Being a girl who finds it difficult to decide which socks to put on in the morning, let alone which pair of trousers or which shirt, the impending date of a friend’s wedding is causing more stress than seems necessary for someone who isn’t actually involved in the event except as a guest. All I have to do is show up, sit quietly, eat some food, sip some wine, chat with some people, try to contain my tears of happiness.
Not a difficult day, really.
And I was all smiles about it until very recently. I had my outfit all picked out: a sequined flapper-dress-type-thing (if flapper-dresses had been skintight and obscenely short, that is) purchased on a whim from Oxfam last summer. I figured I could throw a pashmina over my shoulders in the church, slip on a pair of tights, and bing-bang-boom, all set. And because getting dressed occupies such a disproportionately large space in my brain (and, me being me, therefore causes a disproportionately large amount of stress), my lovely and always immaculately dressed love (in a tweed, wool jumper, Rupert the Bear yellow scarf sort of way—so not high fashion exactly, but put together, mostly) had allowed me for quite some time to live in a delusional world whereby this was acceptable British wedding garb.
However, the date keeps getting closer (rather unsurprisingly), and finally, one evening, he took it upon himself to break the sad news that, however much I might wish it to be the dress is not, in fact, appropriate for a wedding. Online research confirmed this—it is too short, too sparkly, and too close to being white, apparently. I was surprised, but not altogether shocked. For weeks I had been doing an admirable job of ignoring his more subtle clues: for instance, the way he jumped on my brief ambivalence about the dress after I discovered that he would be wearing his university kilt, which is, I need add, rather prominently purple in hue.
“But if you wear a kilt, won’t I clash?” I moaned, occasional Vogue-reader that I am.
“No no,” he assured me. “You’ll be fine, you don’t need to match me. But—if you’re worried—why don’t you ask someone?” In retrospect, I realize he was simply trying to pass the duty of breaking the news on to a helpless someone else.
Every female friend we encountered for the next few days, therefore (and even some male friends) had to hear the tragic tale of the sparkly dress and the St. Andrews kilt—would they be able to work out their differences and spend a happy afternoon together? Would they sit quietly in the church side by side or would they be fighting like children while the happy couple tried to declare their love for each other in solemn grace?
“No no,” everyone assured me (rather unhelpfully, I’m sure my love was thinking). “You’ll be fine. Anyway, think of it this way: it’s not you clashing with him. It’s him clashing with you.”
But having broken the news to me at long last, my love was at a loss to suggest a better alternative. I floundered; I spent a frantic few days weighing options and photographing dress after dress in the changing rooms (I have a feeling that every shopkeeper in Oxford now knows and fears me). I came home feeling miserable about it all; mortally terrified I would get it all wrong in the end and show up wearing something horrible, therefore committing an incredible social gaffe, embarrassing my kilt-clad date, and winding up having to spend the rest of my days in a cave, hidden from the world with a sign outside: WARNING: POOR DRESSER INSIDE. LACKS CLASS, TASTE, AND TACT. OFFENDS EASILY. ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. I longed for the happy-go-lucky days of my etiquette ignorance, the rosy hours I spent without the heavy knowledge that there are serious and unspoken customs to think of.
How would I find something that wasn’t too skimpy or too frumpy? And, more importantly, how would I afford it? I spent a few hours scanning the internet, peering into dark corners in the hopes of finding the perfect dress online, but it only threw me into depression: simple, cleanly cut frocks cost a fortune, while the kinds of things that hookers wouldn’t mind being seen in seem to be universally affordable.
Difficult days followed. Getting dressed has never been my forte—by which I mean, it is something I enjoy, but not something I am especially efficient at. Nine times out of ten, I am late not because of traffic, or sleeping in, or some sort of minor household disaster, but because I am changing. Sixty times. A few weeks ago I had such a wardrobe crisis that we missed the train we were meant to catch and had to wait another hour for the next one. My love patiently sat on the bed while I flung shirt after shirt after him, crying, “Ugh, this is hideous,” and, “Not even the frumpiest old woman in the world would wear this.” He knew better, at this point, than to try to persuade me that I was being silly: wait it out, he told himself. Wait it out.
But it’s more difficult still when there are traditions to be upheld. When these traditions are the sort that have seeped quietly into a society’s consciousness, and cannot be readily articulated, it is nigh on impossible for me to cope. Part of it is my own insecurity: I do not labour over getting dressed because I am vain so much as because—rather paradoxically–I want to be seen as confident, aloof, and poised. But in this case, the insecurity stretched further: for my reputation as a viable member of a community that I have grown to love was at stake, and that was not something I could bear to risk.
The best bit of advice I got was from the bride herself, who I contacted at the lowest point of my crisis. “There’s no point getting something you’re not comfortable with,” she said, so I took it to heart. I think I have found the right dress, at long last…from a consignment shop on St. Clements, for a fraction of the price of the swanky frocks I tried on in the High Street boutiques; a recycled affair, mint colored with thin straps and a fluttery skirt. I tried it on and the elegantly dressed proprietress brought me a scarf to cover my shoulders. “That looks nice on you,” she said, and I was instantly flattered, although I knew she also wanted to make a sale. “That colour tends to look really good on dark haired people,” she added.
I swooshed the skirt around my knees and bought the thing without further ado. Now, the find the perfect pair of shoes…