The familiar jangling of jewellery is a standout sound of my childhood. Waiting to be picked up from school, I could always tell my mother’s approach by the way her bracelet clinked against her watch, her keys against her rings. Even now I often hear her before I see her; I’m so attuned to her sounds, my ears pick them up from metres away. It was the same with my grandmother, her mother: I remember hugging her hello and hearing her oversized paste necklaces — so wonderfully 1980s — chime as they bunched together.
Since she passed away in 2016, one of those necklaces is now mine. A long, faux-gold Chanel chain, designed to be wrapped twice (or even three times, depending on how Dynasty you’re feeling) around the neck, hung with clattering charms. When I wear it, I not only see my grandmother, I hear her too. I’ve been lucky enough to inherit a few of her things: a delicate ring that I wear every day, a little tan Gucci bag with a bamboo handle, and an Hermès silk scarf that is riotously printed with red flowers and golden swirls.
My mother, sister and I have always swapped clothes. We’re the same height and size, and roughly the same shoe size; moreover, we live within 20 minutes of each other in west London, so asking for a jacket here or pilfering a pair of jeans there is easy. When my sister stays over at home, she doesn’t bring a change of clothes with her — deliberately, I think — so that she can have her pick of our mother’s clothes the next day. Inheriting my grandmother’s clothes, however, has been a new experience.
Though I’ve borrowed from my mother and sister for as long as I can remember, this is the first time I’ve had things of my grandmother’s to call my own. Always immaculately dressed, fashion was incredibly important to her. She collected labels, styles and must-have pieces all her life. In photographs, I’ve seen her wearing 1940s tea dresses at 21 and immaculate 1960s suits (with white gloves, a matching bag and set hair) once she married. In life, I remember her in shoulder-pad jackets, bright twinsets, Ferragamo shoes (in a rainbow of colours, all adorned with a bow) and, of course, those necklaces. Above all, I remember the sense of fun with which she approached clothes and getting dressed. For the 23 years I knew her, she treated each day as an occasion and wore what she loved.
I think she has passed down this attitude along with her enviable wardrobe. My elder sister especially has inherited her fearlessness. At 26, she has her own favourites of our grandmother’s clothes, including a black feather-adorned velvet beret and a scarlet Catherine Walker blazer with huge gold buttons. She’ll wear these with her own market-stall finds, classics sneaked from our mother’s cupboard and the odd purchase from Asos. The strangest part? These outfits, styled with a similar love of clothes as my grandmother, always look right: just as perfectly put together as those 1960s suits.
My sister has always mixed clothes from every generation, and her style is very much that of another era — her inspiration is Keith Richards c1975. My own wardrobe, while not as wilfully bohemian, also incorporates a few pre-loved favourites: my mother’s Joseph trousers (worn to my interview at this magazine) and her simple black Bellville Sassoon dress, in the cupboard for the past 30 years and hopefully for another 30 yet. My mother and I are very similar — we get on very well and we’re always told we look alike — and we share a fairly classic style; my sister is more flamboyant, and takes after my grandmother in her love of fashion.
I’ve never quite had the confidence to mix old and new the way my sister does. I always used to be disappointed when, at a party, she would look amazing in a frilly white shirt from Portobello Road, while I’d be the girl in a Mango frock. Similarly, I’ve always been thrilled when she has wanted to borrow something of mine or when she tries to nick something from my cupboard — I know then it has her seal of approval. Recently, however, I’ve found that my eye for a £30 bargain hasn’t gone unappreciated. My mother who, at 60, has her finger on the fashion pulse as much as ever, has been badgering me to shop for her too. We never shop together: I find the hustle of markets too stressful, my sister gets bored easily and my mother says she finds the sheer choice in most high-street shops overwhelming. We’re much better going on our own and picking things out for each other.
I have a particularly keen eye when it comes to my mother. She’s delighted with what I’ve found for her — standouts are a frogging-adorned military jacket from Zara and a pair of wide-leg, faux-silk trousers printed with palm leaves. At the moment, she’s wearing a Topshop jumper, lilac (she’s telling me it’s “all the rage this season”) and pink, which she pairs with jeans and bright white Ash trainers. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised: she was the one who persuaded me to buy a Rockins skinny silk scarf, having borrowed my sister’s and fallen in love with it.
My family are proof that no piece of fashion has an age limit — it just depends on your personal style. My grandmother had a three-strand pearl necklace that she would wear to big parties; now, my mother, my sister and I each have a single string. I’ll wear it with a T-shirt and a khaki shirt, my sister will layer hers over a velvet jacket, and my mother will have hers poke out from under the collar of a navy jumper.
Sharing wardrobes is a real pleasure — even though it can be irritating when you want to keep something to yourself. As well as having access to clothes I’d never have the confidence or budget to buy myself, I also get to shop for three, rather than one, when I’m on one of my Zara hunts. I enjoy shopping for my mother and sister as much, if not more, than I do for myself; it’s always a thrill finding something I know they’ll love in a shop they’d never go to. This week I’ll wear that favourite long gold necklace to work with jeans and a utility shirt. Her old jewellery, worn to work on a fashion magazine? I think my grandmother would have loved that.