I don’t wear dresses much. Not because I don’t like them, but because they require maintenance. It isn’t just about the dress. Everything must match: the clothes, the shoes, the bag. Creating such an outfit fills many women with delight. But the prospect of it makes my skin itch.
Recently, I attended a business lunch, an occasion which would usually require a dress. But it was a buffet lunch in a converted church. I felt I had been let off the hook. Besides, I had to meet a client before I went to it. A dress and high heels is an easy look to maintain when all you have to do is glide out of a car. But I didn’t fancy schlepping into town on a bus in what I deemed to be party clothes.
Still, I felt quite respectable in my best shirt and my best pair of black trousers, with what I called my networking shoes, a shiny patent pair of flats. I tamed my unruly hair, which was in need of a haircut. I dusted off my much-neglected make-up potions and smathered them on. I told myself I’d do.
And then I opened the door of the venue and was greeted by a riot of blues, yellows, greens, floral patterns, geometric shapes. All coming from the dresses the other women were wearing. They had all received the memo. That mysterious signal that is passed throughout the sisterhood of women, telling them what to wear. I could hear the small number of dresses in my wardrobe reproach me. Why didn’t you give us an outing,’ they cried. ‘Why didn’t you read the memo?’
I ploughed on through the crowd, consoling myself with the thought of cocktail sausages in honey dressing. When in doubt, eat. As I made my way to the buffet table, I caught a glimpse of a pink headscarf. Its owner was not wearing a dress. Instead, she wore a tunic, the same delicate pink as her headscarf. Underneath the tunic, she wore leggings. The headscarf framed a face that was free of makeup.
A Different Memo
I always thought of the headscarf as a garment that bound you, that cloistered you, that implied a shrinking of the self. That wearing it was a form of apology for your existence. But there was no air of apology in this woman’s demeanour. She moved through the crowd with ease, smiling and joking, asking questions, offering opinions.
This is me, her clothes were saying. Take me as I am. Next to her, the other women’s dresses looked like armour. If this woman had received the memo, she would have torn it up. She followed her own memo. Watching her shored me up. I realised I didn’t need to read the memo. This woman’s memo was a lot less binding.