Lucy Corry seeks style advice from an un­likely source


She is all legs as she strikes a pose in the mir­ror. She’s wear­ing black leg­gings printed with green and white but­ter­flies and a pink and grey striped T-shirt over a red and white striped sin­glet. Mis­matched socks peep out from her mud-splat­tered black and green train­ers. She sees me watch­ing her and gives me two thumbs up. “I look pretty cool to­day, don’t I Mum?”

I can only agree. My daugh­ter Eve, has dressed her­self ever since she was able. As long as it’s weather ap­pro­pri­ate, I’ve left her to it. The re­sults can be sur­pris­ing — matchy-matchy is not in her vo­cab­u­lary and there are oc­ca­sion­ally times when we dis­agree over the suit­abil­ity of a dress­ing-up box out­fit for public dis­play — but I don’t want any­thing to erode this con­fi­dence in how she looks.

Mostly, I envy her. Like most women, I have a com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship with my wardrobe. It’s a mix­ture of op-shop finds, pre­cious relics from my mother’s closet and high-street buys worn well past their best-by date, as well things I’ve bought be­cause I thought they’d come in handy for a cos­tume party. I’m not sure why be­cause I rarely go to par­ties, let alone dress-up ones. In­stead, I work three days a week in a gov­ern­ment agency (dress code: sen­si­ble) and the rest from home as a free­lance writer. The work I do at home in­cludes recipe writ­ing, along with house­hold chores and the school run, so my usual look is what I call “de­pressed house­wife” — an­cient jeans, T-shirts and some­thing warm. It’s not in­spir­ing or re­motely stylish. One morn­ing, af­ter see­ing me stand­ing in front of my wardrobe wait­ing for in­spi­ra­tion to strike, Eve of­fers to help. In the ab­sence of any other of­fers, I de­cide to make it a week-long gig. MON­DAY: She is so ex­cited about dress­ing me that she wakes at 5.30am. An hour later, when I stag­ger out of the shower, she’s stand­ing in front of the wardrobe on a stack of pil­lows, clutch­ing at hang­ers to keep her bal­ance. Af­ter some de­lib­er­a­tion, she chooses a silk shirt printed with pink flamin­gos and green palm trees and a pair of navy trousers, both bought last sum­mer. This is to­tally ac­cept­able for a day in the of­fice, I think with re­lief. Then she adds a shawl-col­lared jacket printed with pale blue poo­dles (an ASOS num­ber I found at the hos­pice shop for a fiver), a long gold pen­dant, green crys­tal ear­rings and pink fake snake­skin heels. Later in the day I go to an off-site meet­ing where I feel stupidly self­con­scious. On the way back to work I bump into a for­mer boss and I feel her eyes flick over the poo­dles cu­ri­ously.

TUES­DAY: She has re­fined her tech­nique and drags a chair to the wardrobe. To­day’s look is cor­po­rate show­girl: a blue-se­quin dress ($20 from a shop in West­port, never worn), black tights, long black boots (11 years old, bought in Lon­don), a chunky gold neck­lace and green crys­tal ear­rings. It’s 7C out­side. I ask for a jacket and mer­ci­fully she pulls out a sen­si­ble navy shoul­der-padded num­ber I bought in Syd­ney a cou­ple of years ago. I sel­dom wear it be­cause my hus­band once said it was very “Jenny Ship­ley”.

With the jacket on I feel rea­son­ably nor­mal, but I still get a shock when I see my raz­zle-daz­zle re­flec­tion in the work bath­room mir­ror. One of my col­leagues tells me I look “lovely” and I think she means it. At school pick-up, where all the other par­ents are sen­si­bly rugged up in rain­coats, an­other mother asks me what I’ve been do­ing “be­cause you look very glam­orous and sparkly”. I smile and say, “oh, just a nor­mal day at work”. Later that evening, I’m sweep­ing up crumbs from un­der the din­ing ta­ble. This is my glam­orous and sparkly life, I say to my­self as the se­quins spin light across the floor.

WED­NES­DAY: Yes­ter­day I was a preen­ing pea­cock; to­day I am a dull spar­row. She’s more in­ter­ested in eat­ing her break­fast and read­ing Tintin than dress­ing me. When I get out of the shower she’s wear­ing a bra on her head and the rest of my out­fit is on the bed. It’s bland: a cream silk shirt (partly stained with pink dye), a white sin­glet, black pants and scuffed Chelsea boots. The only con­ces­sions to glam are glit­tery sil­ver socks and Mon­day’s gold neck­lace. I throw my sen­si­ble navy trench coat on top and leave the house in a grump. On the bus I sit next to a woman with yel­low and or­ange hair. She’s wear­ing pur­ple glasses, a striped tu­nic topped with a pat­terned cardi­gan and brightly coloured tights. I scrab­ble about for a lip­stick in an ef­fort to feel less drab.

Later, I nip out for lunch and walk past a shop where each daz­zling gar­ment costs more than a weekly mort­gage pay­ment. I don’t think I will ever be able to buy clothes like this, even if I could af­ford them. They’re things that hap­pen to other peo­ple, like stay­ing up all night or go­ing stand-up pad­dle board­ing. The shop as­sis­tant shoots me a look through the win­dow that says “don’t even think about it, you bor­ing of­fice drone”. I long for yes­ter­day’s se­quins.

Yes­ter­day I was a preen­ing pea­cock; to­day I am a dull spar­row. She’s more in­ter­ested in eat­ing her break­fast and read­ing Tintin than dress­ing me.

THURS­DAY: “Mum, do you wear tights un­der a dress or do you wear trousers?”

“Tights,” I call from the shower. She’s cho­sen a clingy 2-year-old printed Zara dress, black fish­net tights, heeled black an­kle boots, a black bra and spot­ted knick­ers. Oh, and the jew­els: pink and dia­mante ear­rings (bought to wear as part of a princess cos­tume), plus a neck­lace that she loves be­cause it has a huge pink stone that looks like a boiled sweet. The piece de re­sis­tance is a white faux fur coat that I wore as part of a brides­maid’s out­fit two years ago. My hus­band raises an eye­brow: “I’m be­gin­ning to won­der what you do when you ‘work from home’,” he says. I may look some­what over­dressed for the school run but the fur coat is cosy. I step out the door and a flash of panic crosses Eve’s face. “Mum, I don’t think you should wear that coat. I’ll choose you a new one.” I tell her we will be late for school, but she is adamant. “No, I don’t think that one is very good.” I switch coats.

When we get to her class I give her a hug good­bye. “Do you think this out­fit is okay,” I whis­per. “Yes,” she says. “The white coat was just too fash­ion-y. I don’t think you should wear it when you come to pick me up.”

At home, I spend the morn­ing writ­ing and the af­ter­noon test­ing recipes. I stand well back when light­ing the gas, anx­ious about be­ing so near a naked flame in such flammable cloth­ing. I go to bed early, lux­u­ri­at­ing in the loose­ness of my cot­ton py­ja­mas.

FRI­DAY: To­day’s look is as­pir­ing Mafia widow: tight black dress, a vin­tage black lace jacket with fur-trimmed sleeves, black tights, heeled black an­kle boots. Great Aunt Shirley’s dia­mante ear­rings are a fit­ting ac­com­pa­ni­ment. We’re both pleased with my out­fit, but she made me get changed about four times be­fore she was sat­is­fied. We only just make it to school in time. I hang out some wash­ing and de­cide I’m over­dressed for vac­u­um­ing. Af­ter a few half-hearted at­tempts to work I de­cide it may be bet­ter if I try to work in town. I never, ever do this and it turns out to be a com­plete dis­as­ter. I have a great time mooching about Cuba St how­ever and catch up with a friend over lunch. I do the school pickup, take Eve to bal­let and then spon­ta­neously de­cide we should go out to eat. I may work best dressed like a de­pressed house­wife but I am way more fun when all tarted up.

SATUR­DAY: She’s laid out a tan­ger­ine silk-look jump­suit (bought at the school fair last Novem­ber) with my long boots, a white sin­glet and a pink bead neck­lace. The last time I wore the jump­suit (on

To­day’s look is as­pir­ing Mafia widow: tight black dress, a black lace jacket with fur-trimmed sleeves . . .

New Year’s Eve), she told me it looked like I was in fancy dress. The colour is ar­rest­ing, to say the least, but I am very com­fort­able and no one turns an eye at the li­brary or when I’m buying veg­eta­bles. We have din­ner with our neigh­bours, Duncan and Lucy. They’ve seen me in a lot worse, but I still feel a flash of panic when Duncan asks to take my coat. I re­veal the jump­suit and they roar with laugh­ter. “It looks fab­u­lous,” Lucy says en­cour­ag­ingly. “You look like a su­per­hero.” Af­ter sev­eral glasses of wine, she looks at me more closely. “You could add some white fur to the cuffs and dress up as Santa at Christ­mas time.”

SUN­DAY: She steps back and ap­praises me from head to toe. “I think this my favourite out­fit,” she says. Her fa­ther looks up from the paper. “Yes, it’s a good look,” he says, “if you want your clothes to say, ‘I’m Amish and I still like to party!’”

I’m wear­ing a Pucci-in­spired pale pink, white and black silk dress, a calf-length black cir­cu­lar skirt with pale pink trim, a giant crys­tal neck­lace and the pink dia­mante ear­rings. I bought the dress to wear to a friend’s wed­ding seven years ago, and my sis­ter bought me the skirt af­ter our mother died in 2012. Eve drags a 1970s an­kle-length black wool coat (by New Zealand de­signer Jane Bezar, found at the Kil­birnie Red Cross) out of the wardrobe when we go into the city in the af­ter­noon. I sweep down Lambton Quay, feel­ing like an aveng­ing black an­gel among a sea of Li­ons fans in cheer­ful red rain­coats. Peo­ple def­i­nitely stare at me on the street but there is worse to come. When we’re in a book­shop, a shop as­sis­tant ma­te­ri­alises be­side us. To my hor­ror, I re­alise she’s wear­ing Harry Pot­ter robes to mark the 20th an­niver­sary of the boy wiz­ard books. I’m mor­ti­fied at be­ing thought of as a Pot­ter-head and can’t get home fast enough.

That night, as I tuck Eve into bed, I ask her what it’s been like to choose my clothes for the week. She sits up and nods em­phat­i­cally. “It’s been fun be­cause it’s like dress­ing my Bar­bies but with a real per­son.” She pauses for a mo­ment to think. “But it’s harder than do­ing it to the Bar­bies be­cause they don’t have any opin­ions.”

The next morn­ing, I get dressed by my­self. It’s lib­er­at­ing to pick my own un­der­wear, though I choose the rest of the out­fit with more care (and with slightly more glam­our) than I would have be­fore. Eve tells me I look “very nice” but ad­mits she’s dis­ap­pointed that she hasn’t been in­volved. I go off to make break­fast and she watches as her fa­ther opens his side of the wardrobe. “Daddy,” she says per­sua­sively. “I think you might need me to help you get dressed.”

Lucy Corry with her daugh­ter Eve.








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