I first came across this saying in A Room with a View – it is discovered by Lucy Honeychurch written in the back of a wardrobe. Until today I didn’t realise it was a version of a quote from Walden by Henry David Thoreau –
“I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
He is so right. I’d go one step further, for female readers (Thoreau probably didn’t have much experience of this) – forget about the new clothes: even the faintest urge to put on lipstick is an indication that…
… there may be trouble ahead…
So, when I found myself slathering on the one and only lipstick (Max Factor’s Rosewood – it’s lasted for years) in order to go and visit a possible care home for Mum with my sister, I thought ‘This doesn’t bode well!’ After all, who cares what the lumpy, flaky elder daughter looks like, lolloping along like a wonky Tesco trolley behind the slim, efficient youngest daughter? I suppose the lipstick was to make it look as if I had tried, or even to confirm that I had actually woken up at some point before falling into the car and turning the key in the ignition. With it – yes, that was the look I was aiming for – especially when venturing into a home full of dementia patients.
As we sat on a tiny sofa in the Lounge discussing (or in my case, not) fees, wander alarms and social activities – karaoke, Elvis impressionists – apparently they love Elvis – patting a giant inflatable ball from one side of the room to another, etc – with the home’s administrator, an elderly gentleman shuffled up and asked us kindly if we were getting to like being there, nowadays.
I began to think, perhaps I should never leave. Like the Hotel California. I seemed to be fitting right in… If it wasn’t for that faint smell of dinner… I mean, it was big and nice and sunny. And there were paintings on the walls. And I quite fancied having a pat at that giant blue ball… There was even a cat, somewhere. There was a notice as we went in:
Warning: Baby, our resident cat, likes to sleep in the corridors. Do not trip over him.
Not much chance of that. Thirteen moggies means you never raise your eyes above your foot-level. You’re wading through cats; an ocean of tails, paws and fur.
The thing is, beyond a certain age, lipstick becomes a liability. It travels. Best to avoid red wine for the same reason, at least in public, or you risk looking like Dracula’s Granny – and not realising it.
Is it even worth putting on lipstick any more? Even when I was in my prime I had the sort of face that lipstick didn’t improve. In fact, nothing improved it. Mum was striking-looking, in her twenties, with her upswept hair and sparkly eyes – you could see why Dad fell for her – and Dad was positively handsome in a raven-haired matinee-star sort of way. The trouble was, instead of taking after either one or the other (my sister takes after Mum) I got a bit of both – Mum’s crooked front tooth, Dad’s footballer’s-knees and piano-player hands. Worse, looking in the mirror – more and more as I get older, I see that my face has a kind of meridian – Mum from the nose upwards and Dad from the nose downwards and the two sections don’t match: I’m a chimera. I’m Franken-daughter.
What I need is the niquab. Maybe it’s not too late to convert? Alternatively, maybe I could carry one of those bespangled carnival masks on a stick… all year round.
Fashion and I have always had a difficult relationship. Mum used to despair of my marriage prospects since I refused to entertain corsets, eyebrow-pencil, false eyelashes or frills. And whatever I bought – however much it cost – once on me it always looked as if I’d got it in the Oxfam shop. In the end I gave up and short-circuited the whole tedious process by actually shopping at Oxfam. Still, whatever I bought would turn out to be uncomfortable: it would either cut in, hang loose, get in the way, sag, pinch or feel conspicuous.
The most comfortable time of my life was when I lost my prestigious position as a Partner’s Secretary and found one in an outbound call centre on an industrial estate where ‘smart casual’ might mean anything from wellington-boots and kohl-ringed eyes to fairy-wings and a fez. I ditched the office schmutter and lived in men’s clothing from supermarkets. A man’s shirt or jumper is about half the price of the equivalent woman’s shirt or jumper, did you know that? Ladies, they charge us almost double simply because we’re vain and love to shop. I discovered by trial and error what size men’s jeans fitted me. I gauged shirts, tee shirts and jumpers and socks by eye and was hardly ever mistaken – but women are used to doing that, since ‘standard’ sizes vary from one label to another.
Nowadays I compromise. The universal ladies’ ‘fashion’ here at Benefits-on-Sea is for leggings. This is because leggings are cheap, fit everyone and go with everything. So I wear leggings with a variety of long tops – tee-shirts, shirts, ‘sale’ dresses – whatever I can find. I look a bit frumpy and odd but what does it matter?
When have I not?