A fair assumption to make is that your thoughts don’t often turn to sartorial matters when you visit your granny for tea. Digestive biscuits and doilies don’t immediately call Gucci’s Spring/Summer ‘19 Collection to mind, but bear with me on this: without even realizing it, grandmothers across the nation are claiming our wardrobes, one crochet cardigan at a time.
And I don’t even mean this metaphorically. The last time I stayed with my granny, after being told to put on some weight and find myself a nice boyfriend, I found myself in her back room, flicking through her old knitting patterns – no mean feat considering Caít has been knitting for her children, their spouses, nieces, nephews and grandchildren consistently for well over fifty years. She firmly believes that ‘I love you’ can be said through a hand-knitted jumper. She’s done a good job of passing her enthusiasm on too: family Christmas involves my mum, granny, her sisters and I sitting in the front room knitting together. A dysfunctional modern rendering of a Victorian domestic scene: generations united in red hair and a fondness for low-wool-percentage yarn. Granny never throws her old patterns away, so in her big gold box I found instructions for 70s tank tops that she’d made for my Grandad, stripy lurex sweater dresses my mum wore in the 80s, and the 90s fisherman’s jumper she gave to my dad, just after he asked my mum to marry him.
But knit is a staple – whether it’s a comfy wool blend, or metallic chain link. Whether you’re fifty or seventy or seventeen, I bet you have some knit hanging in your wardrobe. Knitting may be in part a metonym for a life in which women got married at 20, had 3 kids in 2 years and then duly worked as a nurse, a barmaid, and at Stan’s newsagents down the road. As the generations passed, the love passed on through a pair of baby booties came not from a place of financial need, but simply a hobby. The beauty is that we can still use this as a cheaper way of copying catwalk favourites: since Alessandro Michele took the helm as creative director at Gucci in 2015, granny-inspired knits, garish silk-scarf prints, brooches, gold jewellery and loud florals have taken centre stage in haute collections. It is as relevant as ever. And student budgets can hardly stretch to the £85 starting point for a pair of black tights at Gucci, so why not knit your own high-fashion lurid 80s sweater? Fun to make, fun to annoy your friends by telling them you made it yourself every 5 minutes, and fun to pretend you’re Joan Collins. Win-win-extrawin.
So, if you’re lucky enough to have an Irish matriarch of a grandmother who taught you to knit at age six, you’re set for the season. If not, I will happily teach you. But you only have to look around, not even to high fashion, but to the mainstays of mom jeans, scrunchies and puffer jackets to see how vintage is becoming the current. We’re establishing, corduroy trouser by Fila jacket, a dialogue with our past that is so much more than a good Instagram photo: in the most accessible way possible, we’re connecting to our social history. A piece of clothing is so much more than the fibres it’s made of: it’s a memory in someone’s life, whether you know them or not. And it looks pretty cool too.