Wednesday, May 8, 2013

It's the things you know - hand me that Williams and Sonoma tea towel

One of the issues of moving countries is that it has made me realise how reliant I am upon a small group of trusty shops in terms of clothes.  Being basically a fairly lazy and fundamentally disinterested shopper, I tend to have a number of shops where I know a) I like the style and colours, and for the record I am a colourful girl, if there’s a hot pink outfit, I’m the one squeezing into it, and b) that the house fit as it were roughly approximates to my shape – eg long arms and torso, short legs and with a waist to which ‘nipped in’ is a completely foreign concept.

When I first started working in the 1980s for a Japanese bank I spent some months working in the head office in Tokyo.  My stay got extended and as the weather became increasingly warmer it became fairly imperative to do some shopping for an acceptable Spring corporate outfit.  The term baffled doesn’t do justice to my initial response to the clothing crisis.  I did eventually by dint of trial and error find somewhere with the type of thing I needed and in a major effort of will power and holding my breath, got myself into a skirt.  I minced out of the changing room – remember I was still holding my breath, and asked for the skirt in a larger size.  Oh, the horror of the moment at which the sales assistant who was of course charming, but miniscule, said pityingly, “Sorry largest in the shop.” Crushed, I spent the rest of my time in the office sweating in my winter woollies rather than risk another such outing.

I have never bothered exploring the ‘Petite’ rails or sections within stores, being definitely in the middle section of everything – my mother had the ultimate comfort words for all size related queries, and used to say firmly “You’re just right” and as a result I head for the ‘Just right’ middle ground of UK 12 – which is definitely not, no matter which way you approach it, petite.

When we got to the US, it took me some time to get to grips with the stores.  There were a couple of very chi chi dress shops on the main street of town but as they specialised in the type of shift dress that makes Michelle Obama look like a Goddess but in contrast made me look like an urban gorilla caught in a floral moment, I had abandoned them as possible outfitters.  I had marched past a store called Talbots Petite in the local mall, a number of times with as much interest as I would have given to a menswear emporium, given my word associations with Petite – and then I noticed the ladies inside definitely didn’t fit the word Petite any more than I did,  the common linking factor seemed in fact to short not slight, and as the woman with possibly the shortest legs in the world I headed into the glorious world of petite and was in what I would have classified as hog heaven, if that didn’t conjure up images of me dressed like Beatrix Potter’s Pigling Bland in a nifty pair of trousers.  Basically I never found trousers that fitted as well as those from Talbot Petite, witness the fact that miracles of miracles didn’t require an immediate 2 inch turn up.

We’ve been in Sydney seven years and whilst I have of course managed to develop a relationship with a number of clothes shops I still don’t seem to dress like a native.  Although the Drama Queens live in thongs as Aussies call flip flops (even more bafflingly New Zealanders call them Jandals), somehow my feet just don’t look right in them.  Similarly kaftans go tent like rather than Elle Macpherson like, and don’t get me started on the bikinis that Aussie ladies of my age wear with such grace and panache.  However I do have a collection of stunning hats and just love the climate that positively encourages me to sport them all year round.

Such is the global world now that shopping internationally is almost easier than the click of a button, but there is nothing like the excitement of walking into a store that has been transported from one life to another and I speak as one who has just made a special trip over to Bondi Junction to visit the new Pottery Barn and Williams and Sonoma stores that have opened up in Sydney along with Pottery Barn Kids.  It was just like wandering back into life in Rye, the Drama Queens and I wandered round mouths open in rapture, spotting the familiar tea towels (I know we’re sad) and the trademark bits of furniture.  Walking round the Pottery Barn store felt as if we were on the set of ‘Modern Family’, just blissfully tasteful and recognisably American – just loved it and am already sucked in by the thought of “Girls Night Out” cookery demonstration evenings in the test kitchen.  Time to dig out the Talbot Petite trousers and waltz on down.

PS I do apologise for the attempt at sophistication with the tea towel - I really felt even I couldn't just post a picture of my slightly grubby dishcloth - and  my glamour straw hats wouldn't fit

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