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What Katie Did Next: In which I'm all talk and no trousers...


Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Katie Byrne

Every so often I end up in a situation that I just don't want to be in. Sometimes it's a date with a man whose head looks like a satellite dish; sometimes it's a weekend visit to a part of the world I'd happily die before seeing. I like to tell myself that it's experimentalism, but deep down, I know I've been inveigled into yet another identity crisis.

So how do I get myself into these uncompromising situations? Well, sometimes I act out of pity, sometimes out of boredom and sometimes my inner-self saboteur wants to come out and play.

Last weekend I was just cold. I foolishly left my legs bare at Body & Soul so I was teeth-chatteringly shivery by the time darkness fell. I needed to buy a pair of trousers, which you would think would be a simple enough expedition... au contraire, ma soeur.

Before I knew it, my sister's fiancé was leading me into the type of stall that I have avoided my entire life; the type of stall where a primeval-looking man dressed in several layers of Sherpa wool sells feathered dream catchers, alpaca ponchos and batik pantaloons.

It all happened so fast. I saw the stallholder pulling a pair of kaleidoscopic cheesecloth Ali Baba pants from the rail.

I saw my sister laughing so hard that she had lost the ability to breathe. And then I saw the the unmistakable look of pride spread across my sister's fiancé's face as he produced his wallet. I had no choice - I had to put them on.

I gingerly pushed one leg in but the trousers were so commodious that I fell to the ground and ripped them right up the middle. The stallholder was decidedly nonplussed.

"Is this how it happens?" I asked him as I looked up from my heap on the ground.

"What do you mean?"

"Is this how people start wearing this shit? They get cold at festivals."

"I don't know," he answered.

"I don't know either," I told him.

Typically, my friends walked by as soon as we left the stall. I tried to give them the I-am-so-not-digging-these-trousers look, but they were too busy being disturbed. "Are you alright?" one of them asked from the corner of his mouth.

After 15 minutes I realised that I was incapable of taking another step. "I don't want to wear these trousers anymore," I whispered to my sister.

"I don't know how you've worn them for so long," she said at once. "You have to get them off - there's a bad energy coming off them."

She pulled and tugged at them, her face wincing in disgust. For a brief moment I understood what it must feel like to urinate on yourself in public.

"That was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do," I said to her afterwards.

"I don't know how you even put them on," she snapped.

It was a learning curve, though. I know from my acting days that costume helps you inhabit a role and better understand the complexities of a character. When I donned those trousers, I felt as though I had given up. They represented apathy, indifference and whateverism.

If Doc Martens say "let's be having ya", batik cheesecloth trousers say "I don't want any trouble".

I understand that the people who wear this gear don't want to be aligned to anything or anyone, but no provenance means no evolution. It's a style that stubbornly refuses to move with the times. I remember seeing these clothes for sale at hippie festivals in the 90s - and even then the look was stale.

I also understand that they are loath to wear labels and brands, but why sacrifice form and function in the process? We are dealing with some of the worst textiles in history here: linen, felt and itchy wool... As my sister pointed out, the trousers don't even have pockets. Maybe the people who wear these clothes want to offend our senses? The insipid colourways of mustard yellow, sage green, heather grey and tofu beige would certainly suggest that they don't want to brighten up anyone's day - not least their own.

But why do they choose to make life so hard on themselves?

My sister's fiancé - who's partial to a bit of rainbow rhythm himself - explained that the style is a homage to Druidism.

"Hold on a minute," I said. "How dare they walk around festivals as though they hold the map of life - most of them couldn't even point out the nearest Portaloo."

"Never mind a portal," added my friend Edel.

I later met a man wearing similar trousers so I was, of course, compelled to ask him why... just why? He told me that the look represents the very edge of fashion.

I argued that it represents the very end of a trend cycle. He then offered me some of his magic mushrooms - presumably to shut me up. I spent the rest of the night shivering in a flimsy silk skirt - it was the better of two evils.

'Maybe the people who wear these clothes want to offend our senses?'