of inspiration, though, may be the dreamy country girl dresses of Colette’s youth, or the chic ensembles and masculine suits she favours in her Paris years.

Costume designer Andrea Flesch’s incredible attention to detail and commitment to period authenticity lends an air of grace to the production. Flesch points out that Colette’s style choices mirror her own personal evolution, but equally importantly, the shifting fashions and public thought in society at the turn of the century. “This period changed quite often; the shapes changed every two or three years…It was a very interesting time in fashion, the 1890s-1910s.” Colette, however, had her own style. “She was as free [with clothes] as she was in everything.”

Colette’s legacy still looms large over Hollywood and fashion houses today. The legendary Paris boutique Colette (which closed only in 2017), of course, was named for her. Colette can even be credited with discovering Givenchy star and eventual fellow fashion icon Audrey Hepburn, having cast the virtually unknown actress in a theatre adaptation of her novel Gigi in 1951. Colette, and Wash Westmoreland’s cinematic representation of her, can still offer some valuable lessons to us in the 21st Century in terms of using fashion as a vehicle for our own self expression and self realisation. As Lauren Cochrane points out in her article for The Guardian, “Style isn’t a footnote of Colette’s legacy, it’s a central part of it. Sixty-five years after her death, her influence extends beyond your bookshelf, Instagram captions and cinema: Colette’s free spirit is inspiring our wardrobes, too.”


Here are 3 lessons in personal style from Colette to live by


1. Priortise comfort and personal style over trends

Colette wears what makes her feel comfortable. She dislikes the garish red dress that Willy bought her and is uncomfortable in a corset. So she doesn’t wear it. The decision to not wear a corset is actually ideologically significant. The corset in 18th and 19th century Europe was not simply something to wear to make the waist look smaller and the breasts look bigger, but a complicated and often contradictory symbol of culture and society. It was representative of both the sexuality and sensuality of the female form but also of virginal obedience and patriarchal control of women’s bodies. Society closely associated a tightly-laced waist with a tightly controlled mind. Usually women and pubescent girls were simply not allowed to opt out of wearing the corset. Colette’s rejection of the corset therefore is not just a mere fashion choice, its a rebellion against society itself and its expectations of her as a woman. 

Clothing should be about enjoyment and expression of personal style. It should be about you, what you like, what you think and what represents who you are. If other people don’t like it – and Parisian high society certainly didn’t – who cares? The people who have confidence in their own style and what they like to wear don’t follow the trends, they set them.



2. Don’t be afraid to experiment 

Sticking to clothes or a look that make you feel like you, shouldn’t mean a wardrobe and style that never changes. Your personal style should evolve with you, it should represent who you are at that point in time, even on that day. We see Colette evolve in the film from a self-proclaimed country girl hailing from rural Burgundy, to elegant Parisienne de la mode. Her style reflects that personal transformation. Things you cling to as a personal signature don’t actually have to be permanent. At the beginning of the film, Colette has extraordinarily long hair, which she claims she would “never” cut. But when she does, she inadvertently creates a look that becomes iconic and flies in the face of traditional expectations of femininity.

Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 15.45.44.png

3. Fearlessly be yourself

Fashion and style should be an outward expression of who you are on the inside. The most immediately apparent manifestation of this for Colette is in her mixing of masculine and feminine. Her clothes come to represent her sexual identity. Colette could probably be identified as bisexual or pansexual in today’s terms. In the film we see three overlapping romantic and sexual relationships, with Willy, then Belle and finally with Missy. At first her style is quite traditionally feminine with soft light colours, flowing fabrics and frills aplenty. Later, as she starts to explore her attraction to women and engages in an affair with Belle, her clothing starts to reflect a more nuanced version of herself that encompasses both masculine and feminine traits. 

This was Flesch’s vision for Colette. As she tells Vogue; rather than adhering to the binding, rigid fashion of  her peers, Colette creates her own signature style made up of  simple blouses, cravats, cropped jackets. “I made my costumes simple and chic, but a little tomboyish…This balance of masculine and feminine was exactly my aim with the costumes.” Colette gets even more radical later in the film, flouting gender norms with Missy as a gender-defying influence and source of inspiration, she gets even more daring with her fashion choices and wears a man’s three-piece suit. Like Missy, she wanted to break the rules, she wanted to shock. Despite this, Colette remains steadfastly her own person.




 Colette-inspired fashion for the 21st Century


The Country Girl


Keira Knightley as Colette writing at desk

Keira Knightley as Colette and Dominic West as Willy walk in the woods together in Colette


woman lounging on red velvet sofa wearing a frilly white blouse

Sézane, Jules Blouse, (€105)

Almost identical to the lacy high-neck blouses Colette has, but still chic and wearable.

The Claudine Dress

Keira Knightley as Colette in mirror wearing Claudine dress

navy bodycon dress with white collar and cuffs
Boohoo, Contrast Collar and Cuff Dress, (£12)
black a-line dress with contrasting white collar and cuffs
Amazon Fashion, FuturaLondon Women’s Skater Dress, (£14.99)
This dress, thankfully, no longer is associated with a school uniform. It’s probably a bit more ‘Wednesday Adams’ than ‘Catholic school girl’ but the sleek style and monochrome palate hasn’t lost its appeal.

The Boater Hat

Keira Knightley as Colette standing in park looking into the camera wearing straw boater hat
model smiling at camera wearing straw boater hat

ASOS, natural straw easy boater, (£12)

forever 21 straw boater hat with black band

Forever 21, Contrast-Trim Straw Boater Hat, (£12)

A straw boater has a sense of timeless sophistication that a baseball cap just can’t give you.

The Sailor Dress

Audrey Hepburn as Gigi

navy sailor nautical dress
Yes Style, Short-sleeved Sailor Dress, (£13.61)
The nautical dress was made iconic by Audrey Hepburn’s Gigi. It’s almost too cute. Almost. If you want to make a more subtle reference to the sailor look, blouses like these could provide a nod to the nautical theme, tucked into jeans or a mini skirt.



Yes Style, Sailor Elbow-Sleeve Top, (£15.88)


White Shirts and Blouses (worn with a dark cravat)


Screen Shot 2019-02-04 at 15.54.49


Yes style tie neck pleated blouse

Yes Style, Tie-Neck Pleated Blouse, (£14.37)
Sezane lady chiffon
Sézane, Lady shirt, (£90)



Shirt: Sézane, Pierre shirt (£80)

Black Necktie: Yes Style, Plain Ribbon Bow Tie (£4.72)

Blue Necktie: Yes Style, Ribbon Bow Tie (£5.25)

The contrasting monochrome colours are both simple and classic, feminine and masculine.



The Suit

Keira Knightley as Colette wearing men's three piece suit



Left, ASOS, Tailored Mix & Match Suit in Black, (from £45)

Right, Debenhams, The Collection – Grey pinstripe suit jacket (£24.50)

Wearing a suit in 2019 doesn’t have quite the same shock factor as it did in 1909 but it can still give you a sexy masculine edge.

grey herringbone blazer from &Other Stories


&Other Stories, Hourglass Herringbone Blazer, (£80)


Black women's suit trousers fro UNIQLO

UNIQLO, Women Satin Smart Ankle Length Trousers, (£24.90)

Incorporating individual tailored pieces such as a sharp blazer with jeans, or suit trousers with a casual T-shirt is an understated way of elevating an outfit.


Colette sitting on a chair in man's three piece suit smoking a cigarette

 Lessons in personal style we can learn from Colette


1. Prioritise comfort and personal style over trends

2. Don’t be afraid to experiment

3. Fearlessly be yourself

And a bonus: 4. “Don’t ever wear artistic jewelry; it wrecks a woman’s reputation.”


Even rule-breakers have rules.




*Images are not my own. All images were sourced from the websites mentioned or stills from Colette,  Lionsgate, 2018. No copyright infringement intended.

Dissecting Sexuality and Gender in Netflix’s Sex Education

Warning: Spoilers

So I finished watching Sex Education last night. I was late to the party but made up for it by binging all 8 episodes on Netflix in 2 days.

There was a lot to praise about the show. It could have so easily become a simple, trashy lame excuse for soft porn, but as it turns out, it achieved a lot more. Undeniably, and unsurprisingly, there was a lot of sex. But Sex Education still managed to keep the fine balance between cute, funny and sexy.

Aimee sitting seductively on Adam's bed

An even more impressive feat was tackling issues like homophobia, transphobia, feminism, abortion and class without coming across preachy or pandering. To be sure, that’s a lot of wokeness to cover in 8 hours but the show is subtle in it’s treatment of the problems its characters face. Lessons in building healthy relationships and consent are succinctly woven in, often in simple one-liners such as “You can’t choose who you’re attracted to” and “No means no” that flow effortlessly into the story, never feeling condescending or jammed-in to make sure they covered their bases.

Sex Education also avoids many pit falls that most of its sexed-up teen comedy-drama predecessors fell foul of. The characters are largely free of tired stereotypes and are all granted demonstrable complexity. The whole Otis-Maeve-Jackson love triangle appeared at first to be following a familiar old trope. It goes like this: nerdy but sweet ‘deep’ guy (Otis), falls in love with beautiful, neurotic girl (Maeve), but she’s with the archetypal ‘jock’ popular kid (Jackson). This is something we’ve seen over and over and over again. But this time, Otis doesn’t get the girl in the end (not yet, at least) nor does he believe he is fundamentally entitled to her. Maeve isn’t the done-to-death manic pixie dream girl that serves as a cure to Otis’ problems, she’s a driven character with goals and problems of her own to overcome. Jackson too is a multi-dimensional, loveable and sympathetic character. You could easily be rooting for him just as much as you root for Otis; they are not simply pitted against each other, the good guy and the bad guy- the guy she should be with and the guy who’s got her. There are jealousies, mixed emotions and nuances. Everything doesn’t just revolve around Otis.

Screen Shot 2019-02-03 at 19.13.57

Sex Education acknowledges and reflects the realities of love, sex and dating, using the “sex clinic” as a vehicle to explore the highs and lows young people experience as they reach sexual maturity. Unlike so many teen shows it reminds us that sex isn’t always…sexy. Sometimes you vomit while you’re giving a blowjob, sometimes you can’t ejaculate and sometimes you have to ask your partner to go and get your Mum. The show charmingly demonstrates that though sexual blunders are embarrassing, they’re normal, they happen to everyone and it is not the end of the world if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing.

The show also thankfully avoids stereotyping young men as singleminded, sex crazed creeps, and young women as judgemental, bitchy and sex averse. Lily, for one, point-blank propositions her male peers for sex. Maeve is a particularly indispensable character for a femme millennial audience. Not necessarily even likeable, definitely not soft or kind, she is unapologetic, pragmatic and smart. Her reaction to discovering that she is pregnant whilst at a house party is somewhat surprising, though very well-handled. There’s no crying, no hysterics. Maeve is a 17-year-old having to support herself whilst trying to achieve her potential at school, she is in no doubt as to what is the right decision for her. Equally, the abortion scene is sensitive without being sensational and totally medically accurate. It is not, however, dealt with heartlessly, the gravity of the situation and pre-op anxiety are palpable, but at the same time, it is not a scene wracked with shame or doubt.

Maeve is strong. She’s socially ostracised, relentlessly bullied and slut-shamed, nicknamed “cock biter” and though it’s clear that it hurts, she never comes across as a victim. She’s a fighter. She, frankly, has bigger fish to fry than making her classmates like her and she works hard to remain afloat under financial and academic pressure, whilst juggling a drug dealing brother, a new relationship and friendships. Maeve is the pivotal voice of the show’s overt feminist message. Her assertion of her own intellectual ability: “I’m really smart.” is imperative. She does not water it down. She does not say “I work really hard” or “I think I’m quite smart”, she knows she is smart and that she deserves the opportunity to reach her potential.

Maeve angrily facing up to heckler

The show also does a good job of representing a healthy attitude towards women and relationships in young men. Otis and Jackson represent the very antithesis of toxic and fragile masculinities. We often see Otis making the case for feminism. Particularly note-worthy is his exasperated outburst while Jackson is changing for swim practise “She’s not an object! You keep describing her as inanimate objects, but she is a person.” Otis points this out in a male locker room, symbolic of course of ‘locker room talk’ and it’s traditional function as an exclusively male space where women are discussed in often degrading terms. He further solidifies his role as an ally to women in his dealing with Liam and his romantic obsession with Lizzie. He is sympathetic to Liam’s unrequited attraction, “Sometimes the people we like don’t like us back, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” But sympathy does not come at the expense of the woman’s right to say no; “I know it’s hard but if you’ve asked her and she’s said no, then I think you’ve got your answer.” This is significant in a world that so often encourages young men to ‘never give up, never stop trying to get the woman of your dreams.’ Teen rom-coms as a genre are particularly guilty of encouraging young men to persevere, to make the “grand gesture”, even when they’ve been refused on multiple occasions. Sex Education turns this Hollywood norm on its head, conveying how ludicrous it truly is in a valuable lesson about respect and consent. Notably, Otis’ defence of women is almost always when they’re not there to defend themselves.

Otis smiling whilst at school prom

The women of Sex Education are not damsels in distress, they are on the front lines, defending themselves. Maeve, for example, fends for herself in episode 1 when some moron keeps heckling her with objectifying banalities such as “Nice rack, Wiley” she proceeds to kick him in the groin. Jackson is there and as we find out he is attracted to Maeve and it is clear that he disapproves of his classmate’s harassing comments from his facial expression. He could play the hero, he could jump to her defence. But he doesn’t, he steps back and allows her to handle it herself. When she has left, he tells his peer that he deserves what he got. Remarkably, Jackson is never possessive or controlling towards Maeve, even when he suspects she has feelings for Otis. There is never a big show of aggressive testosterone-fuelled rage. There is never a “you’re my woman and I own you” moment. Jackson is in fact much more emotionally vulnerable than most romantic male leads. As Sophia Benoit points out, “the guys who are unsuccessful on the show have one thing in common: they’re deeply isolated and closed-off emotionally”. Adam is a prime example of this. His lack of confidence in himself, emotionally abusive father and inability to communicate his wants and needs effectively have transformed him into a bully. He becomes isolated and dejected, having seemingly no one to turn to, and takes out his frustrations on Eric. The message is clear: communication and openness is key to healthy relationships (whether sexual or otherwise).

Adam in abandoned bathroom looking dejected

Despite all this, the school is hardly a feminist utopia of gender equality and sex positivity. As aforementioned, there is bullying, harassment and plenty of slut-shaming. Most significant may be the revenge porn incident in episode 6. Popular mean girl Ruby is betrayed when a picture of her vagina is leaked to the whole school. It transpires that Ruby’s supposed best friend Olivia was intending to shame Ruby publicly as a punishment for her cruelty. This episode, however, is surprisingly significant – counterintuitively – in terms of providing examples of girls protecting other girls. In spite of Ruby’s appalling treatment of her, Maeve is determined to find out who leaked the explicit photo and to prevent Ruby’s public humiliation; “This kind of thing sticks. And it hurts, and no one deserves to be shamed, not even Ruby.” The salient point here is a valuable one. Even though you may not like someone personally, your fundamental values have to be the same. You have to be on their side in a case of injustice, Otis and Maeve acknowledge that everyone deserves the same rights to dignity and privacy whether they like them or not. Significant too is the potentially iconic “it’s my vagina” scene. When students start suspecting that the pornographic image is of Ruby, Olivia attempts to take the hit, she stands up in assembly and claims that the picture is of herself. There is then a Spartacus-esque example of solidarity, with most female students and Jackson standing up and proclaiming that the vagina in question is their’s.

Perhaps the most interesting character arch, though, is Eric’s. Again, on the surface it appears as if we are confronting another worn-out stereotype: the gay best friend (only this time, the male lead’s side-kick). But where rom-coms and chick-flicks have failed, Sex Education succeeds in dealing with gay men as actual multi-dimensional people, with real emotions and facing very real problems. Eric is a departure from Sex and the City’s Stanford and Mean Girls’ Damien. He encompasses everything that was right with those characters inasmuch he is hilarious, witty, and stylish. However, what is crucially different in Sex Education is that we actually witness some of the painful realities of growing up gay. The show also briefly touches on some trans issues, though, it should be noted that there are no trans characters featured. Eric and Otis both dress in women’s clothing and wear makeup for an outing on Eric’s birthday. One unfortunate situation leads to another, and Eric ends up walking home alone at night.

A violent experience ensues, in which Eric is verbally and physically abused and his assailants spit on and humiliate him. It is a chilling and all too realistic account of the dangers that face trans and queer people. The encounter sees Eric temporarily lose a part of his identity, his confidence is shattered, immediately after he abandons his outlandish neon outfits in favour of a muted khaki hoodie and loose jeans. He also loses his ability to brush off his peers’ cutting insults and punches Anwar, “the only other gay in school” in the face. This could be more poignant than simply giving a bully some payback for all the hurt he’s caused, it is perhaps a metaphor for Eric’s struggle with, and attack on his own queerness in the wake of his own assault.

Eric having an emotional conversation with his father whilst sitting in their car

Eric reasserts his sense of self in two unexpected places. First, he encounters a man trying to find his way to a wedding. This stranger wears a flamboyant patterned gold blazer, electric blue eyeshadow and “fierce” blue nail polish. The exchange seems to inspire a resurge of confidence in Eric and demonstrates an unapologetic form of black gay manhood, one in which a person express their identity as they choose. Later, Eric joins his family at church and there, perhaps most surprisingly, he regains his self. Organised religion is rarely a healing force in LGBT+ stories. It is seldom even explored other than as an obstacle representing fundamentalist and traditionalist values that usually serve to oppress and shame queer people. Here, however, is a refreshing reminder that things do not necessarily have to be that way. The church scene strips the Christian message back to its very core, what this means to Eric and maybe to all LGBT+ people could be momentous:

“Jesus loves! His love is greater than fear. His love is stronger than uncertainty. His love is deeper than hate. Jesus said: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Yourself. Yourself. Love starts here. We must all learn to love ourselves before we truly love others. Who are you to not love yourself?”

The pastor embraces Eric, “You are welcome any time. This is your family.” Contrary to the painful, though oftentimes accurate, portrayal of religion as a primary source of self-loathing and oppression in a gay person’s life, Eric is not dismissed or disdained, he is uplifted. It may be true that this scene is more about community and Eric’s reconciling his identity as a gay black man, than it is about religion in essence. But it is a commendable effort in beginning to harmonise seemingly disparate aspects of identity, that many queer people from religious backgrounds can struggle with.

Race is actually one of the most under-explored concepts in Sex Education. However, relatable, finely-drawn characters such as Jackson, Ola and (principally) Eric may stand as testament to the show’s commitment to portraying underrepresented groups. There is, however, a particularly beautiful sequence that explores the immigrant experience in Britain. When Eric gets dressed up for the school dance in an unapologetically African, unapologetically gay outfit with glittering makeup, a colourful suit and a traditional West African Gele (head tie), it unclear how is his conservative Ghanian-Nigerian family will react. His appearance is met with cliff-hanging silence, which is then broken by his father: “Wait. I’ll drive you.” Eric’s father gives him a lift to the dance but appears to lose his nerve as Eric approaches the school. At this point, the oft alluded to rift between first and second generation immigrants is explored. It becomes clear that Eric’s father is a good man, his fear is informed by his own experiences and his own struggle to acclimatise to a new culture and country. He knows how much he had to change, to fit in and he fears for Eric. It is an honest fear, not a prejudiced homophobia, coming from a place of love and concern. He wants to protect his son from a world that he knows can be harsh on difference.

Eric in drag wearing leopard print dress, purple eyeshadow and yellow earrings

This is, no doubt, a very common fear amongst the parents of LGBT+ kids. No matter how accepting you may be of your child’s orientation, it can be difficult to shake the fear that they will be discriminated against, abused or worse. This fear is dealt with sympathetically, Eric’s father is given a chance to articulate his fears and his understandable urge to protect his son. But ultimately Eric is able to convey to his father that fear does not help him and suppressing the way he expresses his identity is not the answer. Eric tells his father “this is me.” He represents a generation of immigrants that refuse to change who they are to fit in. Eric clearly gets through to his father and a mutual respect and understanding is reached. “Maybe I am learning from my brave son.”

Indeed, there is a lot to be learned from this show. Sex Education is very much a product of its time. It speaks to and for a generation where feminism is mainstream, as is the call for sexual and racial diversity, representation and sex positivity. Ncuti Gatwa (Eric) affirms the show’s positive influence, telling The Sunday Times, “I’ve had so many DMs and messages from people saying that Eric has inspired them to be what they want to be. He presents masculinity in ways we’ve not seen before.” Emma Mackey (Maeve) concurs, “This show is quite revolutionary and political in its own right, and I think it could have a big effect on young women and men.” The show’s impact on its audience and on other film and television could be radical, it could even be revolutionary. Sex Education has set itself a high bar, it will be interesting to see where the show takes us next.



Sex Education is available to watch now on Netflix. Season 2 is set to be aired in Spring 2019

*Images are not my own. Copyright: Netflix, 2019


%d bloggers like this: