Style Icon: Katharine Whitehorn


We went to another Semple Secrets last night, the last in the immediate series and goodness we have enjoyed them. We thought Grayson Perry was un top-able, but the quietly elegant Katharine Whitehorn, journalist and all round female style/brain icon was tremendously inspiring.

Katharine has had a long career in newspapers, as both fashion and feature editor/writer and still freelances and writes today (she has a column in Saga Magazine) and, most impressively, has been on Desert Island Discs, which obviously means she’s Very Important.

Here’s what she said….

‘One of my first jobs as a fashion editor (on the Observer) was to get British women out of their cardigans…..’

On being sacked from a women’s magazine early in her career ‘I didn’t have a sufficiently dainty outlook’.

‘Wallis, which was being run by two jolly brothers taking over from a stodgy papa, used to do fantastic couture copies because they had a man on their press team with a photographic memory (absolutely NO sketching was allowed at couture shows) who used to draw the designs afterwards. I had a Wallis version of a Givenchy suit they had made which was exactly like the original thing, it was marvellous.’

‘Now our working lives are going on for rather longer than expected, I’d advise anyone young working now to develop something else that interests them outside their job, because they are likely to become bored at about 50 with their first career and will need another interest to keep them going.’

“I think we’re moving into the 4 Age era, it used to be the 3 Ages of life, first you’d be young (below 20) then work and have a family (20-60) then be old and useless. Now you are still very active at 60 and still want to be useful and busy, old doesn’t start until much later.’

“Perhaps we should think about having emeritus positions for older workers, where they are still employed for their experience and knowledge, so it’s not lost and they are still employed. It might relieve the pressure on the young to achieve everything before they are 30 too.’

‘It was much more fun when I was learning how to do a job, particularly the fashion bit, than when I had got all the skills together and could do it, it became a little dull once I knew what I was doing’.

When a member of the audience was asked why she came to listen to Katharine speak, she replied ‘I grew up with her, when she wrote she seemed to be me, only much more articulate. And then recently when her husband died and she wrote about it, my husband had died too and I felt as if I was still growing up with her’.

We have just ordered her autobiography Selective Memory and if it’s half as witty and interesting as she was to listen to, it’ll be a jolly good read.

There are more Semple Secrets planned, so we’ll let you know when the next ones are announced.

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