Sunday, 28 October 2007

The Platonic Ideal and a Little Black Dress

I don't feel as if I am living my own life at the moment (a feeling only exacerbated today by a nasty combination of the groggy day after a migraine, the morning the clocks change, and having just finished a very long novel). I know how my life goes. I live in the provinces, I don't go out, I go to and from an undemanding job, I knit and I read.

Knitting and reading are still there. The job is still there, but I am trying to change it. Hence my need for an interview suit. Hence my second trip to London in a fortnight, so that L could help me to spend my annual clothing budget on one suit (having been given some money lately, it seemed like a good time to get a suit that I loved, rather than one that would merely pass muster). I got the suit, in the first shop we went in. It is black and white checks, very 1940s, and made me want to sit straight down with the DVD of 'His Girl Friday' (when I start making filmic references, you know I love the outfit). I could have stopped right there. I had achieved my plan. I felt far luckier than I deserved, but it had all been planned.

I love clothes you see. I love them with a passion, and although it might not always be apparent, I spend a lot of time considering what to wear. But I hardly ever feel well-dressed. In my mind there is an ideal outfit, but the seems to be an unbridgeable gap between the unreal ideal, and the imitation that I end up actually wearing. Here, in a nutshell, is Plato's theory of Ideals, the difference between the perfect Table (or Dress) that our minds tell us exists, and the poor shadows that are all we actually experience.

I have had just such an ideal dress in my mind since I was 16. I dreamt of it, a real sleeping dream. I drew it. I loved it. Then I gave it to the heroine of a very bad political novel I wrote one long summer, for her to wear to the Commons every day. It was black, knee-length, made of wool jersey, and had white collar and cuffs and a buttoned bodice. The dress I linked to a few days ago (from Oasis) was similar in outward appearance, but was the aforementioned poor shadow, being light viscose, with shiny satin for the collar and cuffs. It felt, as I suspected it would, cheap, and this is a dress that needs to feel expensive.

L and I only went into Harvey Nichols to jeer at expensive handbags. I don't know which of us decided that we should go up to the women's clothing floor, but we quite often go and admire (and even occasionally try on) clothes that we cannot possibly afford. But there we were, and we walked round a corner, and I saw it.

It was The Dress, just hanging up in the Diane von Furstenburg concession, as if Ideals became tangible every day of the week, as if all the laws of the universe had not just been broken. I tried it on. I knew this was dangerous, but I had to know. After all, it might have given me a spare tyre the size of Belgium, or cut off my legs at the worst possible place. Order might have been restored.

Of course it fitted, it fitted perfectly. I then spent ten minutes pacing up and down in a truly hideous pair of heels the sales girl had borrowed from another concession (because I had been wearing flat boots, and needed to check the fit with heels). I performed frantic feats of mental arithmetic, and finally worked out that if I spent nothing beyond bus tickets and newspapers, and put Chris and myself on a diet of soup and cheese sandwiches until my next payday, I could afford £283. It would be the most expensive garment in my wardrobe by a very long way (my entire wedding outfit cost under £80). I bought it. We then had champagne in the top floor bar to celebrate.

The soup and sandwich diet is unnecessary, thanks to mum's exceptional generosity. Somehow, hanging on my bedroom door so that I can marvel afresh at it every time I pass (and so that the creases from being in a bag for two days can drop out, which with wool they will), is an Ideal made completely and utterly Real. This isn't my life; things like this don't happen to me. But here it is (in possibly the worst photograph I have taken). Try here instead (but I am not amazonian, and it is longer on me, though just as flattering).

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