On Saturday, I went to town with a list of boring, practical purchases I needed to make (swimming goggles, hockey skorts and more of that ilk). I was waylaid by the 70% Reductions sign in the window of Brown Thomas. This is Cork’s only high-end department store. I needed a rig-out for a fast-approaching wedding so I decided to take a look.
I browsed the rails of clothes that I would usually be too intimidated to even touch. I found a Ted Baker dress with a reasonable price tag and gave myself a mental nudge to, at least, try it on. Ted Baker have a mysterious sizing system so I just found the largest there was. It was a floaty number which I thought might have some flexibility size-wise. On the way towards the changing rooms my eye was attracted to a blue shift on the rails of Karen Millen. It was one size too small, I knew it was unlikely to fit. As I rummaged for the next size an assistant appeared from a trapdoor in the floor (or so it seemed) and inquired, in a scathing voice, whether I needed any help with sizes.
This woman was thin as a blade with a black, razor-sharp bob. She wore skin-tight black trousers, a black top and a blue, leather biker jacket. In other words, she was dressed in the costume of a posh clothes shop assistant. Here is her clone;They clearly dress by numbers. Bluefly.
She spoke with the deep-toned and rounded vowels of a south-side Dubliner. My guess is that she was drafted in to teach the culchies how to manage The Sale.
If I was standing naked in a blizzard I would not have asked this particular assistant for a larger size. Most days I would have put the dress back on the rail and walked away but defiance overtook me. I lowered my voice to match hers and said, to my own surprise, ‘I think I’ll just give this one a try’. She replied with a shrug.
As I stood in line for the changing rooms, Bluefly’s voice carried across the shop. She seemed to be hectoring the locals about the ‘fab’ nature of the new lines, in particular the ‘transitional pieces’. Ireland’s climate is, what we like to call, temperate. This means that the transition from rainy summer to rainy winter is fairly smooth. The only transitional piece you need is a foldable umbrella.
Bluefly caught me looking at her. I’m told (by my children) that I have a cranky resting face. I guess that’s what she saw because she stormed towards the changing rooms wielding a wooden clothes hanger like Death’s scythe.
‘Let’s see if we can get this moving Ladies, shall we?’, she asked rhetorically (we hoped). She rattled her hanger up and down the dressing-room doors. ‘Anyone need any help with sizes?’, she projected masterfully towards the closeted Ladies. Within seconds, four doors opened and five sheepish-looking Ladies emerged. Bluefly hustled them out and ushered me forward. She glanced at the dresses in my hand and, quite blatantly, assessed by body. She barely, but just barely, stopped short of actually shaking her head.
As I closed the changing room door I knew, just as surely as if she had said it out loud, ‘they are NOT going to fit’.
She was, of course, perfectly correct.
The Ted Baker went on put looked ridiculous. I didn’t close the zip on the Karen Millen dress for fear that I would need to call Bluefly to scissor me out.
My inclination was to thank Miss Bluefly for having not actually said the words out loud; for allowing me to consume precious changing room minutes with my delusions. Then I considered the half-hour of my own life just wasted. Could she not have found a decent way to tell me. Isn’t to assist interchangeable with to help?
Luckily, she had descended back through her trapdoor when I emerged looking just as sheepish as those before me.
I wandered disconsolately towards Whistles, hoping that brand might make clothes for real humans who eat. I had pulled out a turquoise tent-like number, certain to accommodate me plus wedding banquet, when another shop assistant approached and asked whether I needed any help with sizes. I eyed her up cautiously. She sounded and looked like a real person who eats.
My whole story spilled out. I needed a dress for my (much) younger sister’s wedding. All the Occasionwear dresses put me firmly in the mother-of-the-bride box and all the younger style dresses are not made to accommodate the body of a woman who has borne and breast-fed four children. She laughed. She was just lovely.
‘Hang on’, she said as she shoved clothes back and forth without ceremony.
‘This is a magic dress’, she declared handing me a silky wraparound that didn’t seem to have enough fabric to wrap around an orange.
She gently escorted me to the changing rooms where she politely knocked on doors until she found an empty cubicle.
‘You are going to love that dress’, she smiled reassuringly and disappeared.
She was, of course, perfectly correct.
I bought The Magic Dress and have been doing a merry I-love-my-new-dress dance at regular intervals ever since.
1. My body’s not right or wrong. It just is. It’s the dress that needs to fit.
2. Bluefly, whatever her fashion credentials, is in the wrong job. She may have kept the line moving but she didn’t make the sale.
Nice trumps snooty every time.