I’ve reached an age where I don’t know if something is fashionable or not. The other day I saw a woman in her thirties wearing court shoes, jeans and white socks. Is that fashion? Should I be borrowing my daughter’s Disney princess socks to wear with my kitten heels? My fashion idols used to be Madonna and Cindi Lauper. Now, the person I aspire to dress most like is the woman on the sign for the ladies’ toilet; she’s feminine, she’s slim, she always wears a dress with an appropriate length skirt and long sleeves. The only thing I wouldn’t copy is her hair-do. It looks like she’s got one of those really tight pony tails pulling up her eyebrows. As we only ever see her in silhouette, we will never know.
The trouble with fashion is when you get older you still think it’s for you when actually it’s not. Not because older women shouldn’t be fashionable, far from it – more that your body has spread in strange ways which can’t then be squeezed into a piece of Lycra more suited to being a sleeve than a dress.
I remember once going shopping with a friend and both choosing the same dress to try on in Karen Millen – hers a size smaller than mine. We each went into a cubicle and once I found the zip – one of those ridiculous ones that go from the armpit to the waist – I managed to force it over my head, my shoulders and roughly over my hips. One look in the mirror told me all I needed to know. I looked like a bunch of badly tied sausages and there was no hope of containing the ten rolls of puppy fat falling out of the micro-zip like a Samurai who’d just committed seppuku. I crossed my arms and gripped the dress by the hemline, preparing for the Whip and Flap where you whip the dress up over your head, and flap your arms down to release them from the sleeves. Usually, this can be accomplished in one fluid movement in under 2 seconds. Usually.
The dress got stuck somewhere around the shoulder area, my arms bundled inside it, my head covered by the skirt. I jerked and twisted to free myself but I was stuck. I juddered and tugged but the dress was well and truly stuck. I stopped, panting heavily, naked bar a pair of knickers from the waist down, wrapped up tighter than a Sikh’s turban on top, and considered my options.
I could career out of where I thought the curtain was and hope someone took pity on me in the corridor between the cubicles; or if there was no one there I could stumble out to the check-in girl but run the risk of overshooting and ending up in front of that group of men who gather at the entrances to changing rooms, regardless of whether they have a girlfriend in there, or not.
Neither option appealed so, with a gargantuan effort and the sound of ripped stitching louder than an over-keen bridegroom on his wedding night, I released myself from its grip. I waited for the hyperventilation to subside before smoothing down my hair and rubbing at the chafing marks on my ribcage and upper arms. Back on the hanger the dress looked innocent enough, but its size 14 tag poked its tongue out and said, ‘Not in this shop, bitch!’
Feeling that all too familiar sensation of having tried on something too small – part humiliation, degradation, self-loathing, and avowal to diet immediately after having a mocha to recover from the shock – I put on my jeans and baggy top and went to find my friend, trailing the offending dress along the floor behind me.
‘How are you getting on?’ I said outside her curtain.
‘Mnmmmnmph!’ she replied.
I twitched the curtain aside an inch and found her, half-naked, spinning around like an escapologist in a straight-jacket with the dress over her shoulders and head. I nodded knowingly, which of course she couldn’t see, and yanked the dress off her.
‘Thanks. I thought I’d never get out of there,’ she said, reaching for her clothes. ‘How’d you get on?’
‘Nah,’ I said, ‘not my colour.’