I have never dressed particularly well. Spending a lot of money on clothes has always frightened me and I have a bad habit of saving things “for best”, meaning that I spend most of my time slopping about in ancient H&M jersey tops and stained jeans while something nice from the Whistles sale sits forlornly in my wardrobe. I look at other women in the street, who just somehow that little bit more “put together” than me and feel sad and fat and hopeless.
And now I’ve got two children. TWO! One was bad enough when it came to getting dressed but two is just nightmarish. There is no time. No. Time. At. All. Factor in my new, very stubborn post-partum tummy/hips/bum weight and we have ourselves a genuine case of NOTHING TO WEAR!
But then, when I was on holiday this year with a billionaire’s wife (long story), I had a revelation. It came to me in a flash of inspiration as I watched the billionaire’s wife appear for dinner in a black couture skirt-suit hand-sewn with thousands of tiny sequins and a pair of pointy Dior stilettos. Also black. She always, she told me, wears black in the evening. She wears a lot of black during the day, too. “It’s just so easy,” she said.
From then on, I decided, I would wear gym kit during the day and at night – only black.
I had to stifle a snigger at my sheer unbelievable brilliance. Gym kit during the day, meaning leggings, trainers, sweatshirts rescued by a smart bag, was ideal for running up and down the stairs all day and getting covered in sick and crap. It’s comfy and easy to pull on in the morning but you don’t look like a slob – you might well be off to the gym, who’s to know you’re not?
And at night: Black! Black, black, black was the answer. And it didn’t need to be boring. For black comes in a thousand different guises: silk, satin, sheer, lace, beaded, fringed, brocaded. Then there’s skirts and tops, loose trousers and camisoles. Dresses, skirts, leather-look leggings!!! I was almost weeping with relief.
It was almost as much of a life-changer as when I realised that what I should do with my house was paint everything beige, strip the floors and put plantation shutters at the windows. I hadn’t up until then because I thought – (even though I liked the effect) – that it was cheating, that it was boring. Then I thought, hang on, I am not Nina bloody Campbell. The look of stripped floors, beige walls and plantation shutters was invented for people like me who don’t really know what they want their houses to look like. So that’s what I did to my house and it looks terrific. Wearing black in the evening is the same thing. It’s for people who don’t really know. People like me.
As soon as I got back from holiday and the kids were asleep (and luggage had been emptied, a wash on, the Ocado order received and unpacked, dinner on the go) I sat down and blitzed some websites searching for black.
I bought: loose black cocktail trousers, a swirly midi-skirt, a sheer blouse, a black camisole, a sleeveless lace shirt, some leather-look leggings, some lace crop tops (to go with the midi-skirt), an off-the-shoulder brocade dress with a sticky-out skirt and some all purpose mid-heel suede heels from Aldo. It all goes together. No more fretting that this thing is the right shape the but the wrong colour. You can just worry about what shape you want to create.
And none of it was expensive, because black never has to be expensive to look ok, unlike colour or pattern. You can tell cheap colour and cheap pattern a mile away. But black? It could be Prada, it could be Primark.
I’ve worn my new black uniform every time I’ve been out and not only does it take me eight seconds to get dressed, I’ve always been pleased with how I look, which is pretty rare these days. It still at times feels like a bit of cheat, but if it’s good enough for billionaires, it’s good enough for me.
Esther’s Capsule Black Evening Wardrobe (you may already own some or all of these):
1 loose camisole
1 pair skinny jeans
1 midi skirt
1 leather-look leggings
1 sleeveless lace/crepe shirt
1 slithery long-sleeve shirt
1 pair black suede pumps
1 jacket – biker/blazer/blouson, whatever
Wear any combination of tops/bottoms with either simple tasteful jewellery or insane costume/paste whoppers.
Bad Cook by Esther Walker is published as an e-book by HarperCollins