Edinburgh is neither boastful nor pompous, which is not to say that this is a modest city. I’m not saying it’s in any way conceited, but I would characterise it as a place that quietly, but most assuredly, knows itself. It is definitely not a city given to swagger. It doesn’t strut like Danny Zuko or wiggle its bum like Sandy Olsson (Grease, anyone?). Edinburgh (let’s pretend this city is a she) is more like a lady who has been to Swiss finishing school: walks like she’s gliding whilst balancing a book on her head, all smooth movements and straight spine. She dresses herself with understated care: Aquascutum check, cashmere in subtle shades of heather, Church’s brogues, silk scarf, Harris tweed in herringbone (maybe houndstooth if she’s feeling bold), cotton shirts in summer and good quality poplin into autumn. Until August dawns, that is, and everything changes. Under the bugle of August the neatly folded contents of the tallboy are abandoned and the miscellany of the dressing up box is embraced. For one month only, she is louche and clashing, she piles on the lipstick, flicks her hair, dons her festival attire, her misbehaving clothes, and stays up all night.
On Wednesday I saw two young women bound across South Clerk Street dressed in what looked like Irish dancing costumes, all green with flowing capes. Except they had teamed their swirling dresses with knee high, gold lamé, block-heeled boots topped off with gold headband-tiaras. I decided they were jig-dancing-wonder-women – a combination the world is holding its breath for. Of course the dressing up box always throws forth doctors and nurses, August never tires of white coats and stethoscopes, or men with eye make-up (how come it always looks so good on them?), or vampires and pirates. I spotted a magnificent moustache, grown long and sugar-watered into two curlicues that ended in such a fine point that Vermeer could have used one of them to paint the finish touches on his Girl with a Pearl Earring. The young men are keen on a peg-leg trouser this year (the brighter the colour the better, Rupert the Bear check is ubiquitous), rolled up to a precise, sartorial length of 7/8: skimming the ankle. Moleskin Lederhosen, I saw some of that yesterday – not sure if it was performance related, but he looked uncomfortably sweaty. The opposite of the committee of older ladies I saw queuing up for last night’s Tattoo dress rehearsal, each of them pre-wrapped in Stewart tartan picnic blankets. Then there are the bleary eyed, those festival-goers who have peaked too early, whose random look is more along the lines of, ‘found some clothes on the floor this morning, not sure who they belong to’.
My friend S. often gets followed out of shops or down the street, people run after her to tell her how marvellous she looks – even in London where the bar is high. She’s coming to visit me at the end of the month, who knows if she’ll get a look in amidst the current dressing up box explosion, but I’m sure she’ll give them a run for their money!
Upon Julia’s Clothes, by Robert Herrick
Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then, (methinks) how sweetly flows
The liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free
O how that glittering taketh me!