This Old Thing? 5 Stylish Irish Women Share The Clothes They’ve Owned The Longest

Fashion ed Linda Conway asked five women to show us how they style their best-loved items.

TV stylist and presenter Irene O’Brien shows off an original 60s mustard brocade dress that she bought in The Harlequin 15 years ago.

The story: “It was the first piece of vintage that I remember buying in Dublin. I had pieces I’d picked up over the years from my mum but had never shopped in the city’s vintage stores. I had visited this store many times but always skulked in and out, not brave enough to deem myself an admissible customer. That all changed the day I saw this dress. Although yellow tones mostly have no place in this pale, freckly, redhead’s wardrobe, everything about this dress spoke to me.”

Why it’s stood the test of time: “When I came across this dress on the rail, my heart began to beat faster. It seemed really expensive, a major financial commitment at the time, plus it was twice the size of me and would need altering. It introduced me to the concept of tailoring something, of seeing past sizing and making something your own. It taught me to love something enough to invest in it so that the idea of ‘expensive’ is relative, that one deeply-loved item is worth twelve temporary-crush items. It’s travelled the world with me, outlasted boyfriends and jobs, adorned my body for important meetings, and featured in countless of my adventures.”

The take-home message: “Isn’t it madness to be handing over your money for something that ‘will do’? Isn’t this such a detached way of shopping that means we’re getting no great joy from the piece and instead engaging in conspicuous consumption that will likely lead to that very item being thrown aside far too soon? I try to only buy pieces that I know I’ll have for an age. I’ve had so much of what’s hanging in my wardrobe for years. Our styles change but that also means our styling can change.”

98FM’s Aideen Finnegan still adores the silk and studded Manley shirt she got in 2011. 

The story: “Ask me when I’m 80, but I reckon I’ll have a lifelong grá for leather and studs. Fashion is cyclical, tailoring changes and trends come and go but real black leather is futureproof. This shirt was my first introduction to Manley, a super cool brand by Dublin designer, Emma Manley. The shift shape is timeless and the matte and domed studs mean it can even be considered work appropriate! But probably the main reason it retains pride of place in my wardrobe is the way it makes me feel when I wear it.”

Why it’s stood the test of time: “It definitely marked a fork in the road for me in terms of the way I buy clothes. I’m all about mindful shopping and I buy less to afford more from brands or labels that I know and trust. I don’t have any shopping ‘rules’ but, be it pricey or Penneys, I always try and match a potential purchase with at least three other pieces I already own before I can justify it. I’m now also all about natural fabrics like wool or leather for warmth and cotton for breathability; they last years longer than their polyester cousins. I figure if I’m buying less in general, I can be confident I’m offsetting the carbon footprint.”

The take home message: “I think we have to start taking a different approach to clothing. It wasn’t until I read Overdressed by Elizabeth L Kline that I realised how much cheap crap is ending up in landfill. Recently I saw a text from a listener into the station who is a fisherman. He said that they’re increasingly finding glitter from cheap clothing when they’re gutting fish in the factories. That’s terrifying!”

Stylist and fashion writer Justine King’s favourite navy blazer with gold buttons came from a stranger’s Halloween costume, believe it or not.

The story: “It was Halloween night when I was in my final year at university. We were in some god awful night club in town and being the impoverished students that we were, we had plans to walk home to our flat rather than fork out the €6 for a taxi. The rain was bucketing down and my coat had gone missing so I was refusing to leave unless we found it. My friend picked up a piece of cloth from the floor and said “Throw this over your head” and off we went, homeward. It wasn’t until the next morning when I picked the item up from my bedroom floor I discovered it was a jacket from a man’s Sea Captain costume! I tried it on and actually really liked it as an oversized blazer. The three gold stripes on the cuff are a giveaway that it was once a costume but I’ve always worn the sleeves rolled up so it doesn’t matter.”

Why it’s stood the test of time: “The fit of the blazer and the bright gold buttons make it pretty timeless. I literally get compliments about it every time I wear it! The fabric is super light (it’s not exactly the best made garment I’ve ever owned) but this means it works in even hotter temperatures; it was my wardrobe staple when I was interning a million moons ago one hot New York summer. I’ve tried replacing it with a new, far more expensive navy blazer with gold buttons but for some reason I still fall back on my old faithful. It’s easy to throw over a cami top and leather trousers or even for just dressing up jeans and a tee shirt during the day.”

The take home message: “I definitely believe in spending money on your wardrobe staples so you can rely on their quality to stand the test of time. While this particular item didn’t cost me anything, pieces like a blazer, a classic LBD, a good pair of jeans, a white t-shirt, and winter boots will last and last.”

Jenny Huston of jewellery brand Edge Only still hangs on to a denim jacket she got in 1998, and for good reason.

The story: “I bought it to replace a Levi’s denim jacket I had worn since I was 12 or 13, but had left behind in Canada. It was pricey for a college student budget back then, so I was delighted when I saw a classic denim jacket on sale in Oasis. It was exactly what I’d been trying to find. A timeless denim jacket, free of patches, studs, unusual washes or anything that would date it. I wanted to be able to throw it over dresses every spring and have it as a go-to summer jacket, knowing it would look even better with age. As my friend says, ‘denim ages like fine wine’.”

Why it’s stood the test of time: “For me a denim jacket is like a leather biker jacket – two wardrobe essentials for any gal with a rock chick leaning. They may fade in and out of prime fashion but they never lose their appeal. Just look at snaps of Alexa Chung, Kate Moss, Gigi Hadid, Cara Delevingne over the years and you’ll see them as a regular feature.”

The take home message: “The last few years I’ve been trying to only buy clothing that I’ll really wear. I made a promise to myself for 2018 to only buy from sustainable brands and to seek out organic cotton. I remember reading an Instagram post from an ethical fashion site that asked: Will I wear this 30 times? It’s a great benchmark.”

PR guru Lisa Regan bought this 1970s print silk shirt dress for €15 in a vintage shop. Their love affair is still going strong.

The story: “I love vintage clothing, I love the way there has been an entire life or lives before you have even worn it. This piece I saw and instantly loved it. I thought of Pauline Fowler in the laundromat in Eastenders. It has that geometric style but also it’s like a grocer coat that people used to wear. I knew I would wear it to death.”

Why it’s stood the test of time: “Every time I wear it people say “Where did you get that dress?” It’s the perfect length, just to the knee, it moves with your body and no matter what way you are feeling or looking it instantly makes you feel slimmer. There are pockets, you can button it up or down, I always add a belt to get that waist into the mix. I have worn it with runners, heels, flats and boots. It looks great with everything.”

The take home message: “When I see something I like, I must visualise where I will wear it and if I can see myself wearing it on a Monday and a Saturday night! Don’t follow trends; wear clothes, colours and items that actually suit you. Case in point: crop tops and body con dresses suit two percent of the population, yet when they came into fashion 98 percent of people wore them. Find what you like, see how it feels on you and build your style around that.”