16 Shops 43 Dresses and 1 Man Getting it All Wrong
M MY STEPSON MARRIED IN JUNE LAST YEAR. We had a wonderful day and the preparations went smoothly. Except for one thing that is: my wife’s outit. Yes, she did her homework about what the mother-of- the-bride might (or might not) be wearing and about the colour scheme of the maids – and, indeed, about the marquee’s lining, the lowers, the cake and the time of year. he problem was a simple one: me. I was saying all the wrong things whenever we went into a shop to look at dresses – and then suddenly time was running out. But, in the process, I learned a great deal about the way that a woman thinks.
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I can’t help wishing I’d had all this information to hand several decades ago. Shopping for a dress with one’s other half is always instructive; shopping with one’s other half when she is the mother-of-the- groom is a revelation. he golden rule is not to say what you really think. ‘Be honest’ means don’t tell the truth. Avoid negativity at all costs and be aware that it’s not so much what your wife actually looks like which is important, but what she feels like. Crucial is working out what she thinks about an outit – then agreeing with her. If she likes the strawberry number with orange trim, you must tell her she looks fabulous and that, if you were to walk into a room with her wearing it, you’d trip over yourself in admiration. his will give her the freedom to ‘be honest’ with herself – she might just realise that the dress is a non-starter.
Be honest – sparingly Not that I managed to put any of that into practice. ‘I would really like you to come with me to choose my dress,’ said my wife Joanna. I took that as a compliment. We started at Westield, the huge West London shopping centre I had promised never to visit. If there’s one thing to hate more than airports, it’s shopping malls. We found ourselves irst in a French boutique called Claudie Pierlot. I liked it.
At least I liked it until my wife let on she was looking for something to wear at a wedding – and not just any wedding but her own son’s. his was an opportunity for the shop assistants to begin selecting dresses from the most expensive rail in the shop. Even so, they came up with good stuf. I particularly liked a stripy blue number but made the fatal mistake of saying it looked ‘not too try-hard’. ‘Cheap, you mean,’ said Joanna. hen she found a creamy dress that we both liked. Great – job done. We’d be out of Westield within 40 minutes and back home for the second half of the live Sunday football game. ‘Mmmm, I’m not sure,’ said Joanna. And I knew why she wasn’t sure – it was all too easy. Buying a dress if you are the mother-of-the-groom cannot possibly be so painless. Something must be wrong – and she soon revealed it was. Wrong tone, wrong length, wrong sleeves. A few days later, we set of for Regent’s Street and found ourselves in Ted Baker. I had never set foot in any of the brand’s shops before but I enjoyed the experience. here was even a comfy chair to sit in while Joanna did more costume swaps than the Duchess of Cambridge on tour. Occasionally, I was asked: ‘What do you think?’ And most of the time I said terrible things, like: ‘Maybe a tiny bit tight around the middle.’ hen she spotted a lovely powder blue dress with a big bow at the front. ‘I really like that,’ she said. ‘Me, too.’ So of she went again to the changing room. his gave me the chance to glance at the price tags of identical dresses still on the rack.
A steal, I thought to myself. But I was too eager. Don’t mention the price As soon as she stepped out of the changing rooms, I began saying: ‘Just right. Great colour.’ But then I followed this with ‘and a good price, too’. Fatal. So where did that leave us? Well, it let Joanna trawling around shops solo and me ruminating over the process. I realised that whatever dress we ended up with was going to make a statement about who Joanna had become ater reaching a certain age, not least when the majority of other women at the wedding would be half her age.
I could feel her anxiety rising. As the deadline loomed, Joanna started to convince herself of another scenario: someone else might turn up in the same dress as her. Which is why when I got home one night she was searching online for wedding outits in Paris shops. ‘It could be the only answer, she said. Fearing an expensive trip for two on the Eurostar, I ventured that an outing to Bicester Village, the designer outlet shopping centre near Oxford, might do the trick. She made arrangements to go almost immediately. But not with me. I’d become toxic. Instead, she went with Vinnie, her hairdresser, whom she adores and who would say all the right things.
To my horror, they returned with nothing he pressure was back on. One Saturday, we found ourselves in Hungerford, where we bought a coat-dress in a moment of panic – and took it back a week later. hen, with only a fortnight to go, Joanna announced that she had found something, but it could do with altering. Naturally, I encouraged this with all the enthusiasm I could muster. he inal dress, with its embellishments, arrived three days before the wedding. Yes, a close call but escorting Joanna down the aisle is something I’ll always remember. She looked fabulous. More importantly, she felt fabulous. If your parents can dress themselves for your day without going insane, Mark Palmer applauds you Mark Palmer with wife Joanna in her – very carefully – chosen dress.
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