Illustrated by Iona Ascherson
I went to a gallery with one of my most stylish friends last week. Her outfit was on point – structured tailoring with a monochrome palette – and I complimented her on it. “I’m going for Scandi minimalism these days” she explained. “I love it! Maybe I should try…” I replied. And she laughed in my face. Surprised at first, I looked down at my outfit and got an eyeful of leopard print, breton stripes, poster paint red puffer jacket, giant faux gold chain necklace and sneakers shaped into bunny ears. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘I see. Minimalism is not my look.’
The truth is, I would love to be one of those girls. Frolicking, Jane Birkin or Jeanne Damas style, wearing a simple outfit: white shirt, navy cashmere jumper and jeans, my only make-up a smudged stain from the berries I just picked off the hedgerow. But I am not one of those girls. I am loud. I am garish. I am unicorn sweaters and novelty necklaces and sequin body-con dresses. I am wearing three kinds of animal print and giant chandelier earrings and matching your lipstick to your fuchsia coat. I am Pat Butcher.
Yes, Pat Butcher is my icon of style, my sartorial spirit animal. Also known as Pat Wicks, Pat Evans, or rather undeservedly as ‘Fat Pat’, Pat is one of EastEnders’ longest reigning matriarchs (big shout out to the equally audacious Dot Cotton). And Pat’s fashion game is strong. Our girl loves a leopard print. And do you know what goes with leopard print? Two more kinds of leopard print. She also has a cracking line of coats – faux fur trims are a staple. Sister almost always works a strong shoulder. And those earrings. Slay. Which is not to forget her make-up. Blue eyeshadow, wisps of cloud-like bleach blonde hair, barbie pink lips and nails and a set of skew-whiff drawn on brows that give her a permanent air of sass. Pat is one of those people who came of age in a certain era (the eighties), realised she looked great, and never changed a thing. And why would you? Even in death (shoutout to hallucination P.B. of 2014 and 2016), Pat was killing it with her look.
Confession: I don’t even watch Eastenders. Never have. Yet Pat’s iconic image has entered my subconscious. Perhaps, along with the Beatles lyrics and a biblical respect for queues, it has entered our collective identity. Because Pat epitomises loud dressing in that truly DGAF British way that seems to be a national trait. Perhaps it’s due to our drizzly weather and the need for layers that leads to such delightful clashing. And perhaps our climate forces us to wear all the colours to brighten things up. Perhaps our inability to express any emotion other than sarcasm means that we can only express ourselves through our outfits. Or perhaps we’re simply a messy bunch and we forgot to put a wash on. Whatever the reason, the British sense of style is known across the world for being eccentric, fearless, and possibly just the wrong side of brash.
Our mainstream fashion is no exception. Topshop has been delivering a distinctly Pat Butcher approved eighties vibe of late, with zebra print, power suits and statement earrings. Style’s Wardrobe Mistress and all round fashion Midas Pandora Sykes is queen of the bold look; rainbow colour combos, swimsuits as daywear and clashing animal print, all topped off with a carefree smile. Even our high fashion celebrates a certain style effrontery (all hail the e- front row?). House of Holland’s SS17 collection may have featured Spanish ruffles and prairie gingham, but the mix-up styling was pure Britain. Molly Goddard’s pastel puffballs of tulle are not for the minimalists amongst us. And American-Brit Mimi Wade’s old school Hollywood inspired collection is styled with the reckless zeal of a child at their fifth birthday party.
And it is this attitude towards dressing, rather than necessarily the clothes themselves, that ennobles Pat Butcher in my mind. Pat has fun with her look. Pat isn’t bothered about old notions of propriety around situation or age. Pat knows her outfit is an extension of her personality, a way of showing the world who she is. And heaven knows, her personality isn’t boring so why should her clothes be? So play around with your clothes. Fashion should be fun, not restrictive or judgemental. Instead of taking off one thing before you leave the house, add six more and a hat, just for good measure.