Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Lessons in not being underdressed

With his 50th birthday celebratory trip on the Orient Express nearing, The Other Half has gone mad on the sartorial front.

The website proudly proclaims that: "You can never be overdressed on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express."


"The historic decor of the train and its atmosphere encourages everyone to dress to suit the occasion. Dinner provides you with a marvellous opportunity to recreate the style and glamour of a bygone age."

Ahhhh. Glamour. Hepburn, Dietrich, Garbo.

"For evening dinner, many travellers will wear black tie or evening dress. At least as a consideration for your fellow passengers you will need to meet our minimum requirements of a suit and tie for gentlemen and an equivalent standard for ladies. During the day “casual but smart” is the rule. At lunch for instance, gentlemen might wear jacket and tie. At no time during your journey will jeans be acceptable."


Not that I would have been planning to wear jeans, you understand, but there are limits to what I own that constitutes evening dress.

The Other Half decided quickly what he was going to do.

And last week he visited a tailor in the City to be measured for a new suit. To be fair, his previous suit had been ruined by a dry cleaner – he only found out when putting it on for a wedding 18 months ago: I had to dab mascara over the holes so that rather large spots of lining or flesh wouldn't show.

Indeed, he'd only taken it to the cleaner after it got splattered with blood at a family funeral when some distant nephew or other tried to put his fist through a reinforced glass window.

They do things their own way in Yorkshire.

So, off he went to a tailor and ordered a "midnight blue" three-piece suit. He's a sucker for waistcoats.

Then he added another jacket – same material, but this time an evening jacket. Then a tailored dress shirt and a dress waistcoat.

Since then, he'd ordered white braces and white and black bow ties (not clip-on ones).

And there was I hoping to get away with the black, devore Windsmoor kaftan top I snapped up in the John Lewis pre-Christmas sale, plus some decent black trousers. But frankly, if he's determined to dress like an extra in an Agatha Christie period piece, then I'm going to look – and feel – woefully underdressed.

He came up with the answer – or at least part of it. I do have a long black dress. It's not really an evening fabric, but it's incredibly simple and always looks very flattering.

"Why not wear that?" he said.

"It is a £15 summer dress from Marks & Sparks," came my riposte.

"Then dress it up," he retorted. You'd think he was Castleford's answer to Trinny & Susannah.

I have, however, decided to do just that.

Thus far, I have splashed some cash on a Kara Ross gold cuff as a hulking statement piece (everybody will look at that and ignore the £15 dress), while I've picked up a black lacy bolero shrug from ebay for little more than pennies.

I have next to no gold jewelry – I am absolutely NOT wearing the gold coffee bean earrings from Argos that my sister gave me years ago – so I need a ring and some earrings. A visit to John Lewis is on the cards.

I have a very chichi evening bag (small, round, black and with tassels) that a former colleague, who had been a model in her youth, gave me.

Shoes will be the biggest problem. I have awkwardly shaped feet – short and wide, with hereditary hammer toes (The Other Half claims I’m “deformed”) – and absolutely nothing elegant enough.

Obviously I’ll have a hair appointment shortly before the trip (and we’ll go for a rich teaky colour to get rid of the grey), and if I can manage to keep my nails from splintering in the coming month, I’ll have a proper manicure done too. I shall have to give some thought to my make-up – foundation will be essential for once, and I’m wondering whether my usual purples will work best or the current ‘nude’ look.

This might just work. And at least these days I enjoy trying!

Ten years ago, I’d have been in despair. Indeed, in 2000 I was due to attend the Bafta awards ceremony through work, but almost bottled out because I was absolutely convinced that I had nothing appropriate – and matters had not been helped when my boss weighed in, putting on her best New York Jewish princess routine to just ask me nicely not to embarrass the company with my obvious lack of sartorial elegance. Only at the last minute did I manage to get something together and go, after days of panic and feelings of inadequacy.

This’ll be a cakewalk by comparison!


  1. You can never go wrong with a black dress and accessories. Make sure you have someone take pictures of you both together!

  2. Thank you, Revi.

    As you say – you can never go wrong with a black dress. This really isn't evening material (whatever that is), but it's about as simple as you can get – the only detail, if you will, is a very small gold-coloured bar at the neckline. So that sort of decided that any jewelry has to be gold. Now. given that I've long tended to prefer silver/stainless steel, this left me with gold jewelry being the main accessory that I was going to need.

    I went out last night – partly inspired by the cuff arriving and partly by writing this blog piece – and shopped as I have never shopped before. I am pretty much sorted now – and will post in more detail on what I got.

  3. Pictures, please! (I adore the gold cuff.)