Dressing up

This is a piece which I wrote and read at on a writing holiday, not long ago. The theme was Changes. The starting point was Mr Benn, a bowler hatted cartoon figure, who, older readers will remember, used to go in to a dressing up shop and have adventures depending on the outfit he tried on. Sounds strange now but all very innocent.

Mother of the Bride

When my daughter got married it became clear that her ideas for the wedding were markedly different from my rather more modest ones.“The mother of the bride is the second most important person ON THE DAY” she explained, and added, not quite under her breath, “And should dress accordingly.”

Having attended countless of her friends’ weddings she was aware of nuances, shades of theme played out among the floral arrangements and canapés.  “There’s country Mum, and then there’s rustic. Terracotta vases are rustic.”

She was right of course. And we were going for classy country wedding – there were to be no hay bales and no barn dancing. (Though had we suggested a pony and trap to take her away from the church, she may have been tempted.)

So when it came to my outfit, she had opinions. Naturally a casual dresser I dreaded going to the smart ladies of John Lewis and parading my sagging body in something formal and tasteful for their close scrutiny. Ever the coward I sent off for six dresses to be tried, and returned postage paid, should none suit.

They arrived and I tried them on in turn, amid a packaging-mountain of tissue and card. I gravitated towards a gauzy, floaty floral number which had looked very pretty online. On the 17 year old who modeled it. I however looked like Titania, Queen of the Fairies. And not in a nice way.

In contrast the dress suit made me look like a posh secretary. All I needed was a chignon and a notebook. It was all too formal, too short, too shiny. And too tight.

Eventually I found a sleeveless shift dress with a clever twist about here – just under my ribs and to the left. Where another woman’s waist might be. It was quite fitted but cleverly concealed, maybe even flattered my mature curves.

And after the dress, the shoes – some black patent Mary Janes with a slim heel, high enough to show an elegant ankle, but not so high as to cause a wobble.

Then the hat: and it must be a hat, not a fussy fascinator. And no glasses. The style queen insisted I practise with my lenses.

With the hat I finally found my inner MOTB. Choosing my hat was just like dressing up as kid and the best fun yet. Helen and I both tried on dozens in all the Canterbury stores and finally settled on a wide rimmed, black creation with feathers and frou frou. It was quite a statement and I peeped out from under it like Princess Diana.

A nipped in jacket, silky shapely dress, heels and hat, a neat bob and nicely hairdresser-straightened hair, eyeliner just short of Claudia Winkleman, and some strategic facial waxing, and I was ready.


My son slowly walked me down the aisle past the seated congregation to wait for the most important person that day. I felt every eye on me and for once, enjoyed it.

My oldest friend remarked afterwards, “When I saw Josh walking a tall woman down the aisle, I thought ‘She must be somebody important – I hardly recognized you.’ ”