Talking to Robert Elms about The Way We Wore: A Life in Threads

Tayler Finnegan, KettleMag, Robert Elms
Written by Tayler Finnegan


An esteemed writer and broadcaster, Robert Elms has lived a colourful life to say the least.

Now the presenter of a successful daytime slot on BBC London 94.9, he has an impressive CV. He became a columnist for The Face and NME in the 1980s and went on to work for Channel 4 in the 1990s before finding his niche as a writer. 

First published in 2005 but re-released as a second edition in 2014, Robert Elms’ memoir-novel The Way We Wore: A Life in Threads charts the events in his life that have formed who he is today, from living in a squat with singer Sade to naming the band Spandau Ballet.

A fiercely charming and provocative sartorial tale

The Way We Wore is far from an egotistical and narcissistic autobiography of his life – the novel actually serves as a sort of encyclopaedia of fashion trends from the Sixties and beyond. Fashion is synonymous to life events in Elms’ life; he boasts of being able to recall what he would have been wearing in any given year. His passion for something as mundane and everyday as clothes is admirable; it started, he explained, when as a child he was “no good at football or fighting. The only thing I was good at was trousers.”


When asked why he wrote the book, Elms explained that he felt the fashions of years gone by was not given the platform it deserves: “It is an untold tale, and I feel I can tell the story as I lived it… I first planned to write a history of fashion but when I researched my family history, I found that fashion was at the heart of it.”

Elms is a self-professed London obsessive. Raised in Burnt Oak, he now lives in Camden. I asked him what it was he admires about the capital, to which he beamed “I love that it is noisy, dirty and restless. I love its energy and vibrancy.” In short, everything. 

His novel charts the changing scenes of the city, a place that Elms gives credit to as somewhere you can “reinvent yourself” and become “whoever you want to be”.  

“Fall in love with words”

“I always knew I wanted to be a writer, or a communicator”, Robert laughs. He fits the role well, as he does not stop talking and is fascinating to listen to.

When asked if he had any advice for students and graduates wanting to get into the writing or broadcasting industry, he offered some simple- but very important- tips. He stressed that writing is a craft, not an art. It is not something that should be scrapped if you do not quite get the hang of it straight away. Robert made a brave statement saying that “read Tony Parsons, not Tolstoy”. In short, if you abhor the classic novels simply avoid them and read texts that you enjoy. 

“Steal from the best. Find sentences you like and copy them. Do what the best do, and you will become the best- whether it is in film, TV, music or books.” Even more importantly- “…fall in love with words.”

In The Way We Wore, Elms touches on how there was talk of bidding for film rights. Speaking to Kettle, he explained how the idea of a film adaptation “came and went” and that rather than a documentary, the plot would lend itself best to a drama.

I hope you are listening, film directors of the world, because this is one charismatic tale of tailoring that deserves to be told.