I've done some investment shopping over the weekend. What an oxymoron THAT is, the idea of investing by spending. It's what one deludes oneself into thinking one has done when one lays out an outrageous amount of money (well, outrageous for this one...) on a couple of wardrobe items, which - the aim is - are so classic and of such high quality they will last and be still chic season after season.
The last time I did this was five years ago when I spent "money and fair words" (an expression my mother used to employ to mean she wasn't going tell us how much) on a silk tweed jacket by the Irish designers Quin & Donnelly. It has been admired and draws comments whenever worn, whether formally with a skirt or tailored trousers or flung on above a pair of jeans.
It still feels and looks fabby, and will forever, I think, unless we do one day all start wearing plastic and aluminium like 1950s sci-fi film costumes.
This Saturday I toddled off to my favourite shoe shop in mid-Wales in search of new boots. I feel triumphant that I managed to get a pair which were full-length for the price one often pays for ankle boots. I fact the ankle boots in the same design were only £15 less, something of an anomoly - the shoe-shopkeeper thought they maybe had been undercharged (but had more good sense than to check) and were passing the extra saving straight to the customer. I decided forthwith to be that customer.
Much emboldened by these beautiful calf-skin boots at a price that hadn't made me faint dead away
I mentioned as I paid for them that I might need some new leggings. The shoe-shopkeeper recommended the boutique a few doors a way. This was all in the small Welsh market town where I have a house (for weekends, holidays and eventual retirement). I try as much as I can to support the local traders as most aren't major chains but one man/woman bands or family businesses. I ventured into the boutique in some trepidation as the things in there are fabulous but with prices so much outside my usual budget I've never so much as tried anything on before.
I asked after leggings. What I was shown were not mere machine-knitted leggings, glorified footless tights, like all those I'd met with before, and carried a tag to reflect this - three times the price of a pair of good leggings in, say, M&S. But these weren't they, though, these were something else - cut, sculpted, tailored to fit with seams and darts into the waistband and made of the thickest imaginable cotton jersey (with a sprinkling of that magic word Lycra). They were more jodhpurs than leggings, in a greyish dark brown like the gills of a mushroom.
I tried to resist, even looked at others at a less alarming price, but they kept calling me back to them. So I slipped into a changing cubicle and tried them - the proprietress had sized me up at a glance and handed me the right ones for my - aherm - figure. Fishing out the new boots from their box and tissue paper I pulled them up over the leggings and zipped.
The main mirror was a huge French-style looking-glass in the large changing and viewing area at the back of the shop. I stepped in front of it to be treated to the sight of Goldenoldenlady in jodhpurs and boots like a heroine from a Jilly Cooper novel, all set off by a vast ornate gold frame Well, slap my thigh! I thought. I almost caught sight again of my young self in my late twenties togged up ready to sing Cherubino, one of the many breeches parts that falls to mezzo-sopranos, encostumed thus:
The intervening quarter century melted away - I was smitten.
The proprietress knew her job and her stock. She called an assistant over to get a what she called "the waistcoat" by the same designer (Sandwich) in the same shade of brown in my size. And a scoop-necked long-sleeved jersey dress/tunic to go under it. I loved the dress but for an odd detail in the cut that pulled it skew-whiff. This I could see was a deliberate act to achieve an asymmetry that is fashionable just now but it was too outlandish for me, and in any case it looked just like a dress does when a girl has inadvertently tucked the hem in her knickers. But the waistcoat was captivating, in finely knitted fabric which draped and fell in folds with a tie belt that flatteringly fastened just below the bust where we are always our slimmest, even when (as I am now) at our most matronly.
The Proprietress was not just a shopkeeper, I was starting to realise. She was a Seductress, and I her vulnerable prey. And do you know what? It didn't even hurt.
I totted up what the total would be once added to the boots I already had. More than I'd spent on myself at one fell swoop for many, many a year. I am out of the habit. I do Sales and charity shops, I don't do this sort of thing. Insofar as I have ever been able to do it, I am certainly out of practice now.
Oh, I am undone! I cried, liked a wronged Victorian maiden. I struggled and fought. I protested and pleaded (all in my head, of course, as one doesn't want to be taken as too eccentric in a town where one will eventually live) but it was all for naught. I had been bewitched on a Hallowe'en weekend, and was under the spell of myself looking tall, and quite slim (for me) and very very cool.
I gradually realised why the look worked. The shop was for my age-group and not for mutton to dress as lamb. It was a boutique for women from 40 upwards who still wanted to cut a dash and engage in the world of fashion, once it had been muted and transmuted into garments that could be worn by a sensible lady in her later years. I fell happily - very happily - into its marketing demographic, and with an experienced eye and honed instinct the Proprietress could see at a glace what would suit me. It was a personal shopping service such as I hadn't experienced ever before and I loved it.
I put my card through her machine and still it didn't hurt. I added my name and local address to the mailing list and decided that after 2016, when we are retired in that town and blithely spending our grey pound, I shall be a regular client of this fabulous emporium