10 Jan 2011

Hestia and........ Biba

Miss Mansfield - never knowingly underdressed
And so it came to pass that my Day Carer and I took a day's shopping pass in Glasgow while our partners (and Sonshine) whiled away a happy few hours in the Creche on Great Western Road (aka  Hein Gericke, Ducati, Maplin and, erm, Machine Mart).

I knew exactly the place I wanted to go - Nirvana:  Biba in Frasers.

Growing up in the 70s, Biba was the IT brand that every Jackie-reading, Bonne-Belle lipgloss wearing girl lusted after. Oh yes, every kohl-eyed beauty in a crocheted cloche hat and flares worshipped at the shrine of Biba.  'One day', I vowed to myself dramatically in the manner of Scarlet O'Hara standing on the hillside in Gone With The Wind 'As God is my witness, I'll buy something spectacular from Biba.'

But then, in the mid 1970s, the bastards shut it down and my chance to be Cinderella in a mock victorian leg of mutton velveteen pantsuit vanished in a puff of Charlie Girl.

But TODAY was that now that day!

After a reverential climb up one flight stairs, I stood, sweating slightly (thank you thermal vest) in the ACTUAL Biba concession in Frasers. Two whip-thin sales assistants smiled warmly (oh YES! Non-condescending sales staff - that's a WINNER in my book!) as my Day Carer and I began to glaze over with desire at the sheer 70s-inspired fabulousness of it all.

Tiny oilslick-shiny feather capes hung next to velvet frocks that were blacker than 3am and sparkled like raven's eyes with black beading and lo! behind those crochet-trimmed glories I saw it......a floor-skimming faux leopard coat complete with blood red lining.  I swear that I heard a heavenly choir as the coat peeked out shyly from behind the wall of black evening frockery.

Describe it to you? Imagine Jayne Mansfield AS A DRESS and you have it.

Reader, It had Hestia's name written all over it. I eagerly flicked through the hangers and found my size.

My Day Carer had found a smart black dress that she thought would be just the thing for a dinner dance she is going to later this month and disappeared into a changing cubicle with a swoosh of velvet curtain.  I ran my fingers over the leopardy fabric and unbuttoned the front of the coat (that I had already decided would be the perfect coat-DRESS).  'My life should look like this,' I thought hungrily to myself.

It was a shade under £400.  For a DRESS.  For a leopard-skin, floor-length, vermillion-lined dress.  But it was a  BIBA dress. I dared not even begin to compute the fashion maths. It was a ridiculous notion...and yet, there I was, unhooking the hanger from the rail, crossing to the cubicle, drawing the curtain furtively behind me and disrobing frantically.  A £400 floor length coat. And I wanted it more than I wanted to find myself in bed in an Italian palazzo with Rufus Sewell.

And that's a LOT.

Reader, the only place I could wear such a confection of loveliness is my weekly visit to the Co-op.  Undeterred.  I slipped it off the hanger, feeling the slippy red lining beneath my eager fingers.....

I'd like to hit the pause button for a moment before continuing.  Please, please PLEASE. dressing room designers, STOP putting downlighters in changing rooms.  I don't care how energy efficient or smart they look, EVERY dimple, bump and crease becomes a hellish cavern or mountain of imperfection....and when you are thinking about blowing a LOT of money on a dress, you want to feel good about your body, believe me. So get the sympathetic lighting sorted out.  Candles perhaps. Bugger the fire risk.

Anyway, back to the frock.

I slipped one arm down the cool sleeve....and watched it immediately inflate like a big sausage.  My hand and rather too much wrist emerged. The material contorted under the strain.

Reaching round behind me, I tried to get my arm down the other sleeve, but the material in the frock came to approximately my shoulder blade.  I would not be able to get my other arm down the sleeve without ripping the whole thing in half down the centre seam, like the Incredible Hulk.  Which wasn't the look I was after.

If I DID, by some miracle of gymnastics, get my arm down the sleeve, I would be compelled to walk about with my arms stuck out at 90 degrees to the side, like a glamorous zombie.  I considered my ample Christina Hendricks frontage.  If my BACK wouldn't fit in the frock, there may only be enough material in the front to adequately cover just half of my embonpoint.

I peeled the dress off my arm and hung it back on the hanger.  And felt myself tumble into the pit of Clothing Self-Loathing.

I could see myself so clearly in the dress - my hair all straight and swooshy, high black boots...possibly a Biba handbag to top the whole thing off.  I imagined people's heads turning as they caught sight of a flash of red lining as I strode purposefully along the pavement, blackberry jammed at my ear, wafting some impossibly gorgeous and exlusive scent behind me.  This dress would Make Me Successful.  And it didn't fit.  I was, therefore a failure.

Outside the changing room, I heard My Day Carer slapping the coathangers back onto the rail with an irritated sigh.' There was not a POUND of me hanging the right way in that dress,' she said crossly.

I looked at myself in the mirror.  I am not obese, but I am substantial.  The only way that I would get into that coat-dress was surgery: like amputation of both arms and at least half of my ribcage.

I got dressed again.

The coat-dress was regretfully hung back on the rail and I looked around at the other shoppers.  The Biba concession had two types of women in it.  The first, like me, of a certain age with the money to spend AT LAST on the iconic brand but who were no longer the target audience size. The second were girls, whippet thin, dripping in designer gear and nonchalantly buying dresses that cost more than I earned in a month.

How hard could it be to make these clothes fit women like me with boobs and hips without 'ruining the line'?

My Day Carer was now lovingly caressing an ostrich feather trimmed waistcoat with a look on her face that I'd say was reserved for Missing Your Children.

I took my Day Carer gently by the handbag strap. 'Come on, let's go across to the shoe shops across the road.  Our bodies can't wear these clothes, but our feet can wear as strappy and improbably high as anyone else.'

But the damage had been done.  Biba doesn't love us any more.


  1. That is sad and a feeling I know as well. On a good day I can see that I look okay but don't suit the clothes and laugh, on a bad day I can end up buying RIDICULOUS shoes (and by that I d not mean my leopard print platform shoe boots - they were planned) or drowning myself in chocolate.

    On reflection drowning in chocolate could be an acceptable way to go...

    As you were - you made me laugh in recognition as usual - quite a gift!

  2. Ali .. Biba sizes are small .. I know I bought a mini dress a few years ago. I too always wanted something from Biba.. I know find that clothes with more structure suit better.. If you are going to spend that much on a dress try AMcQueen or RM ... They make you look like a goddess my first AMcQ dress suits me better when I am heavier as it enhances my non breasts... Expensive but £ per wear, I don't go out a lot like you..but because they are simple you can wear them to dinner or any occasion... I will continue to wear them for a few years yet xx

  3. Ali...it's only a dress :-)
    Anyway, you can keep the dress, I'll just settle for Rufus. X

  4. Dearest Ali, I loved you story. Brilliantly written.

    I'm so sorry the leopard coat didn't work out. I think everyone should buy something they want whether it's practical or not. I've just had a look at the coat and it's lovely!! What a shame! They do cut things very small which is so annoying.

    I'll take you shopping when you come to London xx

  5. Any more posts like this and I shall need Tena Lady! PMSL - literally!

  6. the handbags and purses are lovely though and you don't need Biba to recreate a Biba look ....I hanker after a purse and some earrings myself

  7. I've so been there - clothes that don't fit, and lights that don't flatter (and don't get me started on the mirrors!) I'm with Lori, stick with Rufus ;-)

  8. Hi Ali - laughing again, but empathizing too - given that the average British woman is size 16, and that by the time you can afford this stuff you may have had kids and hence a slightly less skinny frame, you would think the designers would cut us some slack - literally! I think I am older than you because my parents brought me some Biba stuff back from a London trip when I was a teenager - a mud face mask and some purple lip gloss, and later a cream and gold lurex plunging cross over type top (which I think I cleaned out in a life- laundry in the 80's without thinking about how fab it was and how much I want my daughter to wear it). Then when I was a little older I visited the store myself - very gothic and daunting as I remember with vases full of ostrich feathers and coat and hat stands adorned with single items of beautiful clothing. Wouldn't you look good in the tunic top with huge lillies on it which featured in the glossies last season? I want to try that myself but my nearest House of Fraser is an hour away and I am always more tempted by Harvey Nichols and Selfridges xx

  9. I hear you. I used to be able to buy clothes at Abercrombie and Fitch. Not any more. The last pair of jeans I tried on revealed so much plumber's crack, I would have been arrested for indecency if I stepped out of the door.

  10. That's hilarious.I remember my sister going on a school trip to London in the 70's and coming home with a bottle of bright Yellow Biba scent.I can still see the bottle now in my minds eye,it sat on the dressing table for years.Like you said we worshipped it!

  11. Och, I am sad that Biba destroyed your teenage dream.

    This is every shopping day for me though. As you know, I don't lack boobs or bottom, and so clothes never fit.

  12. aaagh! I once got trapped in a Vivienne Westwood dress I knew was too small but...it was in the sale....I still break out in a sweat at the memory....House of Fraser Biba is too exspencive for what it is, check out the Barbara Hulanicki stuff in Asda!!!

  13. I'm substantial, too. Screw Biba.

    Love you!


  14. Hestia - I wanted to send you an email - could you let me know your email address please? Mine is questtwentyeight@gmail.com
    Thank you!

  15. Elizabeth - have replied :-)

    SB - I'm with you on the screw Biba :-)

    YaH - what happened with the VW frock?! Will check out the Asda link as suggested, thank you!

    LM - we shall triumph in the clothing stakes eventually. BTW - yes to Sunday 6th February with the others!

    NS - Biba was totally iconic, wasn't it?

    Legend - Abercrombie and Fitch? Trendy or what?!

    Mrs P - the tunic top that you mention wasn't there. Or at least I didn't see it. I think I may have been too despondent to see much of the stock after my leopard print let down :-) Bet you regularly kick yourself about life-laundrying that top out!

    Inner Whispers - Rufus! *drool* Biba who?

    Fiona - did really fancy the bag that I saw and might aim in that direction for a future splurge :-)

    Mrs Fab - get the pads and read on!

    Christina - Can you imagine us on a shopping expedition? You can be all Anna Wintour cool and classy and I'll be all Country Bumpkin Comes To Town lol!

    Lori - Rufus again! *more drool*

    Ruby T - have a hankering for an McQueen frock that I saw in a Sunday Magazine. I actually cut out the picture and kept it!

    Siobhan - chocolate and shoes never let you down ;-D


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