Can I Ever Be A Cos Woman?
The Debrief: It’s not just a shop full of cotton smocks and backwards shirts, my friend. It’s a whole way of life.
‘Lauren, you’re into fashion,’ a friend asked me recently. ‘Can you please explain Cos?’ I could not explain Cos. Not really. It would be like trying to explain modern art, or radicchio salads. How do you explain the dazzling ugly-chic appeal of all those boxy shell tops and complicated £80 shirt dresses? That Farrow & Ball colour palette of muted putties and off-greys, the confusingly shapeless shapes with indeterminate functions. The Picasso-like approach to garment design. Oh, the buttons go down the back! Surprise, the collar is on sideways! Oh wait, you thought this was a pair of trousers? Hahaha, it’s actually a coat.
Cos is the intellectual older sister of the H&M family – which also includes fun siblings & Other Stories and Monki – and you just know it likes to make everyone else feel stupid at H&M family gatherings. It certainly makes me feel stupid, as well as brash, matronly, trashy, dumpy, kitschy and poor. In my head, Cos is a shop I have no business even walking into. It is a tranquil palace full of conceptual cocoon dresses and I worry my presence alone might fuck up all the lovely crisp cotton.
But while I am too scared to shop at Cos, I have ideas about the kind of woman who does. She swims every day, in a pond or a salt water lido. She has a job that somehow both pays her loads of money and allows her to have a nose ring. She only wears mascara on her top lashes, or not at all. She never sweats. She has friends who own small boutique art galleries, from which she buys small boutique art. She doesn't have Facebook or a TV and only gets Netflix 'for the documentaries'. She has no problem wearing Velcro sandals to a wedding. I kind of hate her, and I really want to be her. Oh man, I want to be her.
Can I ever be a Cos woman? I don’t know. But I do know that if I were a Cos woman, everything would somehow be different. If I were a Cos woman, I could wear the same clothes every day for a solid week with a different pair of statement earrings and nobody would even comment on it. All my creases would look cool and intentional.
If I were a Cos woman, I would never spill on myself. Unless it was paint and it somehow looked fabulous. I would be discreetly vegan, but never mention it.
If I were a Cos woman, I would go on city breaks by myself and spend whole afternoons walking very slowly round museums and canals, taking photos on my vintage Leica and not even Instagramming them.
In my new life as a Cos woman, I would buy the Sunday papers to actually read them, not just to look good at brunch. I would have books of poetry and short stories by my bed, and only buy matte magazines.
If were a Cos woman, I would give people one small but incredibly tasteful, thoughtful birthday gift, instead of a heap of odd, panic-bought presents and a speech of apologies and explanations to go with them. I would own napkin rings and espresso cups, and I would always have fresh lemons in the house.
If I were a Cos woman, I would have one slimline leather-bound notebook that I would use to keep track of meetings, social engagements and sometimes to jot down several lines of beautiful poetry – instead of just replying to all invites with ‘ummm yes in theory, yess!’ then frantically searching ‘26 August’ in Gmail and Facebook because I just have a feeling I’ve already got something that day.
And if I were a Cos woman, I would know how to say no to socialising without tangling myself in a guilty web of lies. ‘I just feel I wouldn’t bring the right energy this week, y’know? I really need some time at home to recalibrate,’ I would say, and everyone would nod and understand and nobody would bitch about it on a separate WhatsApp thread.
If I were a Cos woman, I would probably volunteer with a youth outreach programme teaching pottery to underprivileged children. I would know how to keep plants alive and I would cycle everywhere, even to parties.
If I were a Cos woman, I would be able to bump into colleagues and distant acquaintances and have a smooth, friendly chat, rather than hiding under a table or getting off the train three stops before mine. I would always be able to judge the correct number of cheek-kisses. I’d go to panel discussions for fun, and the dentist for regular check-ups. I would have amazing hair but seem barely aware of it.
And if anyone ever asked me to explain my outfit, I would shrug and say, ‘oh – just ’Cos.’
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