A Love Story Told In Five Outfits

Em Unravelling

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One recent Saturday night, I watched a streamed screening of Nora Ephron’s play Love, Loss and What I Wore. Adapted from Ilene Beckerman’s 1995 book of the same name, the play is told in a series of monologues from 5 women, who weave stories of their lives around particular beloved or much-loathed outfits that they remember. It is, as you would expect from Ephron, funny, profound, and incredibly moving. I cried more than once.

My husband, who watched the play with me, said that he enjoyed it and that it was clever and funny and he was glad we’d seen it — but he couldn’t relate to the way these women were able so easily and so clearly to access their memories of their clothes, their outfits, how they felt in them. “How can they even remember what they were wearing?” he asked. “Can you remember what you were wearing on any given day?”

Yes, I told him. Yes, I absolutely could. Of course I could. In fact, I could tell him the story of us, and I could do it in outfits. This is how it goes:

1. First Date

A cherry red slash-necked fitted top made from a silky, stretchy fabric, with three-quarter sleeves, worn with my dark blue denim bootcut jeans (the year is 2001, and bootcut is king). They’re my smallest jeans, but I’m skinny at the moment from months of living on my own with my toddler daughter, working and studying and mothering and rushing, so I’ve added a belt. Over the jeans and the top, I’m wearing a soft fitted blazer in the palest caramel leather, a recent TKMaxx bargain that I love to death and that I have not yet scuffed or ripped, and of course, I’m wearing the high heeled boots I bought to match it.

I am proud of my outfit. I think it says “first date” loud and clear, that I look casual and relaxed but still well put together, capable, dateable. Later, when we leave the pub where we’ve had a sandwich and we go for a walk in the woods to talk more, my fancy boots will prove to be my downfall on the soft uneven loam of the forest path. But that’s ok because it means he will reach out and take my hand for the first time.

2. I Do

It is our wedding day, February 2003, and it is bitingly cold. I am six months pregnant and my face looks like the moon. We still have no money, so I have made my dress myself from a paper pattern. It’s an empire line (of course!) in cornflower-blue satin. My bridesmaids are in navy Monsoon sheath dresses and they look lithe and lovely around me, a ship in full pale-blue sail. My daughter is also in navy, squishy in her pretty little BHS velvet dress: she’s my chirpy, excited accessory. But I am uncomfortable and the neckline is slightly too wide and everything just doesn’t feel quite right. My shoes, bought from Barratt’s and stripped of their cheap sequin trim by my best friend and me with a pair of Stanley knife blades while my fiance was on his stag weekend, are hot and pinching my toes.

It doesn’t matter, though. None of it does, not when he turns and looks at me. I feel completely beautiful.

3. The Luckiest

We are going out for dinner to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary (several months after the fact), and I have splashed out on a turquoise jersey maxi dress from Hobbs. It was incredibly expensive, but it’s four years now since I had my third baby and I am feeling and looking more like myself; suddenly, clothes appeal to me again, and I think I deserve this treat. It was worth it.

The dress has a deep V-shaped neckline and gathers neatly at the waist before flowing into a skirt so long I have to lift it up slightly if we’re walking any distance. The jersey is high enough quality to drape beautifully and it’s a smaller size than I’ve worn in a decade. I love it very much. I love my husband very much. I wear the dress with a dark denim jacket and flip-flops. I don’t feel like a mother of three; I’m on a date with my lover.

We are in Cornwall, and we walk together along the harbor to a small white restaurant just on the edge of the beach. We are given a window table. The sea is dark and inky, framed by the fairy lights on the wooden window frame. It is a perfect evening.

4. Sorry

I am wearing slim-leg jeans from Gap in mid-blue stretch denim, and a dark grey T-shirt. I did not notice my clothes until now. It is a nothing outfit, a hangover outfit, one that I did not think about in any depth when I put it on. Without warning, though, today, a summer Sunday, has become one of the most memorable days of my life. I am sitting on the sofa in the summer evening gloom with my hands between my denim knees and my husband opposite me, weeping. I have nothing to say but sorry. I am empty.

This morning, I put the T-shirt and jeans on in a hurry and left the house to meet my lover and we drove to a hotel together and I let myself be that person. But today was the day my husband decided to check on where I actually was, and my affair has been exposed. Now I am home and caught and I feel like I am drowning. Now I will never forget these clothes.

5. The whisper of a hope

I bought this floral dress from Topshop several weeks ago, although I didn’t have any kind of a plan for where I might wear it or what I would wear it with. I just loved the shape of it, there on the hanger. It is printed in small red roses on black jersey, with ruching on the elbow-length sleeves, and the skirt is short and flippy. It is very comfortable. It pulls on over my head like a T-shirt.

We have come to a faded old hotel by the sea for the weekend because incredibly, and unbelievably generously, my husband is giving our marriage another chance. I have brought the dress to wear because it is my newest and prettiest, but I hadn’t factored in the freezing winter weather. My arms are goose-pimpled. I wish I had a cardigan.

In the bar after dinner, I’m not cold anymore. There’s a log fire, and wide green leather sofas. I have never shared my husband’s passion for single malt, but I drink whisky with him because we are learning to be different people around each other and to appreciate each other properly and whisky is something that means something to him. One of the songs in the background is a song we played at our wedding and we’re drunk enough to think it’s a sign.

It is an almost perfect evening, and my dress feels like the perfect choice of outfit.

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.

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