I do like a new Christmas dress, I don't always get one, but I always try. I think this particular tradition goes back to birth. We were poor, but my father was the kind of sartorial that deals with cuff length in fractions, so we had 'best' clothes for things like church and family gatherings. I remember being taken to London for Christmas clothes, as well as to see the lights, from a very young age. And I remember my father's face softening when I tried on something that looked just so. It was all so exciting, glamorous, and happy making. I've never lost the urge to recreate that feeling. Thus, frock shopping is the first stage of Christmas for me.
The Christmas dress has to work very hard. It has to have an air of the festive about it without making it unwearable for the rest of the year; it has to be washable as I will be cooking in it (though I do wear an apron), and I'll wear it to every occasion over the season ; increasingly it has to be elegant (the older one gets...), and it has to flatter my pie eating frame.
For the last few years I haven't been able to find a dress that fits the remit, and have come home sadly empty handed. So when Stevie and I went to Edinburgh last week I didn't hold out much hope. I presumed the shops would be filled with the usual too short, too sparkly, too frou-frou creations. Our first stop, Top Shop, bore me out; in fairness to it I'm not exactly within the bounds of its target audience, so I wasn't surprised.
Our second stop was Jenners, Edinburgh's venerable old department store. Jenners used to be the sort of place Miss Jean Brodie types bought their twinsets and sensible shoes, but since Harvey Nichols opened about eight years ago it's become rather chi-chi. Still, this didn't raise my expectations: my budget didn't run to anything from the posh brands, and as I looked across the ladies floor I was nearly blinded by bling.
After a quick scan I homed in on Biba. Biba was the dream brand of my early teenage years, but by the time I was old enough to go up to London by myself it had closed its doors. Their stuff looks much the same as I remember it from pictures in Vogue during the 70s: all ankle length velvets and silky prints. Ankle length, that is, if you're 6ft 2, which I'm not. For nothing more than old time's sake I wandered around and fingered the satins, wondering about leg extensions, and in the process stumbled on a definite maybe: fluid knee length black jersey, a floppy tie front and, much sought after, long sleeves. I would try it on. As I looked for the changing rooms I spotted what I can only describe as a Parisienne dress. Stevie said he didn't think much of it but by then I was already imagining myself striding across a parquet floor with scarlet lips, so I picked it up. Then I spotted a dress so bizzarre (like a deflated balloon with a doily attached ) that I decided to try it on for the experience. The result of taking three dresses into the changing room with no expectations whatsoever:
They all came back to my place. Two of them were less than half their original price, and I feel I've made up for the last several years of coming home empty handed. The only problem I now have is: which one do I wear on the day?