Sunday, March 26, 2006

What Not to Wear

Yesterday was quite a busy day for us. Peter was asked to give an exhibition of his photography as part of a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birthday. The concert was held in Dalkey and we spent the afternoon hanging photographs and generally running around in a frantic fashion.

I’d asked Peter about two weeks ago what I’d need to wear to the concert and he said he’d ask the organiser. You can see where this is going. He didn’t get a chance to ask. Peter is, as he would tell you himself, casual to a fault. His plan was a very manly plan to wear whatever.

Luckily, the art exhibition part of the evening featured another artist. So, as she was hanging her paintings, I asked her what she was wearing. She laughed and said she’d asked the organiser the very same question and was told to wear a skirt, that it should be very dressy. That sort of scuppered my “business casual plus” plans.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised by the revelation that this was meant to be a dressy occasion. I’d been reading the context clues: Dalkey, 20 euro tickets, classical music; and my gut had told me that trousers and a sweater were not going to cut it. The trouble was, I hadn’t taken my gut one step further and bought something to wear. I knew when I threw open the wardrobe doors, I was going to find a huge gap in my dressy-wear.

I think I’ve mentioned this here before, but I am really crap at being a girl. I’ve no real interest in fashion, I’ve worn make-up exactly twice in the last seven years, and I hate shopping for clothes. I’m good at being a girl in the negative sense – I’ve a horrible body-image and completely conflicted feelings about food, weight, and appearance. This creates the perfect storm of meltdown opportunity when I have to rummage through my clothes and find something dressy to wear.

When we got home to change for the evening’s big event, I found that the snazzy portion of my clothes cupboard was bare. I have one nice cocktail dress that seemed a little too dressy for someone who wasn’t performing in the concert. I have a couple of flirty little skirts that I’ve bought with Peter’s approval in mind but I never have the confidence to actually wear. I have a greeny-cotton dress with a jacket that I bought to wear to our friends’ wedding in Germany. That probably would have been fine except, as much as I loved the dress in the fitting room at Marks and Sparks, I felt frumpy and old when I wore it at the wedding.

The business side of my wardrobe is doing great. I have an entire army of business suits. (Although I should mention these are all trousers – not a skirt in sight.) I have several pairs of smart polyester-cotton blend trousers that are right for any business occasion. I have nice androgynous button-down shirts, classy Banana Republic t-shirts, and a few smart-looking sweaters.

I can postulate a couple of reasons for my dearth of good dressy clothes. Being married to Casual Man, we don’t exactly swirl the hip clubs and cocktail party circuit. I don’t attend many events where the dress code requires upscale and classy outfits. I can’t entirely blame Peter and our low-key social life. I’m also notoriously cheap, so I won’t buy things unless I have a very good reason.

But the biggest reason, I think, is that I’m completely allergic to and psychologically traumatised by skirts. From my rudimentary understanding of women’s fashion, the skirt is the building block of dressy wardrobes. An actual dress is well and good, but it limits you. A skirt is much more adaptable. For example, you can wear the right skirt in any season just by changing what you wear on top.

Being a good Catholic schoolgirl, I had to wear a skirt every school day for 12 years. We’re talking about twelve long, formative years of ugly and unflattering skirts. I can’t get past the bad mental associations I have with skirts.

I also feel like I don’t have a body type that looks good in a skirt. I’m short and I have a big ass. It’s difficult to find clothes that fit properly. A skirt draws a line at your waist, which is the last thing I need. It highlights the fact that my butt is large and I don’t have a lot of torso. I am not willowy. I am more fire-hydrant-y. (I’m not complaining here – I’ve never fallen off a horse because of my fantastically low centre of gravity. Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down. Or off horses.)

Back to last night, I tore through my wardrobe, rejected the flirty skirts and ended up with navy blue trousers, a bluey-purply button down shirt, and a navy blue short-length jacket. I looked like I was there for a job interview, which is exactly how I looked last September when I wore a pantsuit to a friend’s wedding.

The writing on the wall is clear to me. Unless I want to spend the next several years at weddings and dressy functions looking like I’ve arrived to complete people’s income tax returns, I’m going to need to invest in some good dressy clothes. The trouble is I have no idea where to start. (My evil-mean-girl voice is telling me I could start by losing a stone.) I’m so desperate, in fact, that I looked up the website for that television program, What Not to Wear, even though I’ve never watched it. Luckily, I do not meet any of the criteria that they’re looking for in their next season, so they’ve unwittingly saved me from myself. For now, at least.


At 26 March 2006 at 18:22, Blogger F said...

I'm in much the same position myself - and I also have an aversion to skirts (which look terrible on me). I think going into Debenhams with a fistfull of money and engaging the personal shopper twice a year is the only way to go

At 26 March 2006 at 22:27, Blogger Arbusto said...

See if you can get somebody to nominate you for the American show. They don't have criteria other than really sucky clothes. Find it on

I think my girlfriend wants to get me on that show even though the most worn parts of the wardrobe are her doing.

At 27 March 2006 at 20:01, Blogger Col said...

Hey there, welcome back. And here I thought you'd gone all girly on me when you bought that cocktail dress. Hee hee. Just went thru similar trauma myself in preparing for BIL's wedding. Have you thought of a nice pair of dressy silk pants? Match them with a dressy blouse and you're set for all but the dressiest affairs.

At 29 March 2006 at 02:51, Blogger Career Guy said...

All good ideas! I like the personal shopper deal, and the silk pants. Wear what suits you, silly. Since when do you go conventional?

At 29 March 2006 at 18:10, Blogger -Ann said...

Fiona - I think you're onto something there. Have to get over my congenital cheapness though.

Arbusto - Didn't realise there was an American version.

Col - Hey, I really miss having you around to call on in my fashion emergencies. You are, as always, a genius. I'd never have thought of silk trousers. The cocktail dress was 80% off in Fields - it was also royal blue and was exactly my style so how could I pass it up???

Dad - You just don't understand. :)

At 29 March 2006 at 20:51, Blogger Kelly said...

Hi Ann... I saw you in the comments section at Fence's site. I was also at a concert celebrating Mozart's birthday, only it was in Charlotte, NC. I can relate to your dressy-clothes dilemma, although my problem was more not having the right shoes... A bad body image doesn't help. Why do we women beat ourselves up so?

I wore dressy pants, and fit in fine. (But then, this is America. =o)

At 29 March 2006 at 21:22, Blogger Lyss said...

You could always (in the future, as I realize I am a bit late here) dress up your work suits with a camisole or nicer blouse (though I hate tucking those things in) & some bolder jewelry.

At 5 April 2006 at 16:57, Blogger -Ann said...

Hi Kelly - I blame the media. I also have a shoe problem - most of mine are still in storage. I really thought we'd have a place of our own by now.

Lyss - A great idea, although I think I'm probably always going to feel like a tax accountant in the suits. PLus, I am very not good at jewelry.


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