I have certain serious defficiences. I don't like spectator sports, I almost never watch television, I don't understand contemporary music, and I hate shopping. I enjoy buying kitchen utencils and office supplies, and I love flea markets, but buying clothes is a nightmare. If I need a piece of clothing, I dash into a shop, preferably one I have known for years, find the item, try it on, pay and run. I have on severeal occations walked around in the company of shopaholics, and I don't really mind if they try on dozens of things, as long as I don't have to. When I need anything extraordinary, it's a pain.
The main reason, I think, is my background. When I was young in Moscow, there was nothing in the shops worth buying, and we had tailors and seamstresses to make our clothes, and later I made my own clothes and knitted sweaters and cardigans. It was also a common practice to swap clothes when you got tired of them.
When I came to Sweden and could potentially buy anything I fancied, I didn't have income of my own the first years, and although I am sure my husband would have never denied me money, I continued making the children's clothes from my old blouses and pants, learned quickly to use post order (the Russian community in Stockholm shared the secrets), watched out for sales, and made the most of the Swedish tendency toward casual attire.
As a result, I never developed the taste for leisure shopping, for either spending hours and days in search of anything particular or browsing shops in search of anything interesting. I eventually stopped buying canvas strap shoes and cheap t-shirts. In San Diego, I found a shop that suited my taste, age, social status and purse, and when we came back to Sweden, I searched and found an analogue. Only once when I was in London, about five years ago, I bought several nice and expensive outfits. I own an evening gown that I bought for $30 at Nordstrom Rack in San Diego and have so far worn three times; I own an incredibly expensive cocktail dress from Stockmann in Finland, that I have worn on dozens of occasions, and I own a black formal suit that I inherited from my daughter.
The necessity to get an outfit for the imminent wedding hovered heavily on me ever since the wedding was announced last year, especially when the bride-to-be insisted that the mother of the bride must wear a hat. I have never worn a hat in my whole life (except for beach hats). The other kids did not require hats when they were married, and I don't remember getting any special outfits for their weddings. I had hoped to use one of my existing nice dresses, possibly getting a hat to match, but after the Royal wedding I realised what my daughter expects me to look like. Goodness! Am I supposed to outdo Mrs Middleton?
In any other situation, I would ask my clever, supportive daugher with good taste and profound knowledge of fashion brands, to assist me. She has on several occasions helped me to find the right item for award ceremonies and job interviews. But in this one case, my dress must be a surprise for her. And there is no one here in Cambridge to turn to - so I thought. But as it happens, the world is full of eager shopping advisors. Earlier this week, I shared my concerns with one of my PhD students, Ghada, who immediately told me that I had to go London to shop, whereupon I asked humbly whether she would be kind enough to assist me - provided it would be in Cambridge. Presumably, proxy shopping is just as attractive for genuine shopaholics, so she got highly enthusiastic
Yesterday morning, I reluctantly went to town to meet Ghada at the shopping mall. We started with a cup of coffee and discussed our strategy. Ghada wanted us to get a dress first, and she had a firm idea about the colour, which made me wince. I suggested looking at hats first because if I saw a hat that I fell in love with, we'd buy a dress to match the hat. Ghada was sceptical, but as we took the first round of shops in search of a hat, we saw a dress that I thought was perfect and happened to be the colour Ghada had in mind. I tried it on and asked the shop assistant to hold it for me, and we went on. Two hours later, we had been to all fashion shops in Cambridge, selected a pair of shoes, found a possible hat, and, exhausted, sat down for lunch. Now the plan was to go back quickly to the very first shop with the very first dress, try it on again, quickly get the hat and the shoes and wind down with another cup of coffee. Ghada was meeting up with some fellow students later, and as they exchanged texts, the others bombarding Ghada with eager questions about their professor's shopping ordeal, I suggested that she invite Clementine to join us. By the time we were back in the first shop and stated that the dress I had tried and found perfect wasn't after all, Clementine arrived, and the orgy began. If you have seen a Hollywood movie in which a woman does some serious shopping, use your imagination. Together with the shop assistant, three young ladies brought me heaps of dresses, in all colours and designs, alternating "Maybe" and "NO!" and "YES, this is perfect...no, not really". By that point, I had resigned and would buy a potato sack if they recommended it, and I was getting more and more depressed as I couldn't squeeze into some really nice things. Yet finally, by a majority vote of three to one, we made a decision, and the minority admited that it was acceptable, and it was not until then I looked at the price, and it was too late to change my mind.
By this time, new forces joined us, and we marched to the hat place, only to discover that the hat Ghada and I were sure was exactly the same colour as the dress, actually wasn't. It may be that we didn't buy the original dress, or that we are colour blind, but Debbie was adamant that the hat did not match the dress. We had to break the neat package to be absolutely sure, and Debbie was right. The hunt continued, and we had fun trying on all those completley impossible hats and fascinators - a word none of us knew before last week - until suddenly we all, at the same moment, saw The Hat, and that was the end of it. Getting shoes was simple, and, loaded with bags, we went to a restaurant, and I got us a bottle of sparkling and a glass of cranberry juice for Clementine who does not drink alcohol, clever girl.
When I got to the parking structure, I had been in town for seven hours. Shopping. I simply cannot believe it. However, as Debbie pointed out, I actually had found everything I needed. It would have been frustrating to spend seven hours shopping and come home with empty hands.