By Francine Cunningham
Walk down any shopping street in Paris or Brussels and you will spot scores of women wearing the standard female uniform – a trench coat with a Longchamp bag slung over the shoulder or carried in the crook of the arm. Stroll through the streets of Dublin and you will see this uniform is ubiquitous – a zip-up anorak, fleece and rucksack. While their continental cousins run around town in feminine T-strap pumps and Mary Janes with modest, but obligatory, heels, Irish women sport chunky work boots and trainers.
Don’t get me wrong: Irish women can look as stunning and sophisticated as any in Europe when they dress up to go out for a special dinner, or event. Then they will make an even greater effort than their French or Belgian peers, sometimes spending almost all of their clothes budget on a particularly lavish outfit, with sky-high heels and shimmering accessories. Yet the average, everyday wardrobe of the Irish woman strikes me as so much more robust and utilitarian than that of their continental equivalents.
My taste in clothes and fashion has inevitably evolved over two decades spent living and working abroad. I hadn’t realised by just how much, until I tried to go shopping for the first time since returning to Dublin. After a couple of fruitless hours spent wandering around the packed Dundrum shopping centre in south Dublin, I declared to my sister there were no good shops there. Quite rightly, she pointed out that Dundrum shopping centre is crammed full of clothes shops. Only then it dawned on me: it was not any lack of retail outlets that was the problem, it was just that the clothes on offer were so different in style and substance from those I was used to browsing in the shopping boulevards of Paris and Brussels.
In Paris or Brussels, few women would don a track suit to go anywhere beyond the short trip from home to gym. In Dublin, women wear sweatpants and sweatshirts to go for walks, do the weekly shopping or meet up with friends.
Now that I’ve got one ballerina-clad foot back in Dublin, I’m staying firmly with the trench coat and handbag brigade. It’s hard to change the habits of a professional lifetime spent abroad. Nevertheless, I have decided to adapt, just a little, to the practical realities of life on this rainswept island.
Yes, I finally ordered a track suit online. I’ve worn my admittedly comfy, black fleece-lined track suit for a couple of lazy weekend breakfasts at home. I’ve even put out the bins and answered the door wearing it. Just this morning, I ventured out for the first time to the bakery in my track suit; but walking quickly and wearing a face mask.