It would be fair to say that I don’t really do casual. I’ve never even owned a pair of jeans, apart from when paid to do so for an article, and the whole thing felt a tad too Richard Branson.
Nevertheless, I have recently enjoyed a conversion to practical garb in the form of the world’s most modish boiler suit. No, not the £2,050 version currently on sale at Dior – or those spotted on the Yves Saint Laurent catwalk for similarly eye-watering amounts – but new British label Spry Workwear’s £160 take on the trend. In doing so I have joined forces with a battalion of cool girls all happy to be labelled boilers, from film star Thandie Newton to designer Alice Temperley.
Boiler suits pull you together in the blink of an eye, leaving only a few key decisions – zipped up or cleavage out, glitter heels or sneakers
Spry launched in the spring, the brainchild of 44-year-old former Telegraph Magazine columnist Daisy Bridgewater, who is based in East Suffolk, in a draughty old vicarage ten miles from the sea, that she shares with property developer husband Henry. As a working mother of boys aged 15, 13 and 11 (“the house reeks of Lynx Africa”), Daisy found herself stumped style-wise by the need to go from city living to country, power dressing to practical.
“I needed a one-stop solution,” she explains, “and boiler suits pull you together in the blink of an eye, leaving only a few key decisions – zipped up or cleavage out, glitter heels or sneakers – making them a huge time saver. They’re handy for multi-taskers – check me out as I feed the pigs before meeting my editor – and brilliant for women who work with their hands doing creative things, but still want to look good, without succumbing to the dread fleece.”
Moreover, in an age in which Rosie the Riveter is a role model for Beyoncé, the boiler suit has become the ultimate in power dressing. “They blur the boundaries between uniform and fashion,” Bridgewater enthuses, “and are modest, yet provocative, having the power to bring a man to his knees wondering whether you are wearing anything underneath.”
Having sported my Spry boiler in a crowded Mayfair bar, camped up with heels, straining cleavage and a jaunty Hermès scarf, I can attest to this fascination. “It’s sex on legs: truly a siren suit,” noted my partner-in-crime, begging to play with the zip, while noting that he could also spill beer on said outfit.
I sported my boiler in a crowded Mayfair bar: ‘It’s sex on legs: truly a siren suit,’ noted my partner-in-crime, begging to play with the zip
Plus, boiler suits – as a utilitarian take on the jumpsuits that have been flooding the high street for some time – happen to be achingly fashionable right now, from Dior’s aforementioned latest new look to Rihanna clad in Frame, Cate Blanchett in Céline.
Obviously, one could purchase a synthetic number from a hardware store, but it would be hot, bothery, and not remotely flattering. Unlike Spry’s incarnation, which is beautifully designed in cotton twill (that grows softer and ever more second-skin like with every wash) from a British factory that has been crafting workwear since the late 19th Century.
Daisy Bridgewater in her Spry boiler suit Credit: David Rose
Bridgewater took a pair of vintage mechanic’s overalls by way of a starting point, tweaking them for a feminine fit. Think: greater fabric volume across the shoulders to accommodate one’s bust, and a high, fabulously cinchable waist, bestowing a womanly silhouette while lengthening the legs.
Eyeing Daisy’s lithe, 5’10” proportions, I was convinced that my old-school hourglass would prove completely unboilerable. I was wrong – E-cup happily accommodated. In fact, most figures will find their suit, whether size 6 or 16. What is more, the picture I Instagrammed of myself as a Spry boiler proved my most popular post ever, legions of fashionistas immediately declaring that they would be joining Bridgewater’s girl gang.
When I tell her this she beams: “We may not have been in business long, but the punters are loving them. Thandie Newton bought one of my first. Alice Temperley has one, ditto Sharleen Spiteri. Cathy St Germans wore hers throughout this year’s Port Eliot festival. Rachel Johnson (sister of Boris) is a convert.”
‘If I do have to indulge in some Rosie the Riveter-type activity, then I need merely ditch the heels’ Credit: Andrew Crowley
They are being snapped up in equal measure as fashion item and workwear by writers, artists, florists, potters, gardeners, actresses, designers, and general groovy chicks. Among them, Daisy’s half-sister, Emma Bridgewater, she of pottery empire fame, who doubtless dons her boiler in her capacity as president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
“Emma has been a huge creative inspiration,” says Daisy, “coming to the rescue when I have felt like giving up – like when a local accountant told me to try my hand at something else (Emma’s accountant begged her to give up too, for the brand’s first two years).”
But with workwear-inspired fashion brand MC Overalls having just opened a permanent store off London’s Carnaby Street, following a successful pop-up this summer, the trend clearly has legs. I’ll never be a jeans girl, but am fully committed to becoming a Spry woman. And, if I do have to indulge in some Rosie the Riveter-type activity, then I need merely ditch the heels.