I’m just writing about me.
Wearing a dress.
A coral pink, lace, above-the-knee cocktail dress.
A woman writes about a dress. Nothing new there. But if you know me, it’s probably not exactly what you’d expect. And, no, I’m not going to draw parallels between the lacy-ness of the dress and the fragile state of the world, or tell you the deep and meaningful life lessons that you can learn from the colour of coral. You can do that if you want. This is not a “how to” blog, nor is it or a self-help piece. These are not the words of a wise leader. This is just a 64-year-old woman writing about a coral pink, lace cocktail dress the wearing of which almost made her cry.
In a shop in London a couple of weeks ago, walking rapidly past the “things I would never wear” rails, the dress caught my eye.
A dress designed with a slender-limbed 20-something in mind.
In my size.
I didn’t even try it on.
I just picked it up, took it to the counter and paid for it. (The assistant probably thought, hoped, that I was buying it for a grand-daughter.)
The first time that I put it on was to wear it to dinner on Wednesday evening with R and T at Carlito’s Place. Pink above-the-knee dress, bare legs and strappy sandals. I smiled to myself, and this is also when I almost cried, when I realised that this was the first time in more than 30 years that I’ve worn a short skirt without hiding my legs in leggings and ankle boots.
Going back even further, though, when I was young it was made very clear to me by pretty much everyone in my life that I was no oil painting. Whenever there was a conversation in school or college about which celeb each of us most resembled, I was usually assigned Robin Gibb from the Beegees, Buster Keaton or Donald Duck. I dressed and developed a personality to draw attention away from my flat chest, flat bum, thick legs. (My ankles are pretty much the same thickness as my thighs. In my stand-up comedy act I have a whole routine about how every time I lose weight I lose it from my tits, and every time I gain weight it goes on my ankles. If this goes on, by the time I am 70 I will be indistinguishable from a traffic cone.)
Between the ages of 27 and 32, I enjoyed a brief window of career-success-fuelled, delusional confidence in my appearance. I drove a Porsche 911 Targa, and because of that, I told myself, I could wear anything. After all, everyone was looking at the car, not me. And so in those years I shopped in Issey Miyake, Vivienne Westwood and Joseph, wore extravagant shoulder pads, short, tight skirts, leather trousers and parachute silk boiler suits. But when I left that life, and with it, the Porsche, I had a feeling that people’s gaze might have returned to me.
I have never allowed anyone else’s opinion to make me think I’m stupid, or stop me speaking out. Most of my friends and family will wince as they agree with that one. So why did I allow the opinion of others, or at least what I imagined to be their opinion, to so influence my physical self-image and what I wore? I think I know the answer; I have always spoken up because I have nothing to lose. I’m a woman – so the chances are that no-one is listening anyway. I have dressed down, because I’m a woman and the chances are that everyone is looking.
But now that I’m a single, 64-year-old woman, I’m truly invisible. I don’t need a Porsche to be sure that no-one is looking at me. And they’re probably still not listening. So I’ll continue to say what the fuck I want. I’ll wear the coral pink, lace, above-the-knee cocktail dress because no one but me is looking. And even if they are, I don’t give a shit. I love this dress. Even if it makes me cry.
You may ask, if no one is looking, and no one is listening, what does it matter what I say or what I wear? It matters because true, open expression is everything to me now. That true expression, beyond just words, makes me who I am. It is that, not the dress per se that moves me to tears. If impact on others follows, then that is their choice, not my job.