‘ I have be­come one of them: A Woman Up From the Coun­try for the Bit of Shop­ping’

The Irish Times Magazine - - NEWS - JEN­NIFER O’CONNELL jo­con­nell@irish­time.com

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.”

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