My Mother Inspired My Love Of Fashion – It’s My Inheritance, And Her Legacy

Otegha Uwagba’s love of clothes and sense of style has been influenced by her elegant Cameroonian mother – although she’s still not a fan of colour. Or ironing...

Otegha Uwagba Mother

by Otegha Uwagba |
Updated on

My mother has always known how to dress. Cameroonian by birth and Nigerian by marriage, she was always destined to show out, effortlessly combining the Francophone influence of her Cameroonian roots with the Nigerian predilection to ‘do yanga’ (meaning to pose or show off, particularly a new outfit). Style comes to her like flight to a bird; that is to say instinctively and with joy – and if that fact were ever to be in doubt, well then thank goodness for the mountain of photographic evidence that exists to back it up.

Long before the days of Instagram, my mother was a fan of documenting her most loved outfits for posterity. Growing up in Cameroon in the ’70s, as she did, it was not unusual to get dressed up in your best clothes and go to a professional photo studio with friends just for fun, and subsequently photos of her have accumulated through the following decades, a catalogue of the trends of various eras, from the statement earrings and broad shoulder pads of the ’80s, to the Princess Diana-esque skirt suits that were her ’90s staple.

Otegha Uwagba Mother

Back then, she also had all her clothes custom made, which sounds luxurious to hear it now, but at the time was simply what everyone did. You’d pick your fabric and tailor of choice, accumulating clothes with deliberation – a world away from our current reality of mass-produced and disposable fast fashion. She fondly recalls having a pair of trousers made as a teenager in a style that she and her friends called the ‘Mick Jagger’ – tight-fitting, high-waisted and with flared hems so wide that (and this was the important part) they covered your platform shoes entirely.

That love of clothes – the acquisition of them and an appreciation for their communicative potential – has from childhood been a shared bond for the two of us. As a teenager, trips to Oxford Street were day-long affairs where we would meticulously make our way through all of my favourite shops, spending hours selecting items and trying on clothes, before finally arriving home laden with bags that would see me through until the next foray. Fashion has always constituted something akin to a hobby for us, the presentation of a new garment to one another a way to show love, a source of endless discussion, excitement and gratification.

Over the years I’ve delved into her archive like a miner prospecting for gold, pilfering handbags and jewellery, the occasional shirt or dress disappearing from her wardrobe to take on a second life in mine. There’s the Moschino logo belt with gold letters that was passed back and forth between me and my sisters as teenagers, long before it enjoyed the late noughties comeback that saw it achieve total ubiquity; a navy and white striped YSL maxiskirt with gold buttons running down its front, which I’ve now carefully stored at the back of my wardrobe, wary of my own tendency to overwear my mother’s vintage items until the point of ruin. In recent years, as my style has matured, the flow of goods has started to move in the opposite direction too – she will occasionally wear some of my clothes, trying on items that take her fancy and revelling in the extended wardrobe capacity that having three fashion-conscious daughters grants her.

We do not, however, see eye to eye on everything. My mother is a staunch advocate of colour, her wardrobe full of riotous fuchsias, burnt oranges and emerald greens, while – much to her bemusement – I generally stick to a palette of neutrals: beige, black, cream and grey. When it comes to jewellery, her attitude has always been that of ‘more is more’, piling gold on top of gold – earrings, bracelets, rings, necklaces, the Nigerian tendency towards opulence and excess shining through. Meanwhile, it has taken a 30-year war of attrition for her to finally persuade me to wear earrings on a regular basis, which I now do, the small gold hoops in question – you guessed it – pinched from her formidable collection. She is all about feminine classics and refined elegance, a crisp button-up shirt and blue jeans her go-to on casual days, a boldly patterned mididress or pleated skirt when she has an event. Consequently, my cut-off Rachel Comey Legion jeans warranted only a raised eyebrow at the frayed hem the first time I wore them in front of her, and she is constantly dismayed by my refusal to wear slips under sheer dresses or skirts; my casual insistence that ‘the creases will drop out’ of clothes that really ought to be ironed.

Otegha Uwagba Mother

Then there is the fact that for her, outfit planning starts weeks, even months in advance of the occasion in question, the narrowing down of options followed by the slow layering of shoes, bag, accessories, and finally, a test run at least a week beforehand. No last minute dash to the shops for her or, as I once did, calling The Outnet’s customer service line to plead for expedited delivery; not for her the desperate rifling through cupboards mere hours before an event that has been in the diary for months.

Perhaps fittingly, my mother’s love of fashion is also inherited – her own father ran a tailoring business when she was growing up, supplying clothes to diplomats and various members of high society, even the Cameroonian First Lady. It was he who taught her how to use a sewing machine, how to follow a dress pattern and how to take up a hem, skills that – as the mother of three girls – she has relied on time and time again. I still remember fondly the lime green A-line tunic dress she made for my confirmation (almost 20 years ago now), and the tutu skirt with iridescent netting made for a fancy-dress party when I was at university. Then there were countless repairs and alterations: taking in the white linen dress I wore to my first book launch (though we clashed over how tight to make it – I, of course, wanted it tighter), and the vintage corset dress I wore to my sixth-form ‘prom’. All of these tasks are undertaken without complaint, with diligence and love, and finally pride at the finished look.

One of the most useful lessons she has taught me – and there are many – is of how important your style and fashion choices are in communicating who you are to the world, and how a carefully chosen outfit can sometimes do the talking for you. It is a lesson passed down to me from my mother, and to her by her father, a family heirloom of sorts. Her love of fashion is my inheritance, and her legacy.

Gallery

SHOP: Our edit of the best jewellery buys

Anni Lu, Gold-Plated Baja And Alaia Beaded Bracelet Set, £1401 of 14

Anni Lu, Gold-Plated Baja And Alaia Beaded Bracelet Set, £140

TIMELESS PEARLY, Mismatched pearl & 24kt gold-plated hoop earrings, £2452 of 14

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Brinker & Eliza, Carpe Diem Multi-Stone Heart Necklace, £2343 of 14

Brinker & Eliza, Carpe Diem Multi-Stone Heart Necklace, £234

Roxanne First, Morning Anklet with Rainbow Jade Beads, £85.004 of 14

Roxanne First, Morning Anklet with Rainbow Jade Beads, £85.00

Deborah Blyth, Aphrodite Earrings, From £2505 of 14

Deborah Blyth, Aphrodite Earrings, From £250

Uterque, Multi strand necklace with coins, £796 of 14

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Missoma, Mini hoops, £797 of 14

Missoma, Mini hoops, £79

LIZZIE FORTUNATO, Roma freshwater-pearl gold-plated drop earrings, £2758 of 14

LIZZIE FORTUNATO, Roma freshwater-pearl gold-plated drop earrings, £275

Dinosaur Designs, Organic freshwater pearls on a 12k gold filled wire hoop, £1559 of 14

Dinosaur Designs, Organic freshwater pearls on a 12k gold filled wire hoop, £155

Anissa Kermiche, Two Faced Shelley Necklace, £225.0010 of 14

Anissa Kermiche, Two Faced Shelley Necklace, £225.00

Kate Spade, botanical garden studs Images botanical garden studsbotanical garden studs botanical garden studs, , s7productThumbnail botanical garden studs, , s7productThumbnail botanical garden studs, £55.011 of 14

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& Other Stories, Rhinestone Pearl Hanging Earrings, £3512 of 14

& Other Stories, Rhinestone Pearl Hanging Earrings, £35

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Mayol, Heart Earrings, £140

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