Thursday, 23 December 2010

Frock, Frock, Whoa

As you can probably tell Christmas in our house centres on food. But we do have some family traditions that don't involve stuffing ourselves senseless: presents (obviously!), stockings (filled with more presents and, gulp, chocolate as well as the ubiquitous orange in the toe), and frocks.

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:

The Biba.

The Parisienne.

The Freak.

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?


Linnhe Mara said...

They all look absolutely fantastic ( on you did we ever doubt it! ) but my preference is still the Biba.

savannah said...

all gorgeous, sugar! well done you! xoxoxox

Elisabeth said...

What a decision. Maybe wear them in the order you present them in here. You said you wear the chosen dress throughout the season, so there will be others chances.

Here in Australia we have no Top Shop, the shop you did not buy from for reasons, as you say, you are beyond its target audience.

My seventeen year old daughter who visited London a year ago tells me repeatedly that Top Shop is the best shop in the whole world for clothes.

She's heard a rumour TopShop is coming to our part of the world. Oh Joy.

Have a lovely Christmas, Eryl in your gorgeous dress/es. You look stunning.

Alesa Warcan said...

Looking sharp Eryl!
They all do look good... But my vote goes for the Parisienne. It's festive! : j

Eryl said...

Linnhe ~ I think mine is too. Probably I shouldn't have bought the others, got a little swept away!

Savannah ~ thanks, hon, XXX

Elizabeth ~ I, too, thought Top Shop was the best shop in the world for clothes when I was your daughter's age. I think that's probably why I still visit it.

A lovely Christmas to you, too, Elizabeth. I hope that leg doesn't prove too much of a distraction.

Eryl said...

Alesa ~ ooh, one vote for the Parisienne, great!

Carole said...

Wow. I can't ever find three dresses at a time and I usually have to settle. You look great in all three although my favorite is the one you call The Freak. I love it. It makes me so happy.

Kim Ayres said...

Eryl, you could wear an old blanket and still make it look stylish. You will look superb in which ever one you choose

angryparsnip said...

I don't care what you say ... you could wear a brown bag and look Fabulous !

You look wonderful in all three but
I vote for The Freak !
a grown up "bubble dress" and it looks very point on for this year.

I just adore your Christmas week posts !

cheers, parsnip
ohhhh and I love your hair (envious)

Kass said...

I love them all. How abundant you must feel to have found 3 perfect dresses.

The Parisienne in the morning,
the Freak in the afternoon and
the Biba in the evening.

Happy, Well-Dressed Holidays!

Rachel Fox said...

Honey, if that's a pie-eating frame... I want more pie.
Number 1 for Xmas Day, number 3 for a party (hogmanay?), number 2 for when someone else is cooking?

nick said...

I'm with the Biba. Stylish, eye-catching, flattering (that narrow waist!). But the Parisienne would look very sophisticated at a swanky do. Excellent choices, what a stroke of luck!

Our Christmas meal will be a chestnut, artichoke and mushroom lasagne btw. Follow that!

Scarlet Blue said...

You are the Audrey Hepburn of the Blogosphere!
Have a wonderful Christmas!

NanU said...

The Biba looks really great on you. You don't really want to be a Parisienne, do you? They're awful bitches who don't know how to have fun.

Pat said...

The Biba is perfect and also the warmest but as my Dad used to say - you'd look lovely in a sack.
Myself I shall be wearing a pale grey sweater trimmed with sparklies with warm underwear.
Three excellent buys!

Golden West said...

Hi Eryl,

The little black dress is great! You can dress it up or down - it's very flattering!

Always such a pleasure stopping by - best of Christmas to you and yours and all good wishes for a year of health and happiness!

Anonymous said...

"Das kleine Schwarze" is never wrong.

Merry Christmas, Eryl Shields.

The Unbearable Banishment said...

I like the Biba. You simply cannot beat a black dress for elegance, no matter what the occasion. Were you wearing the same shoes? The photo was cut off.

Merry Christmas wishes tossed over the pond.

Lulu LaBonne said...

I used to lick Biba from the pages of 'Jackie' I was also not allowed to visit until too late.

I do love all those frocks - well done.

Happy Christmas xxxx

Sharon Longworth said...

All three are gorgeous, a nice dilemma to have. Whichever one you choose, I hope it's a great christmas.

Charlie said...

I'm going to go for the Biba too because of its simple elegance. You are naturally elegant, and no dress should draw away from it.

The other two dresses are nice, but are suited for when you're feeling more simple than elegant. Perhaps I should restate that: More impish than elegant.

Philip said...

They all look great. I reckon wear them one at a time, but if you have to go for one, make it the third. I wish i had just an ounce of the style you so clearly have. Have a lovely christmas Eryl.

rochambeau said...

What a beauty you are Eryl.
AND I get so much satisfaction out of your wry sense on humor. Makes me smile. Thank you and you're looking good in ALL three ensembles! Watch out world. Eryl's has not one, but three new Christmas frocks!!!