WHAT’S IN A DRESS…

‘…Because it is never about how a bride looks, but how she feels.’

A few weeks ago I had the fun task of getting some professional photos taken by the brilliant @MaryRichardson. Given the images are intended for promotion of my forthcoming book debut, THE PERFECT DRESS (click to find out more), picking an outfit for the shoot felt like a big deal. After all, one cannot sell such a title dressed in jeans and a hoody. Trading standards would chase me down, closely followed by the Crimes of Fashion special unit. A dress of dresses was required – feminine and friendly, definitely not frumpy (nor too edgy), preferably flattering, respectful of my interest in fashion history, and above all, something ‘me’.

I scoured shops, sales and vintage clothing stores. I obsessed over Pinterest. But the answer came in a conversation with my mum, and her reminder that the default dress-up policy of my youth was to raid her suitcase of 60s and 70s leftovers. I say leftovers – she’s kept some cracking good dresses. Immediately I thought of the suitcase gem I’d loved most and knew that it was, in its way, my own ‘Perfect Dress’.

Louisa Leaman full length

Original BIBA, in a simple teal daisy print, with ruffles and bell sleeves and a high-low waterfall draping hem, I wore it for my sixteenth birthday, for a friend’s posh university ball, for another friend’s wedding, then forgot all about it during the practical-wear scramble of motherhood. Testament to its thoughtful design, that several decades later, after three kids, two house-moves, cropped hair and a lot of messy, outdoor hobbies, I’ve managed to zip it up again – and it feels amazing.

It’s a dress that thrills me, not just for its form fitting grace, but because of the immediate rush of nostalgia that gets me in the gut. Memories of my sweet sixteenth: blueing light, summer dusk, the sensation of dry grass beneath my bare feet, catching my reflection in a window, tipsy from vodka, and thinking that perhaps I look a little bit like Stevie Nicks, then being told by a random boy that I’m ‘cool’. All the while, uncurling within me, is the buzz and bedlam of emerging adulthood.

And that, I think, is the magic of the clothing we cherish. Perfect dresses aren’t just about style, but about heart and soul, the memories absorbed in their fibres, the truths in their stitches. Dressing up in my mum’s BIBA dress I am reconnected to the me of then – sixteen, arty, a hippy-wannabe day-dreamer with hidden fears – and it’s as powerful a marker of how far I’ve come as any.  What’s more, this dress, before I even existed, had a life via my mum – and goodness only knows what she got up to in the late 1960s, but hey that’s her story to tell… 😉

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