Seeking something to wear, my iPad operating at 5.30 a.m. while he sleeps, I work my way through the clearance bargains on the Next site, the stuff no one wants, the equivalent of book remainders, so they are selling it off. The burgundy suedette pinny dress catches my eye. Available in all sizes, it is reduced from £40 to £11. Further reductions. What a bargain.
There’s a reason for that. It’s suedette.
Have you ever worn suedette? It may feel soft but not in a good way. Not like soft leather or suede, its man-made fibres make it feel soft in a cheap way, a working-class way, a nasty imitation of the real thing, reminding me of the tan leather fringed gilet (or waistcoat as we called it then) I had proudly saved up for as a teenager, setting my own trend, my own style. It was all about texture then, when I also bought patches of rabbit fur to sew over pockets, to add a sartorial twist. The waistcoat grew quite filthy with wear, and there was no way of cleaning it. The edges and ties grew shiny with oily grime. I’d tie the fasteners tight to constrain my growing bosom, like a bodice. Constraining my breasts, encasing them, made them less important.
“She’s a funny little thing” my neighbours would say.
My mother indulged my love of difference. She let me buy clothes affordable from her catalogue at 10p in the pound repayment each week. I fell in love with some burgundy knickerbockers. They were the bee’s knees. When they arrived, I believed I looked fashionable beyond words, beyond anything my neighbourhood had seen. I could tell by the looks on their faces. Mum fuelled my love of a heaving wardrobe. All my life, clothes have tumbled out of it, or lay festering, screwed up at the back. Born in a row of terraces, I yearned for difference, to be singled out, to be someone else, something else, somewhere else. Clothes mirrored identity.
My girlfriends and I created a band. We would sing in Monica’s attic in the back to back while her mum was out. Our name was amazing, probably better than our singing: Don’t Crush the Velvet. We did cover versions of songs. Ben by Michael Jackson and others requiring belting out our hearts and souls. Ballads. Big ones. I had visions of us moving in time, wearing crushed velvet maxi dresses on our skinny frames which would evolve into tall, skinny, gorgeously womanly bodies. My dress might even be burgundy.
Looking again at the suedette pinny, I know I’ll never wear it; tall never happened, skinny did, briefly, but never did I one day awake with the sleek jet hair of my mysterious maternal grandmother, the one who died before I was born, before my parents were even married. The pinny stares into my soul, my history, my sense of who I am. At £11 it is enticing me to try it on, the closest I may now get to my crushed velvet.
Then I remember the words of my second son, who looks stunning in burgundy. He says:
I don’t know why most people wear it because most people can’t. Blondes, for instance, look dreadful in burgundy.
My dream shattered is now what the pinny represents.
I might just buy it anyway. Try it on, though I will only look dreadful and very ordinary in burgundy. And it is only suedette.