‘ I have become one of them: A Woman Up From the Country for the Bit of Shopping’
Icaught sight of it on my way to the car park, dangling tantalisingly off the back of a buggy among other, markedly less tasteful bags. Its owner had a sharp blond bob, the kind that requires attention, like a troublesome orchid. Excuse me, I panted, when I finally caught up with her. “Where do I find it?” I pointed to the dove grey bag with the understated logo. She smiled in a conspiratorial way. “By the side door,” she said. When that wasn’t clear, she added, “Of Brown Thomas?” I could tell from her face that I have become one of them: one of the women I used to roll my eyes for cluttering up Grafton Street with their Pamela Scott bags. A Woman Up From the Country for the Bit of Shopping.
I made a quick calculation. I had three hours until I needed to pick my children up in a location 182km away. Of course I had time. And so I found myself in Cos.
I know, I know – I’m at least three years behind the rest of the country. I remember when the Swedish outlet opened in Dublin, and the pages of magazines and newspapers were filled with gushing predictions that we would become a nation of well- dressed architects with fashion- forward hairdos and non- ironic Chelsea boots. But I left the country before I managed a visit there, and somehow, until that day last week, Cos had entirely passed me by.
Cos, I hoped, would provide some answers the tricky question of what to do about my wardrobe – most of which is still in cardboard boxes in a storage unit on an industrial estate, and the rest of which looks as though it was put together by a class of preschoolers in a charity shop.
Somewhere around the age of 38 and/ or child number three, shopping stopped being fun and entertaining, and became just another way in which I’m slightly failing to make the grade. What I actually need to do is stop perusing the aisles of Topshop, Penneys and H& M for replacement wardrobe parts.
I need to avoid shops that make me feel sweaty and the wrong age and the wrong state of mind, and that hector me about “skinny” this and “flattering” that and “forgiving” the other, as though I should be down on my knees saying Hail Marys in penitence for being the wrong shape.
This, I think, is how the drunk shopping on eBay started. Drunk – or maybe just tipsy – shopping on eBay is how I came to own the black Boden dress.
In the photos, it looked like something Joan from Mad Men would wear. But when it arrived a few days later and I put it on – with only the dimmest recollection of having ordered it – it looked like I was trying to breathe new life into someone’s debs frock from 1982. Mystifyingly, it is always after two or three glasses of wine that I become convinced that I know exactly what I need to give my wardrobe an overhaul. Sometimes I don’t even bother putting my glasses on as I gleefully swipe and drop items into my shopping basket. I’m like a woman who wakes up the morning after a night out and gingerly checks her phone for incriminating text messages to former lovers – except I’m looking in my inbox for the dispatch notifications, which inform me that I’ve bought another ugly metallic pleated skirt, an uglier long red geisha shirt, or a nude 1940s style wrap dress that will, when it arrives, have the charming effect of making me look actually nude. ( Ugly doesn’t even cover it.) I imagine the customer service agents in eBay, Asos and Zara love Monday mornings. I had high hopes for Cos. I was certain it would deliver to my wardrobe the injection of understated, grown- up, architect- approved elegance it needs. It turns out that Cos clothes are puzzling. They are studiously nondescript. Everything is navy or grey, with occasional splashes of what used to be referred to as mustard or wine. There are asymmetrical slashes and austere collars and determinedly dour tones. Everything looks like it would take an extremely long time to iron, even longer to figure out how to put on. “This floor is mostly directional,” a manager was explaining to two new recruits with starched white shirts and haircuts that I presume were also directional. “Upstairs is very directional.” I wandered around, entirely directionless, like a bemused tourist in an art gallery, until I looked at my watch and realised it was somehow 3pm, and I only had 2 ½ hours to get the 182km to pick up the children. I seized a navy poncho with a green inside for ¤ 59.95 and ran. The Directional Poncho had its first outing a few days later, when I went to meet a friend for coffee. I like your poncho, she said. “Thank you. It’s directional,” I told her. “I have no idea what that means,” she replied. It means it’s ugly, I told her. “Except – unlike the rest of my wardrobe – it knows it’s ugly.”