If you have followed my sartorial confessions, you are dying to know how my Grand Shopping Day went. It started yesterday when I met Jane at Morag's to make plans. I had taken pictures of my existing wardrobe, which was painful because going through them I saw only too well how I was stuck in the safe black-trousers-neutral-three-size-too-big-top business. Amazingly – or probably not at all – Jane picked up the only pic in which I like myself, which is my dark green evening gown. Everything else she rightfully dismissed, but in a very pedagogical way, like I would do with a student essay, asking: “Now tell me, what's wrong with this?” or “What are you trying to do with this outfit?” And I had to admit, over and over again, that I was trying to hide myself. Which I thought I had stopped doing after Julia pointed it out for me, some years ago.
I went home and went to bed, deciding never to get up again.
However, the fatal hour inevitably arrived, and ten minutes to ten this morning I was sitting outside East shop on Sidney street, with my phone on (so unlike me) hoping against hope that Jane would call to cancel the whole thing. At the same time I was full of joyful anticipation and sort of curious about what she may have in mind. In fact, East is my favourite shop, so I was glad she had chosen it as the first port of call.
And we both saw a scarf. We had discussed scarves and agreed that they make a lot of difference, but my usual safe strategy would be to get a scarf that would go with everything. Not a daring scarf. Not a dazzling scarf.
Side comment: I'd like to know, honestly, how many women, young and mature, recognise my feelings. This is so private and so sensitive that we perhaps discuss this with our closest friend and not even then going to the core of it. I know that for many women shopping is second nature. But I am sure I am not the only one for whom it is a torture.
Back to the plot. Do you remember the wonderful old movie Ninochka, when she has returned to Russia and is telling her friend that in Paris she had a hat that she would be ashamed to wear in Moscow. The friend: “As beautiful as that!” This scarf was so beautiful I would be ashamed to wear it a year ago, but you see, I won't now! I will wear it, and another one, proudly, and I'll spend hours in front of the mirror training to tie them in the most elaborate way. But of course scarves were just the beginning. Skirts, trousers, jackets, blouses, tops, dresses – in colour combinations I would never dare to put together myself. The only rules: no black, no off-white. “Shame, said Eeyore, my favourite colour”.
As I was trying on a dress, one of the shop assistants who had been watching us closely said: “There is a customer over there who saw you in this dress and thought it was so pretty she's going to try it”. Remember this, said Jane. Remember that a total stranger thought you were pretty.
Suddenly it was half past eleven, and I felt I could kill for a cup of coffee. Half past eleven is an hour past my coffee time, that's how busy I had been. And we hadn't even been on the top floor!
After coffee we combed the top floor, and I was tempted to get another full outfit, trousers, jacket, top and scarf, in a different colour scheme (and I think I'll go back and get it next week). Meanwhile, we also got a pair of shoes and a handbag. Wow, I had never in my life owned a pair of blue shoes. Isn't it about time I had a pair of blue shoes to go with my blue skirt?
It was by then an hour past my lunchtime, and I asked Jane where she would like to go for lunch. She said: “Surprise me”, and I suggested, unimaginatively, Jamie's. She said she had been to Jamie's and didn't like it. We went to Carluccio, but they had a huge queue, so we ended up at Jamie's anyway, and Jane had to admit that it was an excellent choice. So I have made a little contribution too to the enlightenment of humankind.
The rest felt a bit of an anticlimax as we wandered all over the city centre, me carrying two huge shopping bags, popping into shop after shop, until I realised that Jane wasn't just browsing. She was consistently searching for something she had made up her mind I must have, and it was a pink jacket. Not in my worst nightmare can I imagine myself wearing a pink jacket or a pink anything, but when we finally found The Pink Jacket I was devastated that they didn't have it in my size. What would my old self do? Either buy the wrong size or cry invisible tears. But my new self! My new self went home and ordered the right size on the web.