As with so many things, the approach to autumn should be taken with delicious slowness. (Spring is a different matter entirely. Entirely. We should come at spring at a run, barefoot and shrieking with joy. Although this isn’t an attitude shared by Italians, who look at anyone in sandals before June as though they’d escaped from a lunatic asylum.)
In this country our take on October is dictated by the vagaries of British weather. From the start of every summer it’s a national sport to see which UK journalist or social media influencer is first to use the dread word, autumnal, by which they often mean wintry (ie freezing and dark), and in a year like 2021 they can air it as early as July. This phenomenon, to me at least, gives the adjective a loathsome aspect.
Of course, autumn in its ideal natural form is sublime. There are mists, there are trees turning red and gold, there are sparkling dawns and soft evenings, the welcome of velvety dark after summer’s long green nights. There is sleeping under quilts. But I’m speaking here of autumn in terms of the eternal theoretical question of What to Wear, in the context of the dull bulldozing reality of seasonal change (shorter days, rain, the return of politicians to parliament).
There are those – such as the brilliant novelist Jessica Fellowes, creator of The Mitford Murders – who can’t wait, won’t wait, and dive joyfully into autumn dressing. She explains, “It’s the ‘new term-ness’ of it partly, but also it’s the layers and textures. Cool enough not to swamp yourself in huge jumpers, not so warm you have to expose too much pale flesh. It’s wool trousers, silk shirts, cashmere jumpers, boots… total heaven.”
Many will agree with her, having waited impatiently all summer for the temperature to drop in order to enfold themselves in silk and merino and to pull on knee boots. But perhaps it’s precisely the “new term-ness” that divides the camps. The phrase chills the blood of those of us who never met a school we liked, nor approached a new term with anything but dread. (So bravo that girl’s teachers!)
Or are we separated into those who look forward, and those who can’t let go of the backward glance? Well, I can’t let go of summer, but I also look forward to it from February onwards. In October I book a house by the sea for the following July. I fold and iron my summer wardrobe, stash it reluctantly and carefully away, and try to get up some enthusiasm for the anti-moth zip bags where my jumpers live.
True, my spirits always lift when favourite cardigans emerge in September, round-necked with star-shaped pearl buttons, fine cotton, damson wool. A dress can be transformed by the right cardigan, nipped or cropped. So autumn doesn’t have to usher in trousers straight off the bat. It doesn’t – whisper it – have to mean the straitjacket of daily jeans, strangulating the body after a sensual summer of skirts.
The secret to transitional dressing in my wardrobe is that bare legs are allowed: in fact, they should be made compulsory. Sandals and ragged plimsolls can be swapped for ankle boots or pumps if necessary, but why not give those happy summer legs a last hurrah? Just to sustain them through the dark months. It might be a front row cliché but there’s nothing prettier than a slim golden calf emerging from a narrow tweed skirt, or a bare brown ankle from a cropped trouser. And when the first frost comes… well. There are always stockings.
Christobel Kent is a Gold Dagger-nominated author. She has lived in Essex, Modena, Florence and Cambridge and has written seventeen novels, ten of which are set in Italy. Her latest novel “The Widower” came out in May