As a Londoner, I find that excuses to wear a dress are few and far between. I think the last time I went to something that required me to actually dress up was back in October and that was easy because I was a bridesmaid for my best friend and didn't have to choose the dress. I'm a jeans gal through and through and thankfully my city understands me, day turns to night without anybody really noticing and since the capital is so big and no one can be bothered to go home ever, pub trips and subsequently club trips depending on how the night has gone, are often spent wearing the same thing that you put on half asleep at 7am that morning. We are the Queens of smart-casual; swap your trainers for a pair of boots and you're good to go.
But occasionally a friend who doesn't live in London decides to do something. They hit a big milestone, 21, 25, 30, or they get married and throw a party, a party which requires you to dress up. I'm at a funny time at the moment, the season of 18ths and 21sts are behind me but we're not quite into weddings yet so we are, generally, party-less. As a result, I don't really own anything party appropriate. Friends in their late twenties have 'smart dresses' coming out of their ears, a different one for every weekend. But me? Well it's another weekend down the pub for those of us who haven't matured enough to commit to someone else for the rest of our lives yet, so I don't. I own one LBD and one floor length green number and between the two of them they have seen me through the wasteland that has been my event calendar over the last couple of years.
Tonight though, we are celebrating my little sister turning 18. My brother and I both threw parties to celebrate adulthood and Katya, as the youngest of the three of us and my parents' last baby, will be no exception. In fact, we are predicting it to be bigger and better. Now a night like this, requires a dress. A dress that isn't already all over my Instagram and Facebook pages that is. A new dress. A fancy dress. A dress that will keep me looking cool and hip. It was time to go shopping.
So on Thursday night I enlisted Alex's help and made the short walk over to Westfield, a place that, under normal circumstances, I avoid like the plague. I had had a skim over the Asos and Topshop websites and had seen a couple of things that took my fancy but thought, since I only had a couple of days to choose, that it would probably be safer to go and try something on rather than wait for a cute af dress to arrive only to put it on and realise that it made me look like a potato and was a totally different colour to the one in the photoshopped picture.
We started in Topshop and the first thing I noticed was a distinct lack of formal wear. All the mannequins were dressed in distressed jeans and polar necks and the rails told a similar story. Jumpers, crop tops and a sea of ripped denim, not what I was looking for. I headed upstairs and found, tucked away in a corner, a collection of dresses, sold as part of a boutique range called Liberty of London. Some of them were wonderful, I grant you. But they were all made in a similar style, a style which I suspect only works on one kind of woman, a rare species that the fashion industry spends a lot of time catering for but who really, doesn't actually exist in the numbers that they think she does. They were also all well over £100 which, at the end of a five week month is not a price tag that I was happy to see. Already desperate though I grabbed a jump suit and slipped into the changing room.
This was the beginning of my decline. Not only was the zipper broken, the thing gave the impression of a well blooming baby bump and a camel toe that 1980's Madonna would be proud of. I didn't even stick around to do the bloody thing up and within seconds was back in the safety of my stretchy jeans and jumper. Not to worry I thought, Westfield is massive. I'll just have a look somewhere else.
We slid next door into Zara and after a 'sweeping browse' (a term coined by Miranda Hart and one that I use every time I find myself in a shop that is not what I expected it to be) I realised that they would not be able to help me. They're great for a cotton blouse and jeans that don't allow for any cellulite at all but not, it seems, for party dresses. At this point Alex (having had enough already) and I went our separate ways. I headed into H&M and again, was left sorely disappointed. It was metallic skirt-galore but lacking anything that I could wear to a black tie party. I popped into Uni-Qlo (I knew that was a wasted journey before it even started) and even channeled the me of 2007 and had a look in Monsoon. (They're definitely getting cooler, but still not selling anything that I wanted at all) and finally, having found Alex again, I took inspiration from 2009 me and went into New Look. They had a dress, it was silver and cute and I thought, for the grand total of £22 I was about to find what I was looking for. I tried it on and realised quickly, that I wasn't. What was silver on the rack was peach and see-through on my body and actually gave the impression that I had sewed straps onto a sack. It was terrible. We then tried River Island, Mango and countless others and were left wanting.
It wasn't long before I had given up all together and was sitting in a restaurant outside with the biggest glass of wine that I could find, a huge steak, some chips and the Asos app open on my phone. Their next day delivery service means that if you order something before 10pm it will arrive the next day. Luckily I worked this out at 9.45 and, after a quick scroll, a couple of screen grabs and frantic group chat messages, I had chosen a dress, found it in my size and ordered it. I'm writing this two days later and the dress looks great. It's a bit 'titty' and not in my normal style at all but it's perfect. Why didn't I just do that in the first place? Save myself from shopping hell? I don't know, I wish I had and I don't think that that's a mistake that I'll be making again.
But I am grateful for a couple of things. Namely, that Alex witnessed this. As a bloke he can't help but to roll his eyes when I tell him that I have nothing to wear. He's seen the magazines, the adverts, the pictures, he's heard the stereotype: dresses are everywhere, you're a GIRL, are you SERIOUSLY telling me that of the thousands of items in your wardrobe that you don't own A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G? Yes, I told him. That is what I am telling you, so come with me and let's find something. "How is it so difficult?" He asked me afterwards. "No wonder people don't come into shops anymore, it's all shit."
He's right. It is all shit. I have been very vocal in the past about the state of the fashion industry, it's no secret that I despise shipping; I think the changing rooms are horrible, I think the sizing is all off, I think there is too much pressure on it. This entire blog, my book, everything that I do stems from the fact that shopping is the absolute worst. But Thursday's experience shone a light on an area that I hadn't even thought of before. The fact that shops really aren't selling that much anymore. My issue on Thursday wasn't that I couldn't find anything flattering, or anything that fit me, my issue on Thursday was that I couldn't find anything. In the biggest shopping centre in the country (I think that's right?!), I couldn't find ONE SINGLE DRESS. (For under £££ and that wasn't appropriate for a Godmother at a christening).
The fact is, shopping is horrible. The lights in the changing rooms are the worst, the fact that nothing ever fits is so depressing, but all of that is just about manageable if you can be guaranteed an outfit at the end of it, something that makes you feel special and looks good and makes you feel special. But on Thursday, when I couldn't find a single thing, well the whole thing was just horrible. There was no silver lining, nothing to make myself feel better, there was just nothing.
And that's not good enough. Because a lot of us can't make the trends work, a lot of us can't pull of 'mum jeans' and still need to buy skinny ones, a lot of us can't wear ribbed tops because they pulls in all the wrong places, a lot of us need to find a dress for a party because we can't possible make a pair of high-waisted trousers and a tiny bra-type t-shirt look good in any way.
Online there are thousands of options available at your fingertips, sure the models are stupidly thin and not an portraying an accurate representation of the garment in any way shape or form. Sure, paying for postage is a ball ache and it's really annoying when they arrive and don't look anything close to good on your body. But at least you can make that discovery in the safety of your own bedroom. At leas you don't have to worry about getting stuck in something and having to sheepishly ask a shop attendant to help you out of it. At least you don't have to worry about getting sweaty and teary in public. At least you can be sure that you will find something.
There is something sentimental in me that gets sad to see websites taking over the world. As useful as it is I worry often that Amazon Prime will put local businesses out of the job, that Ocado will cause problems to markets and that sites like Asos will cause problems for department stores such as Westfield. But then something like Thursday happens and I realise that, although I did technically get my dress in Westfield, I did it sitting down, in a restaurant, dressed in something that I knew looked good, holding a huge glass of wine. And I'm not sorry for that. I'm sad that it's come to that but I can't feel guilty because if brands like Topshop can't get their fingers out their arses and start actually catering for us, then they don't deserve our custom or our presence in their stores.