Charlotte's Web

Blogging my world since 2006

Dresses and Sunshine


Yesterday, I went shopping in Heidelberg, looking for the ultimate summer dress. Then I got cross and went home. What is going on with fashion? Dresses are either ground-length maxis that are tentlike at best, shrouds at worst, or ridiculous little miniscule shifts in which one can neither ride a bike nor stride along a street without revealing to the world one’s position on women and hairiness. Being short, the maxi style makes me look like a traffic cone, and being curvy with thighs, the mini ain’t an option. And don’t even say “leggings” to me. I’m with the Fug girls on leggings: hate them on anyone over 20, unless they are dancers or Kate Moss.

As well as the Sixties maxi/mini mindset, there’s this ridiculous love-affair with Eighties fashion going on. I’ve done bib-fronted, frilled Victoriana already, I did the sweater dress look at 12, I’ve seen the racer-back come and go once before and I’ve worn jumpsuits. I did baggy pinafore dresses to death in my teens and I don’t ever want to wear one again. I want to wear a dress that emphasises my shape, not one that disguises it. I’m also hating the smocks – I both look and feel pregnant in them – the big clunky beads sewn onto everything and the ugly neon colours.

My other moan of the day is that German high street fashion is so generic. Not only do the three main high street brands – Esprit, Mexx and S.Oliver – all look identical to each other, they seldom move from their formulae. This year’s Esprit summer look (sporty pants, T-shirts, and stripy shirts) looks pretty much like last year’s Esprit summer look. Boring. At least in H&M, you find some healthy Scandanavian madness, but yesterday it had come over all Eighties neons so I flounced out as quickly as you could spin me right round, baby.

So my search for the ultimate summer dress, the dress that would be neither too long nor too short, that wold flatter the good bits and hide the imperfections, the dress that I could wear out at night or to the pool with my kids? Came to naught. I was tempted to buy two things: a black maxi skirt (until I realised I have one already) and a silver-grey wrap dress printed with white butterflies from H&M (until I realised that I have two wrap dresses and a third, while it might be pretty, would not in any way be Ultimate). Instead I picked up some new bistro-style glasses, a couple of photo frames and stopped off at the nursery on the way home and bought potting plants for the terrace. Who needs clothes?

Today was Mother’s Day, the day I would have liked to worn my ultimate summer dress, given that it was an exquisite day and we cycled to a restaurant in the next village for real, Italian, crispy-based pizza. I wore a dress that is two years old. While it is black and as my husband kindly pointed out, smacks slightly of Sicilian nonna, it was just the right length for cycling, clung in just the right places and floated in other places. Thanks to my darling family, who woke me with home-made presents and spoilt me with their love all day long, I felt fabulous. Like a really fabulous Italian grandmother. New dresses are clearly not essential to my happiness, but my four darlings certainly are.

And a little bit of sunshine helps.

Author: charlotteotter

Novelist, feminist, crime writer

26 thoughts on “Dresses and Sunshine

  1. Happy Mother’s Day, Charlotte! So glad to know you’ve been basking in the love of your family. I completely agree about dresses. They are in over here, and favour the maternity style, with shapeless, baggy middles and a sort of bunched effect at the knee. Unwearable unless you are under 18. Fashion annoys me intensely because I often do not wish to wear the latest trend (yellow, leggings, bows at neck, knee length shorts, and other fashion excreta) nor do I wish to look like a twin-setted matron, which often seems to be the only other option. I just ordered a dress from Boden in fact, which arrived yesterday, a blue shirtwaister. I tried it on and showed it to the boys. ‘You look like a nurse,’ my son said. ‘I think I look somewhere between a nurse and girl mechanic,’ I said. ‘Neither of those options are exactly unpleasant to me,’ said my husband. ‘We’ll discuss it later.’ So, the dress might stay – I have yet to properly cast my vote!

  2. Litlove, your husband and mine are kings of the one-liners!

    Damn fashion, and its either-ors. I don’t want to emulate a teenager and neither do I want to look like a matron.

    I may have to resort to Boden too, which has happily started a German outlet. Excuse me while I go and peruse my catalogue and imagine you in the blue shirtwaister …

  3. The familiar feeling of loathing all summer clothes has overtaken me of late. A friend and I have been mocking the dresses for sale over here as either orphan wear (the sort of thing Jane Eyre sported when standing on a chair in disgrace at Lowood) or asylum wear (sacklike with frills white things that would not look out of place in a Victorian madhouse when one’s husband put one away for contradicting his opinion).
    Boden does help, though. I wish their dresses fitted me.

  4. It’s been awhile since I commented too. I’ll start by wishing you a Happy Mother’s Day!

  5. I’m sorry Charlotte, but I had to laugh and laugh at your fashion descriptions. They sound all too familiar. I lived through 80’s fashion through my teens. As much as I loved it then, it just makes me cringe now.

    Happy Mother’s Day. Potted plants have been trumping clothes for me lately too!

  6. Happy Mother’s Day!

    And I hear you on the dress front. This year (according to the fashion magazines) is the Year of the Dress…but but but! There really aren’t many great “everyday” dresses. I’m finding only formal (read: dry clean only or super long) or super beachy (read: super short and inappropriate). I am so forlorn.

    But I did find something cute at Walmart today (of all places!). Not great, but casual and comfortable and at least appropriate.

  7. You mean the clothes over there are so boring than it makes HM look interesting? The very thought makes me shiver. Plus all the men’s clothes in HM are designed for giants, and not for dainty Irishmen. Life is hard.

  8. I won’t contradict you on the dress front (all shops alike, boring boring), but personnally I feel so lucky that the exact year where I am pregnant in spring/summer, all dresses seem designed for pregnant women! I don’t even have to go to special stores for tops and dresses, only for pants, ah ah! The problem is now that men aren’t quite sure who is pregnant and who isn’t, which leads to embarassing situations in transportation or at the office!

  9. Belated Happy Mother’s Day. I’ve been peeking at the fashion in the stores and I so agree! I don’t like the looks this year–not that I have the room in the old wardrobe to support any more purchases because I have a closet full of fabulous clothes 1 size ( and a few two sizes) too small. Boo.
    Yeah, I know what I have to do.

  10. Happy belated Mother’s Day, Nonna 😀

    I also have clothes shopping crises like this. Everything here in the UK seems so terribly fashion driven – all I want is a non-fashionable, classic, not-too creasy, flattering sumemr dress!! I seem to be able to find them no problem in SA, and I have one super-spectacular retro number of my mom’s, probably from the very early 80s from a wonderful clothing label called Bilbo. It has a sweetheart neck, wide straps that cross at the back and fits to the waist before flaring. It also has the funkiest print and I know for sure I won’t see anybody wearing the same thing!! But try and find something like that today… The evening dresses are spectacular, but a nice, long, daytine summer dress? Forget. As for fit, I find the secret ingredient of the curvy woman is to get a dress with a tieback at the waist or below the bust. It works for me every time 🙂

    And as for black maxi skirts – Rule no. 1 is that you can NEVER have too many. I counted… nine in my cupboard over the weekend. Really.

  11. What I find amusing about dresses/ tops is that not only is it in for all non pregnant women to wear things thaty make them look at least six months gone, but that pregnant women are expected to wear the tightest of tight outfits, preferebly with as much midriff showing as possible.

    Mind you, as someone who is 7 months odd gone, I’m having no trouble finding suitable baggy tops. None of which come from the maternity section.

  12. “Spin me right round baby!” I caught that reference!!!

    I haven’t been dress shopping but I need a dress for my cousin’s wedding. My problem is that I prefer 3/4 length sleeves to hide my hulking musclebound arms and most summer dresses are sleeveless. I like a dress that is fitted in the ribcage and then floats away at the tummy and hips, does not have to be ironed and makes me look 10 pounds slimmer. Am I hoping for too much?

  13. My Monsoon dresses from maybe ten years ago are still in service though getting a little threadbare now – they went through a period of having a few great dresses each season and I bought one new one a year. If I’d known they’d have to last this long I might have considered getting a few more.

    Woolworths this year had a choice of dresses brushing the floor but skimpy on top or as you described shorter than short things that must have been meant to wear over leggings.

    Glad you found solace in an old dress and family devotion!

  14. Happy Mother’s Day! I have overly large curves in all the wrong places to follow any sort of fashion. But a dress that is comfortable and flattering surely is a nice thing to have. Perhaps the remedy for the nonna look is accessories? A blazing scarf, lots of dangly beads, something?

  15. Dear Ms Musings, you are hilarious. Orphan wear and asylum wear make their way into my vocabulary as we speak!

    Thanks, dear Charlotta. How nice to be in touch with my Georgian namesake again …

    Alida, I never thought I would say it but there’s something so reassuring about plants. Eighties fashion, though, not!

    Jadepark, your forlornness speaks to my forlornness. However, I am also glad that you have found a good dress.

    Paddy, it’s bad indeed. Fashion is so dull in Heidelberg that H&M is out on a limb crazy wild clothing!

    Yes, Ms Smithereens, you are indeed lucky. You are no doubt both pregnant AND extremely fashionable.

    Diane, with that haircut, you are a fashion leader. You realise you have the haircut of my dreams.

    Jeanne, I remember Bilbo! I had a white Bilbo skirt and jacket in 1984. I can imagine your dress and that it is lovely, especially as it was once your mother’s. Do you really have nine black skirts? Because that is impressive.

    Sol, you and Ms Smithereens are in luck this summer – you’ve got all the tops to choose from. Wishing you well for the last two months!

    YogaMum, you describe the dress of my heart. If you ever find it, please tell me.

    Kit, I remember those Monsoon dresses! And I’m glad to hear yours are still in service. Because of the weather, South African shops often have a great selection of dresses, so sorry to hear that Woollies let you down.

  16. So is mothers day in May across the rest of the planet? “”Happy Mother’s Day” in any case! I really shouldn’t have an opinion on leggings but if I did, it would be identical to yours. And I should mention that the Red House Painters had a song called “Summer Dress”.

  17. Too funny! I’m very short and am with you 100% about looking like a cone in the maxi dress! Minis are wrong on anyone over 12, so that counts me out too. Sigh. At least, as you point out, there are much more rewarding things in life than high fashion… Still, it’d be nice to have that perfect summer dress wouldn’t it?!

  18. “Yesterday, I went shopping in Heidelberg, looking for the ultimate summer dress. Then I got cross and went home. ”

    Can I just cross out “Heidelberg” and insert “Los Angeles” here?

  19. Hi there URD! I’m sure your Dudelette would look fabulous in leggings. Methinks she is the correct target market.

    Welcome back Simmone! I am looking forward to browsing your new blog. Yes, a perfect summer dress would be good. I am now dreaming of one I threw out in 1992. It was so floaty and feminine and pretty (I think I threw it out because it had fallen apart, though).

    Anna, I can’t believe there’s not in a dress to be had in LA! I thought my problem was a German provincial one, but it’s obviously it’s global.

  20. Pingback: Auf Wiedersehen, Pets « Charlotte’s Web

  21. Happy Mommy Day to you dear Charlotte.

    Dresses? Gawd. I recently bought one at Target, of all places, an Isaak Mizrahi thing that, swear to god, makes me look like June Cleaver (or any other cheery 50s housewife of your acquaintance.) The contrast between the dress and my personality is kind of fun. But, still, I’d rather find a dress I love than a dress that cracks me up.

  22. Emily going shopping = getting cross and going home. Which is exactly why I hate to do it. But you do realize that you’re shopping for your ultimate summer dress at the wrong time. You were supposed to get it back in December, remember?

  23. Charlotte, do you have Sissy Boy there? The name is weirdly offputting but the clothes are nice. They have nice classic dresses which don’t include neon misery, beads the size of babies’ hands or any kind of other weird crap. I agree about Esprit. Mexx had a lovely white linen dress in there the other day, but I didn’t have the boobs for it. Maybe you do? 🙂

  24. Oh my, (wiping tears of laughter and globs of running mascara from my eyes), why have i been away so long? You do make me smile, giggle, lol, roll on the floor and occasionally wet my broeks! And I have to say I particularly hate leggings on Kate Moss. I mean no one other than a 17 year old should be able to look like a 17 year old. It’s just not fair. The only thing that levels the playing field is that most 17 year olds don’t have enough confidence or experience to wield their youth and freshness as kickass weapons of mass destruction. It gives us over 17’s a chance (as long as we’re not wearing leggings).

  25. This has got to be one of the best posts anywhere. I just had to let you know you made me laugh out loud. And these comments are priceless, too.

    I’m waiting to learn whether you found the ultimate dress yet, though.

    We want photos.

  26. Heidelberg hmmmm….. at least the scenery around there is lovely and the familly made it perfect..

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