In this third episode of Mothers & Daughters: Talking Style, we chat with Dr Carole Davis and her daughter, 22 year old Eleanor (Ele). Carole lives with her husband, Edward, and their daughter Ele in East London. Carole and Edwards youngest daughter, 19 year old Kitty, is away until July travelling on her Gap year and their eldest child, Michael, recently moved to his marital home with his new wife, Huma.
You can listen at your leisure to in Carole & Ele parts one and two UNCUT at the beginning and end of this post.*
Ele remembers being embarrassed by her mothers quirky dress style when she was younger:
Pt 1 0.22 - "I was conscious of how much mum stood out. Why couldn't she dress like the other mothers at the school gate? Now I love my mums style! I'm always the first to take a picture and champion her individual style".
We moved on to talk about Ele's evolving style from Carole's point of view:
1:32 "When I had my daughters I thought 'These are the dolls I never had!'
Cue much laughter.
"I used to choose all their clothes and dress them very similarly. We used to have hand me down clothes a lot. That's fun! I remember when Ele was two, my friend, who was an avid shopper, finally after five sons, got the daughter she'd longed for. She brought over whole bags of clothes sourced from all over the world. Edgy and nifty - crazy coats and dresses and funky leggings and multi coloured shoes and boots".
2:52 "With Ele and clothes shopping normally I would get it right but (looks at Ele) it got to a point in year 7 when I hated shopping with you. There was something about it that left me feeling Not Very Well. You tried on everything and nothing was right".
Ele adds "It's that weird age where you're not doing childrens clothing anymore and desperately looking to your friends style".
3:34 Carole: "You had a clear view of what you wanted and what suited you. We'd go to Topshop and Zara and H&M. I remember once storming out of a shop I was so mad. It took hours and hours and I was exhausted. Ele always wanted to keep going. I worked all week and looked forward to the weekend and wanted to spend time with you…"
Ele: "I had this idea in my head. All I wanted to do was shop shop SHOP!"
4:06 Carole: "Then I was mad with myself. With your sister, she could try on three things and love all of them. You would try on thirty things and love none of them. I think what changed was you got old enough to shop by yourself".
4:24 Ele: "When you're a woman really trying to craft your style and be an individual nothing fits. Especially when you're young and trying to play adult, nothing fits your body. You buy into these styles that are too mature for you for a reason. You have this look that you can't achieve".
Carole: "Then you started to look in charity shops and you started selling clothes. You always said I didn't give you enough pocket money so thats why you had to make all those cakes and sell them!"
Ele would 'acquire' clothes to sell on.
5:04 Carole continues…"We probably should have had that conversation about whether they were technically MY clothes...but I let it go as it was quite enterprising. What became apparent is that our shopping trips decreased but we would go out and probably spend more money on just one good item".
5:27 Ele agreed with her mother. "We'd appreciate clothes more. Before we'd go to Oxford street...now we go somewhere a lot quieter".
5:44 "What my mums really good at is buying the most outlandish thing. If you're going to spend money and you're going to treat yourself why buy something in black when you can get it in fuchsia?
(if you listen really carefully you can my heart bursting with sheer joy)
"I think she's really good at that. Its really stuck with me. If you're going to spend money then get something thats a statement piece. Thats the best piece of advice that she's given me. Get something thats 'WHAM'(not the eighties pop group)... thats 'out there'!"
6:16 On ageing with fashion Carole offers an observation "You want to be noticed. You realise when you get to a certain age that very few women, or your contemporaries, wear colour. As you get older there's something that says you have to wear black and grey. I went to an event and I did wear black and grey but I also wore red shoes with polka dots on them. Its very important to make a statement!"
6:53 Ele adds: "There's something so inviting about colour. All black can be great but jazz it up a bit!
Carole: "I'm always the most colourful person in the room. Particularly in a university (where Carole works) where most favour outfits of the safe and inconspicuous nature. I am elevating my presence".
Do these two ever 'steal' each others clothing?
Carole has pieces that Ele would never normally buy but covets once they enter the house.
Pt 2 0:08 "Mum has that one statement jacket that I wouldn't buy but now she has it I want it!" Carole joins in "A couple of jackets and the two dresses that Karen made for me, one in cloth from Ghana and one in a rose print, and you (Ele) look amazing in".
1:24 On Style advice Carole says "What Ele does is she gives me a lot of confidence at times when I need it. At being quite bold. (For example) I kept on wearing vests under things because I thought they were cut too low". Ele has encouraged her mother not to be afraid of showing off a little bit of 'tasteful' cleavage.
1:40 Ele expands on this: "Talking about womens bodies, I may be making a generalisation, but a lot of women start covering their bodies up. Why do you need to cover up? Particularly as they get older. It seems to become an obsession."
Perhaps this is something that Ele and her generation may only understand fully once they reach a certain age. It'a hard to tell. Being Young, Pert and Taut (not another pop group) with the world and a lifetime ahead of you it can be hard to imagine a time you wouldn't want to celebrate your body by showing it to the world. Society encourages this celebration in the young and the fabulous. As women age it becomes almost taboo. Move over Grandma! Things are changing but its a long slow road.
2:17 Carole shares her thoughts: "My daughters are beautiful. But as you get older you have lots of doubts about yourself. You're at the end of your career. You're not young anymore. Your body is starting to let you down. (Fashion) is a reminder that, actually, you can still look impressive. Its also about making other people feel better. People say to me 'How you look makes me feel better and cheers me up'. .
3:24 "You can get to a point where you think 'Why does it matter? Who cares? No one is looking at me so why should I bother?' So I think that Ele reminds me that its worth it. That people do notice."
3:36 Ele: "Style can be such a thing that becomes mutually exclusive to age. My mums trainer collection is bigger than mine and my sisters! She has this crazy collection of trainers which is such fun and maybe more associated with people my age and style! Its important to show these things because its so refreshing!"
4:10 On whether Carole has ever brought home a fashion disaster for her daughter, Ele says "Mum has never bought me anything I didn't like. We would go shopping together. The act of choosing together. Even recently we went to buy mum some shoes for her Christmas present. I went straight to the neutral ones as I have some similar and mum went straight to the metallics. But we had the conversation together".
4:53 Carole remembers her childhood. "With my very stylish aunt, on your birthday or Christmas we would go out and have lunch at Dickens and Jones (a large London department store sadly no longer with us) and then I would get to choose a dress. It was about the experience. You would try things on and then you would choose and it would be a conversation".
She turns to Ele.
5:19 "That was really good about us. Even when we fought I would really enjoy those (shopping) days. We wanted to keep it going".
Ele agrees, "Our favourite thing to do is to go to Selfridges Designer floor (where we can't afford anything) and admire the clothes and collections".
6:00 Carole adds, 'It's about investing time. Ele will invest a lot of time in clothes. Kitty likes clothes but wants to do things quite quickly so she can move on. She's good at shopping online. If Mike had a dresser or a stylist he'd probably enjoy it!"
6:46 Ele is adamant that her father must be included as he has a keen eye and an opinion on most things. "He hates neutrals and black. He thinks its boring. Its all said with love." Edward believes they should express themselves. When asked whether they take any notice, however, there was a slight pause from both women as they exchanged a glance.
7:06 Then Carole…"I listen to Ele over him".
7:36 Ele talks about her style influences. 'I loved dressing up. My early interest in style came from making as I used to do a lot of sewing and creative stuff. I was more proud when I was in something I had made myself. Even if it was just that I'd cut the sleeves off something. I remember I bought a metre of calico from the market for £1 and made a tote bag. I was so proud of it because nobody else had it! That's something that drives me and my style. Those are the pieces that I hold in my memory. Clothes I had hunted for or made. A bargain".
8:40 Carole on her younger memorable wardrobe choices. "I had a tight pink sweater that was quite soft. I was a punk in the mid 70s so I was very bold. Black drainpipes, quirky shoes. Lots of clothes that people were amazed by when I went to Canada because they'd never seen anything like it. An orange blouse with ruffles and a purple suede jacket which I bought for a dollar in a garage sale. Gold lace up brogues. Happy times".
Did motherhood change Carole's attitude to fashion?
10:12 "I didn't dress differently. I didn't become less interested. I suppose I differentiated more between an 'at home' wardrobe and a 'going out' wardrobe. I did enjoy shopping for Mike. I remember buying him a pair of Doc martin shoes when he was three and a little denim jacket".
Carole has some sound advice for her eldest daughter.
11:12 "Keep it up, Eleanor. I'm so proud of what you achieved with Manchester Mind (The Closet is a sustainable fashion legacy Ele and her friends founded whilst at Manchester University. All profits donated to Manchester Mind) All that work you did that still overwhelms me. Just don't stop. When you become a mother or grandmother don't stop because thats part of who you are. Go and do great things in your career".
What has Carole taught Ele?
12:20 "Mum has taught me that fashion isn't a narcissistic pursuit or frivolous. It's about you expressing yourself in this world which is often so military and mundane from school to working life. Why sit there and be boring and wear something that is going to make you fit in… blending in to fit a certain social situation? Your style is so much about who you are and how you dress is such an important way to express yourself. Don't be afraid to do that! Dress for you and not for anyone else".
13:05 "In general, and this sounds very cring-y and I hate this term but, my mum has taught me to believe in yourself. You have to understand what's good for you and use that in your every day life. And having a positive outlook. It sounds so 'rambly' - like a quote that should be on the wall! Looking after yourself. Just be nice. My mum is a big smiler. She's about being in a room and being a positive person".
But what about Caroles' dress? Here's the story in Ele's words...
"Our lovely neighbour, Joanne, is a great example of friends who pass stuff on to other friends when they can't fit into it any more or its not quite them. It's a good thing swopping clothes with friends. It's a good way to be sustainable and get new stuff without spending a lot of money. So she (Joanne) had purchased this Diane Von Furstenberg dress from a vintage shop in Walthamstow village. It had been brought in to the shop by a stylist. On a photoshoot the stylist did and they said 'look we can't pay you but feel free to take something from the wardrobe'. This dress turned out to be the DVF dress that Hilary Swank wore on the film 'Ps. I Love You'! It shows the cycle of clothing. How interesting it is to have a piece with a story behind it. And it managed to make its way all the Hollywood Hills to a tiny shop in London".
From Hollywood to Walthamstow. I think theres another film in there somewhere!
We loved chatting to this bold, fashionable couple. Did their words on fashion as expression strike a chord? Or were you remembering shopping trips from hell with your own mother or daughter. Feel free to comment below.
Read about some more remarkable women here...
*A thousand apologies for the inferior sound quality/weird background shuffling noises.