On Garden Parties and Attendant Clothing
It’s official, people. Stephen Benatar’s novel, The Man on the Bridge, which I have written about here before, is going to be re-issued in July by Capuchin Classics. This is a book which has mattered in my world since 1989, when Stephen first sent it to me, and I first read it. And of course, it’s by a man who has come to matter in my world, too, since we began our mail correspondence. In Stephen’s last letter, he informed me that July 11th has been set as the date for the publication party, which is to be an early-evening garden party at the offices of Capuchin Classics; and he also re-issued his invitation to me to attend.
A garden party. At a publishing house. In London. In case you missed that part.
I’ve never been to a garden party. I’ve never been to a party at a publishing house. Fortunately, I have been to London a few times, so strangely, that seems the least daunting part. What’s the most daunting part? That’s fairly obvious. What do I wear?
For anyone who knows me–me, wearing my shorts and sandals and tee-shirts and baseball caps, or alternately, my bike clothes and shoes and helmet–will realize that this is a problem of earth-shaking proportions. What do I wear? Having had the dubious pleasure of shopping for semi-formal dresses with my youngest child (we were forced to take my 28-year-old niece with us, as I know nothing about these things), I have come to realize that finding appropriate and attractive dresses for 47-year-old women is not as easy as it seems: everything out there is either made for your grandmother or your granddaughter. Though I knew next to nothing about shopping, I knew this much: I didn’t want to be dowdy, and I didn’t want to look like one of those women who is trying to look 17 and failing miserably.
I started by looking online. Of course, everything you buy online is extraordinarily expensive, and then you pay a zillion times over to have it shipped to you. Still, there are pictures, and I thought that might help focus my thoughts. Sadly, most of the pictures I found were of Princess Kate, wearing a lovely pink dress and a funky hat that looked like it was gripping the side of her head for dear life. The dress, though pink, was classy and ageless–but it had long sleeves and was a bit too clingy for someone of my age. The hat–umm, no, thanks.
My lovely friend Lisa volunteered to take me to some shops near her home. Unfortunately, I had to combine that trip with an orthodontist appointment for Rosalie, so she accompanied us and was all 14-year-old-girl about the whole deal, with nose-wrinkling and bored shrugs. One store we visited, Sign of the Sun, had lovely comfortable cotton pieces and filmy scarves (including a zebra-print one that Rosalie fell in love with), but nothing quite right for what I envisioned. Crunchy, my way-cool sister Susan would have called that. The second store, Earthbound, had some dresses that came closer, including one I really liked, with a round neckline, black with daubs of bright colors at the neck and hem. In this shop, Lisa and the saleswoman kept slipping dress after dress into the cubicle for me to try–but I just didn’t love any of them (Rosalie sat in a comfy chair and shrugged repeatedly). I was really out of my league: this is not how I shop. Usually I think I need a new pair of pants. Then I go to the store and find the plain ones that look like they’ll last longest for the least money.
Finally, the other day I gathered up my way-cool sister Susan and we hit the Co-Op in Freeport. Lisa had recommended it, and Susan had not been there in a while. This was a store that had label merchandise, for drastically reduced prices–and because of that, they tend to have only one of everything, or at best two in different sizes, none of them mine. I tried to explain my vision to Susie: knee-skimming. Sheath, no ruffles, not too tight. Sleeveless or cap sleeves. My colors tend to be on the blue side, including greens (the blue-greens, not the yellow-greens) and purples (the blue-purples, not the red-purples). I wanted something that made me look like me, not someone who’s 75, and not someone who’s 15. Add to that the difficulty that I’m oddly-sized–all that biking makes my lower half leaner than my upper–and things get weird. So Susan and I wandered the racks at the Co-Op, which are set up by label rather than by article–we couldn’t just go to the dress racks and look, we had to go through every rack in the store.
I found a gauzy sort of possibility in a blue-purple-mauve swirl, but it had a side zipper, and damned if that thing wanted to come up my side. Then there was the white, red, pink, purple and black swirly sheath: the cut made it classy, the colors made it fun, and the silver fastenings at the back gave it a real kick. And it fit.
So. That part’s done. I have a beautiful dress to wear to a publication garden party in London in July. I have shoes that will work with it. Thanks to my other sister Jane, who was here on a week’s leave from her State Department posting in Manila, I have a string of Philippine pearls to wear with the ensemble. Still, as Susie and I were leaving the store, the lovely saleswoman asked, “Now, what are you going to do for a hat?”