Before I headed to Ireland this time, I had sympathetic conversations with quite a few Australians. “It’s going to be so cold over there.” “Well, yes, it is wintertime.” “And wet and rainy.” “I would expect so. It’s a cool temperate maritime climate, after all.” ” Ooh maybe you should buy some of those colourful gumboots with flowers on them for the rain, and pack a few beanies.” “Actually, no self-respecting Irishwoman would be seen dead in public wearing either of those fashion items, unless she was at Glastonbury.”
Mainland Australians, generally, don’t do cold weather very well. I exclude Tasmania, of course: those people know how to rug up and still look stylish. I once spoke to a girl from Perth who had struggled on for two years after she arrived in Melbourne, before realising she actually needed a different winter wardrobe. She had spent two winters wearing thongs (flip flops to you northern hemisphere types) and shivering in a light cardigan before noticing that she really ought to be wearing knee-high boots and a decent woollen overcoat from June to September. Melburnians are a mixed bunch. You will see women going to work wearing sensible footwear and a long coat, but so often you will also see women shivering on the street, walking to work with bare legs and a scarf around their necks, like that is going to protect them from the bitter winter temperatures.
Irish women are entirely more sensible without losing their individual sense of style. Irish autumn, winter and spring can be miserably cold if you are not dressed for the weather, so people do. Your average stylish Irishwoman has a selection of winter coats (my sister Annette remarked yesterday that she needs another overcoat like a hole in the head. She has about six). The average Irishwoman also has a range of stylish winter footwear often including a range of knee-high boots of various colours and heel shapes.
At Newbridge Silverware on Saturday afternoon, the women of Kildare were at leisure. I stopped short of photographing some of the stylish women in the jewellery showrooms and elegant cafe. Warm, knee-length fitted woollen dresses in this season’s block colours were teamed with colour-coordinated jewellery, a fabulous pair of knee-high black patent leather boots and matching handbag. A larger lady was resplendent in a floor-length fitted woollen skirt in a shade of plum, with a sharp bob haircut, sensational accessories and a long heather-coloured knitted cardigan. I would have felt under-dressed but for my decent black-and-cream print three-quarter length mac that made my casual outfit look sharp and in-season.
Hats are in – they are every year, it’s too cold to venture out without one. However no Irishwoman would shove a knitted tea-cosy hat on their head unless they were about to go hiking, and even then it would probably be a decent Gore-Tex job. Hats generally match the overcoat, or possibly the shoes and bag. And there will always be matching gloves. Cloche hats and similar shapes are quite popular, because they are not easily dislodged by the wind. Similarly, hats that can be scrunched up and shoved into your handbag are much more preferable to one you have to hold in your hand when not wearing it. It makes high street shopping and going out much easier, with all that dipping into and out of the shops or dashing between the pub and the restaurant. But beanies on a woman of any age beyond seven or so? I don’t think so.
Pashminas and scarves also loom large, for keeping the breeze away from chilly necks or for drawing around your shoulders in a draughty cafe. They are never Granny-like, and each woman has her own way of wearing hers. Doubled over and linked around the neck; draped casually over one shoulder to accessorise the overcoat; folded neatly and carried in the handbag just in case. Vibrant colours are most popular, to give the most sober of outfits a colourful lift on the darkest of winter days. Loud prints, however, are avoided in favour of block colour. And Irish women are never afraid of a statement necklace or two: the bolder, the better.
Even casual is done well. Jeans are popular in Ireland as in most places. They are teamed with a warm hip-length coat or maybe a slim-fitting padded jacket. Knitwear is always in. Last night Annette teamed a pair of skinny jeans with ballet flats and a fitted knee-length mohair dress, accessorised with a thin belt and a statement pashmina.
Today I shall dress carefully before heading into town to spend the day shopping on Grafton Street, Dublin’s most fashionable shopping precinct. Layers of pure wool that I can peel off if I get too warm, a large handbag and additional reusable bags to carry my purchases – plastic bags were outlawed in Ireland years ago. Although I love the feeling of collecting all those posh paper shopping bags they give you here: I always feel like I am in a scene from a movie, strolling down the street with armfuls of them, my new things beautifully wrapped in tissue paper inside. A hat, of course, from Tasmania’s Salamanca Market and a pair of killer heels. Some carefully-chosen statement jewellery and, in my case, a matching bindi. That is all I need to acquit myself well amongst the Dublin Ladies Who Lunch.