My Frocks

This past week has been debilitating, as I’ve been housebound with a vile dose of the flu and am thoroughly sick of myself. Rather than writing another post of navel-gazing, however, I thought I’d write about something that cheers me up no end: my frocks.

When my advance from Penguin for A Curious Intimacy came through and I had flown back to Sydney from London for the launch and publicity, the first thing I did was go to Collette Dinnigan. In the tranquil boutique in Paddington, I settled on a pale, knee-length dress gathered at the waist with an overlay of sparkling olive-gold lace, and gold straps. As the shop assistants boxed it up for me, H told them I’d had my novel published and they looked impressed.

‘I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford one of these until I got married!’ I added, and with that they smiled.

I then dragged H all around Melbourne to find the perfect pair of shoes to go with it. They are covered in gold petals and not quite perfect (they aren’t high enough), but they were good enough for my book launch.

My cash flow as a writer, however, is rarely so luxurious, and thus I am in a constant state of torment over wanting frocks, shoes and handbags, but being able to afford none of them. Or, so I tell myself. Somehow I always find the money from somewhere. Once in London I went for a week on a reduced diet so I could afford a pair of red ankle boots. Amused, H told Dad about it.

‘They couldn’t have been worth starving herself over, could they?’

‘Dad, you have no idea,’ H replied.

Dad should have known. His wife had the same habit. Born in New Zealand, Mum saved her money to go travelling around the world, but got as far as Sydney and spent it all. Then she met Dad and married him. She had a very fashionable wedding, with a white Prue Acton dress and red shoes. Then Dad took her back to the farm and she couldn’t shop as much, although sometimes after trips to Tamworth he would notice something and ask, ‘Is that new?’ and Mum would reply, ‘Oh no, I’ve had it for ages.’

Dad could never quite tell if he was being duped. Meanwhile I, watching these exchanges, became versed in the art of deception.

My favourite frockshop is Alannah Hill, but I am only allowed to go in there on my birthday, which is also, incidentally, when the sales are still on. The year before last they were playing one of my favourite songs, Flashdance, so I was compelled to buy a white skirt patterned with pink, green and red flowers that swayed when I walked. I was utterly broke and shouldn’t have bought it, and by the time I got home I was so ashamed that I cut up my credit card. That was only a band-aid solution however, as when the new one came through a few months later I was off again.

Another wonderful label is Review, because they make clothes for women with curves. After helping out with the kids one summer, B gave me some money and I bought a black and cream frock with a deep v-neck, tight beribboned waist and tulle beneath the skirt. I wore it out with B, H and Cousin A to the Bowery, and true to form drank too many cocktails (2.5) and started a little dance with Cousin A, which snowballed into dancing with the jazz band and winking at a random stranger before being shepherded out by B before I did something drastic.

B also used to work for Sacha Drake, which meant instant access to many a cheap frock, although sadly she quit and now I have to find means of accommodating a suddenly more expensive, and still undiminished, passion for SD frocks. Sacha, too, makes dresses for curvaceous women, but the size 8s are limited in number and have usually sold out before I can rummage together enough funds to pay for them.

And of course, there is internet shopping. On nights when I can’t sleep and there is no one to play Scrabble with on Facebook, or when I am procrastinating on a piece of writing, I will pass the time scanning pages of clothes on frock websites, be they discount or shopfront. It’s incredibly soothing, at least until I find something I like, and then the cogs begin whirring to work out how to pay for it. For this reason, I am banned from Anthropologie, because I want everything on the site.  Another beautiful frock came from this shop, when I stopped off in San Francisco on my way home as a reward for finishing my thesis.  It’s of pale grey wool with a ruff and a pattern of long grass on the right hand side in red and white, which goes perfectly with my red stiletto boots.  Anthropologie is gorgeous.

‘I’m no good at budgeting,’ I complained to B once, after what was probably a protracted period of poverty.

‘No,’ she corrected me. ‘You’re incredibly good at budgeting when there is something that you want.’

If only the wants were less fickle than frocks … but then, what would be the fun in that?

I shall end here, for I need to return to my deathbed for yet more sleep. For those readers who love frocks, I direct you to the beautifully written and photographed Dress, Memory, by Lorelei Vashti.

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