Monday, May 12, 2008

Us vs. Them: Fashion

Whenever I go back to the UK I always end up dressing circa 1996. That's the last time I dressed for a cold climate, and my Mum and Dad still have some of my fashionable knitwear from the 90s in my wardrobe at home.

It's a little nerve-wracking going back, particularly if you have to dress for a big event, like a wedding, and you don't want to get it wrong. It is practically impossible to get a dress for a spring wedding in California that is not diaphanous and floaty and would render the wearer frozen in an instant in THE NORTH. Plus if you make the mistake of telling a Californian sales assistant that you're looking for something appropriate for a spring wedding in England they immediately start casting around for the Laura Ashley maternity dresses.

Basically I was really struggling, and I don't have vast expanses of time with which to go clothes shopping as the creature has a ten minute clothes-shop boredom threshold and any longer than that she's running amok in the lingerie section and I'm trying to coax her sticky hands from a rack of immaculate silk negligees. My friend Jen inadvertently came up trumps by inviting me to her four-year-old daughter's birthday party. Not the ideal place to find a dress for a wedding - unless it's in size 4T, or so you would think. I turned up at the party and she said 'you can leave Anna here if you want, we'll be done in about an hour'.

It was like the jailer had forgotten to shut the door.

Three nano-seconds later I was in the Department Store across the street looking at posh frocks. My mind was racing. Must find dress. Must find dress. Of course there was nothing. Everything remotely appropriate was in this season's 'jewel tones' and I have the colouring of, well 'colouring' at all is stretching things rather. In a fit of panic I grabbed, tried on and purchased a black polka-dotted halter-neck dress.

A black, halter-neck dress for a Spring wedding. My brother's Spring wedding.

They are an amazing couple and will certainly be married for a lifetime. I would be in their wedding pictures in my accidental purchase for a lifetime.

I was terrified that I'd bought the wrong dress. That I would appear the brash, ridiculously-attired American at the English country wedding. Then my friend told me to take a long hard look at every Hello magazine littering my bathroom *admits to guilty pleasure*. It was clear that you could wear anything you wanted to at a 21st Century English wedding as long as you had a pashmina and one of those feathery doo-dads perched atop your head. A fascinator, I learned. A collection of artful feathers, and in some cases twigs? on an Alice band instantly transforms any sad sack into a wedding guest. I absolutely loved mine, despite one of my brother's friends pointing to it and saying 'I'm surprised a blackbird asn't tried to ave a crack at that' (imagine a very broad Yorkshire accent). So yes, fascinators, great things, especially if your husband keeps accidentally calling them 'fantasizers'.

I am more and more aware though how inappropriate my typical Southern Californian wardrobe is for England - and not just in terms of warmth. Basically, one mans swimwear is another mans disgusting Euro speedo. LK and I frequently look liked we've dressed for a beach party every time we land at Manchester airport. My fantastic Ebay-steal Uggs that I thought perfect for April in North Yorkshire:

Were only slightly more upscale than the fake Uggs (Fuggs) worn by every single teenage girl in the UK. Whoops.

I did however stumble on my own personal clothing Aladdin's cave. I once had a dream during a particularly uncomfortable and insecure time at College that I found a shop where every single item of clothing was perfect for me. Turns out, fifteen years later, this shop actually exists. White Stuff, or 'Caucasian Clothes' as LK coined it was like dying and going to heaven. If heaven involved a horrible exchange-rate induced financial enema with every purchase. Honestly, just linking to that website again had my index finger poised over the 'add to your cart' button. Damn that's an amazing shop.

Must go and lie down now.


Eden Kennedy Onassis said...

If that site had shoes I'd be driving to your house to shake your hand right now. (I'm so done with Zappos.)

Law Student Hot Mama said...

I just checked it out . . . it's awesome. I had the same wedding shopping problems you did . . . except that becuase I'm part of the wedding as a reader, I had to buy dresses for tons of events the week of the wedding AND the wedding. It's amazing how many fugly dresses are out there.

American Mum said...

At the school we live at, there are 2 uniforms for the kids. One for school, the other for after school. It's Uggs (although the real thing), skinny jeans, random top and scarf. They seriously all wear the SAME thing! It's amazing! Must be they're so used to the uniform thing here...

Little Britainer said...

argh, I feel the pain... I found shopping in the UK so much easier - but I think it's because I knew exactly what shops to go in, where to find everything, and could reduce it to a 30 min trip max. Which is how I like shopping...

If you like White Stuff, you should take a look at Fat Face:
(arguably the only good thing ever to come out of my hometown Havant...) White Stuff did the Cambridge and Oxford 'casual' kits one year and they were lovely - except I didn't really fancy walking around with 'Cambridge' plastered on me somewhere, however small or tasteful. Funny, the longer I live here, the more I think that's acceptable..

ExpatKat said...

Guess what? I also own a 'fascinater!' In fact it looks remarkably like yours. When I saw your wedding pics I was surprised to see that they are still 'in.' I however wore mine to a Norwegian wedding 4yrs ago, where I looked decidedly out of place as nobody else wore a hat at all!

Expatmum said...

Wasn't Sarah Jessica Parker just phographed with some exotic bird reaching out from the left temple? They must be still in.
I was going to suggest waiting until you got back to the UK, and then there might be some kindly relative to babysit. But of course, none of us earning US dollars can afford anything there at the moment.

Hyphen Mama said...

It doesn't matter where I'm going or what country I'm in... I'm wearing the wrong thing! It's just a curse. Hat or no hat.

Amy said...

Could you please advise? I'm desperately searching for someone who can tell me this . . . I'm an american (in northern california)going to family wedding in the Cotswalds next month. I have found a perfect dress (grey and white strapless seersucker w/matching jacket), but the hat that would best suit it is solid white. Is it considered as tacky to wear a white hat to a wedding as it is to wear a white dress if one isn't the bride?

Please advise and help keep me from looking like the hick american cousin!

AliBlahBlah said...

Amy - no I don't think a white hat would come off tacky at all (there are some truly spectacular headpieces at British weddings these days), and it seems anything goes. I was worried about wearing mostly black, but as with a white hat - I think if it's tastefully done you can get away with it. You could always try a fascinator of course, they are a lot of fun and less of a statement (and commitment) than a hat!

Have a brilliant time at the wedding. Hope the sun shines for you.