By Michelle Dennison (Julianne Alcott)
“I’d like to buy you one of those pretty summer dresses for Christmas,” my boyfriend said to me a few weeks ago.
And brave man that he is, he volunteered to go with me to shop for it. I owed it to him to make it as painless as possible, so I applied my mind, and came up with a brilliant idea…
Late night shopping at the Pavilion.
And it was a brilliant idea. We had a seafood supper at one of the restaurants, then joined the smallish crowd of people ambling down the corridors. The atmosphere was cheerful and pleasant, and we went into the first shop feeling hopeful.
We came out of the last shop feeling discouraged, and mystified by the choices of whoever decided what South African women would be wearing this season.
Whoever it was must have recently returned from the Amazon Jungle, because the majority of clothes were made with the most garish designs. Vines, trees and brightly coloured parrots shrieked out from jackets, shirts, dresses and even tight, jungle infested pants.
Then there were the delightful neon shades that made me wonder if I had somehow ended up in a time machine, and had been blasted back to a land containing the worst of eighties fashion. Some shops required us to wear sunglasses, just to be able to make it through the front door.
And this was women’s clothing, not teenage girls. What lady over 30 would want to go to work wearing a baggy crop top slashed with bands of orange, lumo yellow and putrid green?
So we decided that we should rather go to the upmarket shops, to find items more suitable for the mature, conservative woman. We came out of all of them shaking our heads. The clothing there looked like it had been made for the over 60 age group. Dull, severe and virtually monochrome.
Did no one realise that there ought to be clothes that come in between psycho freak-out and boring beige?
Then we went into a new shop, and immediately felt hopeful again. There were a series of pretty dresses in various shades of normality, so I grabbed a few and went to try them on.
I closed the door behind me, and gave it a measured stare. If I could see everyone outside the change room through the slats in the door, did that mean that everyone could see me? I wasn’t taking any chances, so I hung the assortment of dresses all over the door, hoping to provide cover for myself.
I then looked at my reflection and hastily did something to my hair. My hair is hardly well-behaved at the best of times, and visiting change room after change room had only made it stand up more and more wildly with every clothing try-on. Maybe it was trying to get into the jungle spirit.
And then I tried on the first dress.
There was something strange about it. The style was different. It hung in a shapeless drape over the top of me, came tightly around my waist and then dropped in a shapeless mass that made me look twice my width.
I opened the change room door and stepped out. My boyfriend took one look at me and shook his head, pulled a face and gave me a thumbs down.
And that was our last hope. The last shop in the Pavilion that could possibly contain women’s clothing.
My poor man shook his head, and said that he now understood why women could go shopping for 5 hours and come home with nothing. Because there WAS nothing.
I was determined not to give up though, so the next day, my daughter and I set off to find China Mall. I had been there once, and had found a lovely little black dress that I had worn on my birthday. I was sure to find something suitable among the masses of shops.
The previous time, I had started at the front of the mall, and made my way to the back. The black dress had been in the very last row. So this time, I started at the back, and made my way forward.
Whoever did the clothes buying for a large number of those shops obviously thought that South African women were either tiny, or elephant-like. There were either mega skinny dresses, or those volumous sacks made infamous by Mrs Roper in the eighties. Even the “one size fits all”dresses could hardly fit over my shoulders, and I’m only a size 34.
Then there were the strange tight numbers with hundreds of plastic slats sewn onto them, so whenever the wearer moved, they would be accompanied by shimmying loose rectangular objects, and a “chakka, chakka, chakka” noise. I’d love to know where those kind of dresses would be suitable for. Obviously somewhere there would be a lot of shaking going on.
Gradually, I started to find some decent dresses, and got my daughter to play fashion photographer. I then sent my boyfriend the photos, so he could choose which one he wanted to buy me for my present.
But then I gave up. I am hideously unphotogenic, and couldn’t bear to send pictures of me looking more and more like the Frog Queen trying to dress up for the annual Ugly Animal Ball. And my ever-increasingly crazy hair didn’t help matters.
My daughter and I fortified ourselves with some greasy Chinese food, served by a very scary diminutive Chinese girl who looked like she would slice us with a Samurai sword if we didn’t like the meal.
Then we soldiered onwards… And at the last shop in the entire China Mall I found the perfect dress. Well almost perfect. It stretched down to the ground, but I figured that it would be easy to chop off the bottom and make it knee-length.
Ironically, if I had started from the front of the mall like I had the previous time, it would have been the first shop I visited, and our shopping expedition would have been so much easier, and very much shorter.
My mom cut the bottom of the dress off (straight lines are not my forte) and I sewed the hem, hoping that no one would ever see the stitches I was making. I’m not a very good sewer, and the awful cotton I was using didn’t help matters. It kept on looping up and knotting itself, and I worked late into the night to finish it.
But at last it was done. The dress was washed to get rid of that plastic shop smell, and carefully ironed, ready to wear at Christmas lunch with my boyfriend and his parents.
And the look on his face when he saw me was worth it!