|Miss Mansfield - never knowingly underdressed|
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.