I wish I knew where to find my good friend Aunt Sally, last known address The Barn, Ten Acre Field, Loamshire, so that I could make her a present of my old Little Black Number. It could be just the thing to persuade her reluctant sweetheart Worzel Gummidge to take her to the Scarecrows Ball.
When I say old, I mean pretty much done for. The hem is starting to fray, one of the seams is showing signs that it could split if put under too much strain and despite all my past fitness classes, weekly netball and cliff top runs, I’m afraid I’m no longer the slip of a lass I was at the time it was purchased. Trying to put it on now would be an exercise in futility.
When I chose it from the Coco Chanel range in Harrods, Knightsbridge, more years ago now than I care to give too much thought to, it was a perfect fit. In those sartorially fussy days, when a girl’s appearance at every social function was treated by her parents as being tantamount to an altogether different kind of coming out to the one that eventually transpired for real, you also needed all the extras: Jewellery, bag, shoes. You name an accessory, I had it.
As the South London equivalent of a Kensington debutante, I have to admit that gold-trimmed invitations to Royal Ascot or the Henley Regatta weren’t exactly dropping through the letterbox like Harry Potter being summoned to a new term at Hogwarts, so my little black number wasn’t seriously overworked, but it had its fair share of outings. Accompanying mummy and daddy to the Society of Mechanical Engineers Annual Dinner or Ladies Night at the Officer’s Mess of the Royal Artillery were formal enough social occasions to merit its wearing and I played the dutiful daughter conscientiously and accepted the flattery of those to whom I was introduced, though, I hasten to add, not the whispered-in-the-ear invitations to come outside and take the evening air, as the night wore on.
The life of a Little Black Number is essentially one of highlights, of
special occasions, of red-letter days or rather, red-letter evenings. It became, when I put it on, a walking diary of a far more active formal social life than I ever realised I was leading at the time.
I don’t know why I kept it. Every other dress or skirt I owned went to the Oxfam shop in Blackheath Village when I came out (for real) and I’ve worn trousers, culottes or jeans ever since. But for some reason I can’t recall to mind now, I kept the Chanel dress. And so it came to pass that a couple of weeks ago, when we spent Christmas with my parents in London, I was unpacking in the bedroom of my younger days and found it on a lonely hanger at the back of my wardrobe still in the plastic cover that it came back from its last visit to the dry cleaners in. So, here it is. A shadow of its former grace and elegance and too small for my now maternity - widened hips.
And so it has had its day and yes, I think it would now suit Aunt Sally far better than I. She’d have much more use for it. I think it might just be what the well dressed scarecrow is wearing this season. Having said all that, the likelihood of my ever finding Ten Acre Field and delivering it to her is really quite remote so I brought it home with me to Cornwall and I’ve hung it in my wardrobe here, where it will stay. One day, many years from now, I may get it out and show it to my daughter. What she will say I can only imagine. I’d like her to say how gorgeous and elegant I must have looked in it, but I accept the risk that in reality her response may be more along the lines of “Oh, mummy.... did you really used to be able to wear that? Wow, you must have been so SMALL once..!!”
You know...... I might just be able to take that as a compliment.