Anne Dickins is known for many things. She’s a qualified physiotherapist, public speaker and mother of two. Aged 50 she won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Paralympics and soon after, set off on a 9 month cycling adventure with her husband, Simon, tackling the Continental Divide on a tandem bike.
What she is less well know for is her fashion style. Here she talks to me about her uneasy relationship with clothes and, for once, finding herself in step with the current leisurewear obsession. It’s a situation that, well, suits her just fine.
1. What is your relationship with your clothes?
I hate clothes. No, that’s not true. I don’t actually hate them, I just find them stressful. I worry about wearing the wrong thing. One of the reasons I became a physiotherapist was because I loved the idea of wearing a uniform. Having one outfit to wear every day takes all the pressure away and that is instantly freeing.
2. Do you have a signature look?
Tracksuit or casual sports wear. I like to feel comfy, not restricted. I’ve spent so long doing sports-related jobs that wearing a tracksuit feels natural. It’s also consistent with my personal image. A suit and heels make me feel awkward and contained. It makes me both conscious of how I move and it can also make me sweat. Technical fabrics in my stretchy polo shirts and track suits are designed to deal with those issues. They also give me 100% freedom. If my body is contained in a suit, my brain feels contained too and that inhabits my confidence and creative work.
3. What issues do you have with your wardrobe?
Casual stuff like a jeans and a T-shirt, I’m fine with. I also have lots of posh party wear. It’s the big gap in the middle that I stress over. How to do smart casual. That always gets me. There are too many pitfalls. Like what to wear for an evening out with girlfriends; a work event or speaking at a conference. I can pull on a pair of smart black trousers and a shirt but anything more creative and I’m floored.
4. What about accessories?
I’m clueless there too. However, I do have a collection of evening bags. These are two of my favourites. The beaded blue one was my grandmother’s and is almost a hundred years old.
5. Does colour play a role in your wardrobe?
Yes. Blues mostly. I love blue. Teal is especially good. And rose brown which might not sound very sexy but it suits my complexion. I had an amazing personal stylist tell me what colours flattered me and that was life changing. Going into a shop, I saved so much time as I could ignore 90% of what was there and only focus on the colours that suited me. It has saved me money too because I no longer buy what doesn’t work.
6. Were you able to personalise your GB kit?
Sadly, we weren’t allowed to deviate at all from our GB uniform. That was made very clear to the team. In Rio, I did have a problem with the socks. The team issue was that they were the wrong thickness for me to paddle in and so I had to get special dispensation to have them changed. With my disability, the feeling in my right foot made my feet feel more unequal. I’d trained in thick Sweaty Betty socks for four years so they allowed me to go back to them. I had to make sure no-one could see the logo which meant never kneeling down. What was lovely though, was having the kit made to measure. It’s the only time in my life I’ve had that fashion luxury.
7. Do you follow fashion?
I do. I like go to the lifestyle pages to see what people wear and how they put outfits together. I admire beautiful things even if they do seem a little unobtainable, just as I admire art in a gallery.
I wore this blue Ralph Lauren blue when I met Prince Charles and Eddie Izzard who was far better in heels than me.
8. Has the pandemic influenced what you wear?
Only in that it lets me get away with more. The beauty of working virtually is that my clients only see me from the waist up. So, today’s look is my professionally branded polo shirt and, safely out of sight, I’ve got on my shorts and slippers.
9. Favourite item of clothing.
A pair of soft blue hemp Patagonia yoga pants bought second hand. I love them. They feel like a really soft linen but without the creasing. I look for low maintenance in my clothes, so no dry cleaning, no ironing, stretchy waist band and pockets. Plus Patagonia is a sustainable company and I like that they encourage you to mend and pass on your clothes.
10. You and your husband spent 9 months on a tandem bike travelling The Continental Divide and then on to Cambodia. What role did clothes play during this experience?
We carried everything we owned on the bike so we had to make tough choices. I basically took one set of clothes which needed to have multiple uses. What I wore during the day, doubled up as my pillow at night. My pyjamas were warm base layers which could be used during the day if it was cold. Moisturiser was also SPF. My North Face trousers converted from 3/4 length to full length (as protection from insects or for when we were in Muslim countries.) My Jack Wolfskin shirt was super light, had anti UV rays and was anti-bacterial and my down jacket could be compressed to the size of my fist. I didn’t take a hair brush or make up, hand bag or purse. Even my earrings were chosen so that the ear spikes could change our iPhone SIM cards when we crossed into other countries. It made me realise how little you actually need to function.
11. Do you like dressing up?
I love the creative process of dressing up, and fancy dress is right up there. It’s such fun putting on something ridiculous like an animal costume with mad shoes or getting ready for a black tie occasion where everyone looks fabulous. As a teenager, we only ever had dressing up parties. I went to a rough comprehensive and then to a private school so was exposed to quite diverse groups of people. By removing their normal clothes where it’s easy to make quick judgements, meeting people in funny costumes broke down those barriers. You responded to their persona rather than their clothes.
12. Any funny fashion stories?
I was invited to a grand wedding of a high-flying lawyer friend. The setting was a fabulous Scottish castle. I packed an outfit I’d worn rather successfully for another recent occasion but when I unearthed it from my suitcase, it was in a terrible mess and quite unwearable. With only a few hours to spare, I made a panicky dash to the local town to find a replacement. Unfortunately, being in a remote part of Scotland this meant there were only two shops for miles; a convenience store and a clothes shop quaintly named Sheila’s Attic.
There was a lot of tweed and tartan and some really awful options. Finally, I was shown a reversible dress that was made of a two sided fabric. One side was an insipid lilac. The other side was a passable purple and green. I paid the princely sum of £9.99 for it which says it all really. The only successful part of what I wore that night was that my shoes and bag matched each other, though not with the dress.
There is no visual evidence of what I looked like in it because not a single photograph was taken of me that night. I honestly can’t imagine why.