Monday 13 October 2014

Plus ça change,

plus c'est la même chose.

If you have lately been pondering the exigencies of your wardrobe
(and Freda has been tackling this full on for us),
then you may be diverted from the task temporarily
by my extracts from The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
and comforted  or not, by the thought that the intervening 84 years
since its publication have not much alleviated the problem of deciding
What to Wear, in all or any circumstances.

On dressing for a party:

I consider the question of what to wear,
and decide that black is dowdy, but green brocade with Ciro pearls
will be more or less all right, and shall have to have old white
satin shoes recovered to match.

Take endless trouble with appearance,
and am convinced, before leaving flat, that this has reached
very high level indeed, thanks to expensive shampoo-and-set,
 and moderate use of cosmetics. Am obliged to add, however, 
that on reaching party and seeing everybody else, 
at once realise that I am older, less well dressed, 
and immeasurably plainer than any other woman in the room.
(Have frequently observed similar reactions in myself before.)

On what other people think of ones appearance:

Am shot down in lift - full of looking glass,
and am much struck by the inadequacy of my appearance
in these surroundings, and feel certain that lift-attendant
is also struck by it, although aware that his opinion
ought to be a matter of complete indifference to me.

On packing and dressing appropriately whilst away from home:

Cannot decide whether it is going to be hot or cold,
but finally decide Hot and put on grey-and-white check silk
in which I think I look nice, and small black hat.
Sky immediately clouds over and everything becomes chilly.
Finish packing, weather now definitely cold,
and am constrained to unpack blue coat and skirt,
with Shetland jumper, and put it in place of
grey-and-white check, which I reluctantly deposit in suitcase,
where it will get crushed.

We have dinner - niece has changed into blue frock which suits her
and is of course, exactly right for the occasion.
I do the best I can with old red dress and small red cap that succeeds
in being thoroughly unbecoming without looking the least bit
up to date, and endeavour to make wretched little compact
from bag do duty for missing powder-puff.
Results not good.

On indecision over outfit for meeting with smart Society Women:

Take endless trouble with appearance, decide to wear my Blue,
then take it all off again and revert to my Check,
but find that this makes me look more like
a Swiss nursery governess,
and return once more to Blue.
Regret, not for the first time that Fur Coat,
which constitutes my highest claim to distinction of appearance,
will necessarily have to be discarded in hall.

On weather-appropriate dressing dilemma:

Query, at this point suggests itself:
Why does my wardrobe never contain anything except
heavy garments suitable for arctic regions,
or else extraordinarily flimsy ones suggestive of the tropics?
Golden mean apparently non-existent.
Am obliged to do the best I can with brown tweed coat and skirt, 
yellow wool jumper - 
sleeves extremely uncomfortable underneath coat sleeves - 
yellow handkerchief tied in artistic sailor's knot at throat,
and brown straw hat with ciré ribbon,
that looks too summery for remainder of outfit.

On dissatisfaction with wardrobe contents:

Put on my Green, dislike it very much indeed
and once more survey contents of wardrobe, 
as though expecting to find miraculous addition to
already perfectly well-known contents.
(I am very familiar with this dichotomy)
Needless to say this does not happen, and after some
contemplation of my black - which looks rusty
and entirely out of date - and my Blue -
which is a candidate for the next Jumble-sale -
I return to the looking-glass still in my Green,
and gaze at myself earnestly.
(Query: Does this denote irrational hope of sudden
and complete transformation in personal appearance?
If so can only wonder that so much faith 
should be met with so little reward.)

On trying to rectify deficiencies in appearance:

Perceive that Everybody in the World except myself
is wearing long skirts, a tiny hat on extreme back of head,
and vermillion lipstick.
Look at myself in the glass and resolve instantly to visit 
Hairdresser, Beauty Parlour, and section of large Store entitled 
Inexpensive Small Ladies, before doing anything else at all.

On trying on clothes in shops:

I ... plunge into elegant establishment 
with expensive looking garments in the window.
Try on five dresses, but find judgement of their merits very difficult,
as hair gets wilder and wilder, and nose more devoid of powder.
Am also worried by extraordinary and tactless tendency of saleswoman 
to emphasise the fact that all the colours I like are
very trying by daylight, but will be less so at night.
Finally settle on silver tissue with large bow. . .
and go away wondering if it wouldn't have been better
to choose the black chiffon instead.

On ill-advised holiday purchase:

Blue flowered chintz frock, however, bought at Ste. Agathe 
for sixty-three francs, no longer becoming to me, as sunburn fades 
and original sallowness returns to view.
Even Mademoiselle, usually so sympathetic in regard to clothes, 
eyes chintz frock doubtfully, and says
Tiens! On dirait un bal masqué. As she knows, and I know, 
that the neighbourhood never has, and never will, run to bals masqués,
remove it in silence to furthest corner of wardrobe.

On weeding out her wardrobe:

Go to sleep in the afternoon, and awake sufficiently restored
to do what I have long contemplated and
Go Through my clothes.
Results so depressing that I wish I had never done it.
Have nothing fit to wear, and if I had, should look like a scarecrow in it.
Send off parcel with knitted red cardigan, two evening dresses
(much too short for present mode), three out-of-date hats, 
and tweed skirt that bags at knees, to Mary Kellway's Jumble Sale,
where she declares that anything will be welcome.
Make out a list of all the new clothes I require,
get pleasantly excited about them, am again confronted
with the Rates, and put the list in the fire.

Meanwhile, I have taken delivery of a new cardigan
which considerably lifts my spirits
on this most debilitating of days.

Now I must face up to the task of Going Through my clothes.
Perhaps a little nap first.


  1. Does she have anything helpful to say for those occasions when you need the skirt that you have just donated to Oxfam?

    1. I did once retrieve something from an Oxfam shop. It was an inadvertent donation of something just bought in the shop next door.

  2. Oh dear, sounds very familiar -- I do like your new cardigan, though.
    The worst thing is, the door I come through in the morning, on my way into the office, is glass, but also has (I'm sure) a slightly skewed reflection -- so that even if I looked vaguely okay when I left the house, I look extremely dowdy in that door. I try to remember not to look.

    1. All changing room mirrors have that special feature. Conversely I have a special mirror in the bathroom taken from a skip may moons ago. It does the best reflection and I will never part with it.

  3. You'll be the first to know.

  4. I just never look in mirrors, or at least not full-length ones.

    I do like your cardigan. Very cheering.

  5. Oh Poor Provincial Lady - don't know whether to laugh or cry! Is it easier do you think, 84 years on with our 'anything goes' fashions? Love your cardigan Lucille, and thank you for the link. You prompted me to figure out how to reply to your blog at last (I've always used the name/URL option so hope this works..)

    1. Yes that worked! Thanks for persevering. It certainly ought to be easier not to feel instantly dated by the wrong hemline or size of hat. But maybe rules (like school uniforms for instance) make dressing easier.

  6. A return to my school uniform would be very lowering . Puffed sleeves ! Divided skirts !
    However your cardigan is hugely cheering .

    I've always wondered exactly where The Provincial Lady sent her parcels off to ... and who were the ( presumably ) even more provincial and cash-strapped ladies who bought her discards .

  7. Your cardigan is lovely, that would cheer me up on the darkest and coldest of days.

    I love E M Delafield and am in the process of acquiring many more of her books, free for the e-reader, from the Guttenburg Project. She was a prolific writer.

  8. E.M. Delafield reminds me ever so slightly (minus the vulgarisms and cussing) of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary. Women looking at themselves in full length mirrors is rarely a satisfactory occupation no matter what generation they happen to represent. My daughter has recently become the beneficiary of the results of a weeding out of my own wardrobe. She was very happy and looked gorgeous in my castoffs. Sigh.

    I love your cardigan!