I’m looking at clothes in Marks and Spencer trying to choose something for the boys to wear to a wedding on Saturday. I like the white granddad shirt and beige waistcoat combos. They don’t have them in Youngest’s size but they do have one age 11, for Middle One, and one age 14, for Eldest. Can I get away with it? I think the last time they wore matching clothes was on holiday in the Caribbean six years ago. I still have the photo, three boys on the beach, standing in descending order sporting brightly patterned short-sleeved shirts from Gap. I love it.
I have something for Youngest, so I buy the shirt and waistcoats in a mad flurry of optimism. Back home I remove the labels from the bigger set, leaving it lying on Eldest’s bed and later in the evening he comes downstairs holding it aloft, between thumb and forefinger, like a piece of limp road kill.
“Is this meant for me?” He says.
“Um, well, I thought…” I say.
“You’re joking, right?” He says.
“Yes, well, I know it’s not very trendy, I just thought it’s for a wedding and…”
“But I have a really nice shirt from Top Man I’m going to wear. That tight one.” He says.
“Yes. Of course, that’s fine.” I shuffle away to get on making the supper. Silly me.
I should remember that what you wear when you’re a teenager is hugely important. How can I forget all those sweaty, static hours trying things on in Chelsea Girl? Marks and Spencer is just never going to cut it.
When I was 14 my mother let me have my monthly Family Allowance. I planned each buy meticulously, coordinating everything; some of those outfits are etched in my memory still. Like the pink jeans, matching jacket, stripy top and crocheted scarf from Dotty P’s (as modelled by the mannequin in the window). I bought that for the school trip to France and my best friend, Susie P, copied it in blue (you know it’s true, Susie).
We wore our matching ensembles on the coach and a cool French boy gave me a vulgar non-verbal come-on, which I took to mean the outfit was a big success (but later realised might have been an insult). Then there was the black and gold ra-ra skirt with matching gold lame leggings. Strangely, I didn’t manage to pull in that…
Despite being all grown up now I’m still prone to the odd sartorial meltdown. Earlier this year, when husband and I were going to a trendy do for a tenth wedding anniversary (important because lots of friends from uni would be there), I was overwhelmed by three possible choices: sexy slut, sophisticated but boring or trendy but no shape to it. Initially I opted for sexy slut (of course) but then had a crisis while appraising myself in the mirror at the last minute.
“Do I look tarty?” I asked husband. Big mistake. Just in case there are any men reading (I know it’s unlikely), the answer to that question is, no, you look great. In fact, that's always the answer to the question, just so you know.
Unfortunately, husband didn’t know (yet). After the briefest of glances he said, “Well, yes, you do a bit.” Fatal. I had a fit - during which I changed outfit more than once - and asked for his opinion again. He replied, calmly, that he really didn’t want to get involved. Another big mistake. We rowed all the way to the Tube and onto the tube and while changing tube from the northbound Northern line to the northbound Victoria line, until I sat on a bench (to get his attention) refusing to go any further.
“I’m not moving until you apologise.”
“For what?” husband asked, fairly reasonably.
“For saying that you didn’t like my dress and then not offering any more advice.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t like your dress. I can’t say anything right,” he complained, “I just don’t want to get involved.”
“But you ARE involved. You offered an opinion at the beginning. You were up to your neck in it!”
He started to laugh and I tried desperately not to join in. Then I started to laugh too. Sitting next to each other on a bench at Stockwell underground station with people dashing past, all of them giving us a much wider birth than strictly necessary, we laughed hysterically while I was wearing the trendy dress and wishing I’d worn the sexy one.
After the incident with Eldest and the waistcoat I lose confidence and wait another day before trying to get Youngest to model his new shorts and shirt (he thinks just holding them against him will suffice). As he’s putting them on, Middle One strolls in from the garden and spies the Marks and Spencer white granddad shirt and waistcoat combo (age 11) on the hanger.
“Is that for me?” He says.
“Yeees…” I say, hesitantly.