I am heading off to England and Italy in a few weeks time. Naturally, one shops in such alluring destinations.
In order to make the most of my time and budget, I decided to lash out on a personal shopper in Rome. This was before I did the basic research, an elemental mistake. An internet search on the topic lead to a fair number of stories and comments which could be summed up as ‘If you’re over a size 10, forget it’. At this point, I should confess my actual size.
In Australian sizing, I’m a size 18, and my feet are between 10 and 11. To complicate matters even more, I’m also six feet tall. Finding an empire waisted dress that sits properly under my admittedly generous bust, instead of cutting it in half, remains a distant dream…Nor is making my own clothes much of a viable option because the big four pattern companies seem to think that all women are between 5’5” and 5’6”. The last time I was that height, I was about 10.
So here I am, big all round, innocently contacting personal shoppers and saying Hello, can you help me? Cringe. The lady I chose gave me a reply worthy of the UN. This also seems to be uncharacteristic. The same women who reported if you’re not a size ten forget it also had tales of rudeness and disdain from the sales assistants. All of the preceding has produced, well, it would be far too melodramatic to say a crisis but certainly a great deal of anxiety.
I’ve learned over the years to get curious about my anxieties, rather than anxious about my anxieties. I may not resolve the anxiety itself, but I will have learnt a smidge more about what makes me tick. So I asked myself, what clothes do I remember having that I absolutely loved and felt fantastic in? My list was brief. There are only 8 items. Which, given that I have been wearing clothes of my own choosing for approximately 10950 days, is astonishing.
Even more astonishing to me is that these eight items are unevenly divided into two short time frames. They total about five years out of the last twenty five. The first is when I was an undergraduate and before I met my then husband. The second was the short interregnum between him and the next horrificly costly relationship.
I married a man with what could politely be described as a lack of emotional intelligence. Like many people, he reserved his acceptable behaviour for ‘the world’ and his less than acceptable behaviour for those he professed to love. I, having swallowed the furphy that love changes everything and with my own equally substantial baggage, allowed his words to poison me. I guess I don’t remember a thing about what I wore during those years because I was far too busy trying to keep my head above water.
I do remember that in the last week before making a decision to leave my husband, there was a dress involved. It was the first piece of clothing that I had ever attempted to make. A blue floral dress, super simple, just a gathered skirt and a sleeveless bodice but I was proud of it. I asked him to help me pin up the hem. He refused. My sewing skills had improved enough during the interregnum to have made two of the items on my list of eight. I was most pleased with the pink linen princess line dress, which I wore with a white linen jacket and sky high navy blue Alta Linea shoes.
I suspect that if someone had handed me a Valentino gown (that’s on the bucket list) sometime in those missing, memory less years I would have shoved it in the back cupboard and forgotten about it. I was too much of a broken drone (harsh but true) to care one iota. Sure, I shopped during those times. I went to work and represented my department and so forth and no one ever called me into their office and told me that I needed to up my dress standard. Before starting the all consuming PhD, I remember the act of making clothes but I have barely any memory of what I made.
Nothing stands out. I can only conclude that in my chronic bleakness, accentuated in the later years by grief, made me blind. No frock, not even a couture original, could have alleviated the sludgiest of emotional sludges. The skill, artistry and devotion that went into it would have been lost on me.
Things are better these days. The fact that I am even attempting this whole shopping in Rome business is a sign of great progress. That said, this little bit of introspection has made me a little more comfortable about accepting that I’ll never be fashionable. When I review my 8 pieces, only one the green brocade hotpants could possibly be encompassed in that most dreadful of phrases, ‘fashion forward’. It’s not my gift. If it was, I wouldn’t be hiring a personal shopper.
I’m no less anxious about this trip. The Italians will quite likely mutter ‘Che brutta’ as I go past. But I can at least say that at last, if Valentino ever did make a gown in a size 18 I might have the insight and the clarity to carry it off.