I have had some of the most memorable experiences of my life in the surrounding two miles of Queen Mary University. Student cliché? Of course. Coincidence? I’m not so sure. I grew up not eight miles south-west from the hallowed halls of Drapers and her ilk, my parents moved away last year and it was not until last weekend I revisited my childhood town. Maybe it’s the thrill of university freedom, or the wonderful group of people I have met at this institution, or perhaps East London is really rather cool. That’s what we all thought when we first cycled up the canal to Hackney, right? It’s cooler than me, cooler than many of its inhabitants and always, always unexpected. When used with care it can present you with some of the best nights of your life, be your apparatus six tinnies and your friends or just yourself and a sunny day with a book.
I was standing in Wimbledon on that Saturday just waiting for a friend on the corner of Wimbledon Hill and The Village High Street. As I watched impossibly tanned and pastel clad women glide past the boutiques and cafes I felt nostalgic for the time when I would strive to glide. At best my skirt usually got caught in the wind a bit causing me to lose my balance trying to retain my dignity. As I wantonly stared at some darling lavender boxes in a Scandinavian-themed antique store, the exception that proves the rule trudged past me. She was wearing, I suspect, a mixture of Topshop and Urban Outfitters complete with Doc Martens and ethereally pale skin contrasted by a haze of purple eyeshadow and mauve lips. Every quirky trend this season clashed against another in a supernova of self-conscious edginess.
Everyone goes through their phases of trying to rebel, whether rebelling against the lifestyle really counts when you have a bangin yoga bod and a wardrobe full of edgy designer labels and the odd Topshop piece to ‘keep it real’ is another matter though. Or maybe I’m being too judgmental. This blue haired suburban unicorn is not my primary concern in this column; I’ve been her, I maybe even still am her. Had I seen her wandering around Roman Road I would not have looked twice, however even someone who does not judge what people choose to wear would judge a certain look in some postcodes. I do know that moving to Mile End did not spark some hipster match in me which led to my love of flatforms and body piercings. Rather, perhaps places that are ‘cool’ like East London allow people to express themselves in a way that would be inappropriate elsewhere.
I’ve made the mistake of visiting somewhere like Hammersmith wearing orange lipstick and a floaty seventies flower child dress only to be stared at as someone who is edging the norm, and that’s never me. I did not set out that day to scandalise the people of Hammersmith, so why can people be so easily affronted by some material we drape over our bodies? I think this is what makes East London really special. Having been turned away from clubs in Chelsea for not wearing high enough heels but been allowed to party in my trainers in Dalston, I would argue that the East is the place that allows people to just be. None of us are as cool as East London, but at least we aren’t forced to be suburban unicorns to feel ourselves.