London - Good news: I’ve been invited to a glamorous wedding. Bad news: the bride is an iconic supermodel, her children are supermodels, their friends are supermodels and the rest of the guest list reads like a who’s who of the rich, the famous and the terminally fabulous.
That was my first thought when an invitation to Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall’s nuptials popped into my in-box.
I was thrilled, of course (not to mention a little surprised). But no sooner had I emailed my mom with the news than a familiar nagging voice started up in the back of my head: what on earth do I wear?
I’ve never been very good at what is known in the business as “occasionwear”.
Most of the time I try to dress as unobtrusively as possible in the hope no one will notice that I am, to put it bluntly, built more for comfort than for speed. Like many women in a similar situation, for me that usually means black.
So while, sartorially speaking, I never have to worry about funerals, weddings and other celebrations such as milestone birthday parties and assorted other joyous occasions present a problem: how to look the part without feeling hugely self-conscious — or breaking the bank.
In this instance, I also knew there would be photographers at the church and that, while I would be the least interesting person there by a country mile, the fact that I was going with my husband, Michael Gove, the secretary of state for justice, would mean that unless I practised my usual policy of walking ten steps behind him, I might get snapped.
Then there was the weather. Hot, cold, rain, snow — you can never tell in March in England. It would have to be a pretty remarkable outfit to cater for all meteorological eventualities.
I guess it’s a situation that many mothers of brides and friends of the family encounter at weddings every year. No one wants to let the happy couple down by looking awful in the photographs. And yet, for those of us who are neither in the first flush of youth nor a size 10, the options available are sadly limited.
Given the bride’s impeccable fashion credentials, I thought I ought to at least try to be stylish. But after a thorough trawl around the designer fashion website Net-A-Porter, I realised that, unless I was prepared to part with thousands of pounds, there was nothing for me.
I looked on TheOutnet, Net-A-Porter’s discount sister, and found what looked like a promising Etro jacket claiming to be a size 16 — but when it arrived, it turned out to be lying. It was at best a 12.
And then I had a brainwave: there’s a jacket I bought from a small stall at the Spirit Of Christmas Fair, of all places, in London last December. It’s a lovely, slightly ethnic grey cashmere/silk mixture. Maybe the people who designed that would have something suitable.
I rang the company, Shibumi, which is based in Gloucestershire, and explained my predicament to the owner, Ruth. She was incredibly helpful and suggested a gold silk jacket in a long style, and for a small fee said she could get it made for me in two weeks. I put the phone down feeling rather pleased with myself.
As time passed and the date drew closer, however, I began to get rather cold feet. People kept telling me how stupendously glamorous the wedding was going to be.
Even my mother, who is fairly unfazable, was girlishly excited. I wondered whether my country jacket, nice as I knew it would be, would pass muster.
Matters weren’t helped by the fact that when I bumped into Jerry Hall a few weeks before her wedding, at the opening of the Vogue exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, she told me she would be wearing “ice-blue Vivienne Westwood with silver flats”.
There was something about the way that whole room of ordinarily aloof fashionistas hung on her every word that made me realise I might have miscalculated.
However, my fears were allayed when, about a week before the big day, my new jacket arrived as promised. I was delighted: the fabric was a lovely gold, and it fitted well and felt comfortable. I showed it to a friend who works in fashion. She was clearly horrified.
“Do you mind if I speak plainly?” she asked. “Er, no,” I replied cautiously.
“It’s okay, but it’s a bit panto, if you know what I mean. I think you need something more stylish. Surely you must have something in your wardrobe than can work?”
Upstairs, she rifled through my rails, making unimpressed noises. Eventually, she picked out something I’d bought last summer in a sale, a beige-and-black Gerard Darel jacket.
“Wear this with some on-trend culottes and a pair of heels and you’ll look fab,” she said. “And no hat.”
I gazed wistfully at my lovely gold jacket. “And you’re sure . . .” “Definitely,” she said, sternly.
It was at this point that I started panic buying. I went online and ordered about a million things from Zara. I did the same at H&M. And John Lewis. I went to Designers at Debenhams and bought several hats from the Stephen Jones range. I purchased an assortment of accessories from Marks & Spencer.
By the Thursday before the wedding, I had amassed an unfeasibly large amount of surplus clothing. Every bit of available hanging space in the bedroom was occupied with potential outfits. My husband was alarmed.
“But I thought you were going to wear that nice gold jacket you bought,” he said.
“I can’t,” I wailed. “Can’t you see, it’s far too panto.”
Top of the shortlist was a Bruce Oldfield jacket, bedecked with large black-and- white flowers. At just £199 (about R4 000) from John Lewis, it seemed at first like the perfect solution to my problem — and it even came with a matching dress.
For my feet, New Look had a pair of elegant heels that were just £24.99 and surprisingly comfortable. On loan from Jane Taylor hats in the King’s Road, several millinery masterpieces, including a fabulous feathered number and a more subdued black fedora. Bag-wise, I was torn between an old Etro, one of the first presents my husband bought me, and a natty black-and- gold clutch, again from Jane Taylor.
Contenders for the culottes included a cheap Zara pair and a more expensive silk set from Eileen Fisher. A silk shirt from H&M’s premium range was competing with a Zara Basic top. It was fashion carnage.
I needn’t have bothered with any of it.
On the day, I texted a friend to see if she was wearing a hat. The message came back: no. I checked with another: she advised rock-and-roll indoor sunglasses. So the feathers went back into their box.
I tried on the Oldfield coat and suddenly felt rather too flouncy-floral. Not only that, but it was cold and raining — hardly the weather for flowers. A nice long gold jacket, on the other hand . . .
Reader, I went panto. Gold jacket, silk culottes, H&M silk shirt, New Look shoes. I wore some cosy Spanx underneath for warmth and confidence, and carried my trusty old handbag. I looked neither fashionable nor especially glamorous — but I felt happy and comfortable.
The wedding itself was incredible: a beautiful church service, a stupendous choir and the most astonishing group of guests. Bob Geldof, as honorary best man, made a brilliant and surprisingly funny speech and by the time Marsha Hunt — singer and former lover of Mick Jagger — took to the podium to give a black power salute, I couldn’t have cared less what I was wearing.
So next time you receive an invitation and you can’t decide what on earth to wear, here’s my advice.
First, check your wardrobe. The chances are you’ve already got something in there that will work. Second, don’t panic-buy expensive clothes: if I’d opted for the Bruce Oldfield number, I would have come face to face with someone else wearing exactly the same outfit — only looking about ten times better in it than me.
Don’t do what I did and compare yourself with others. Once you see people like Georgia May Jagger and Jerry Hall in the flesh, you realise they belong to an entire different species. They are creatures of such natural gorgeousness, there is nothing mere mortals like myself can do to be more like them. It would be like entering a donkey for the Gold Cup: pointless.
The ONLY thing you can really do is be yourself — only a little glossier and more glamorous than normal.
Which is why, on the day, my comfy gold jacket from the lady in Gloucestershire was perfect for me.
Yes, it was a bit quirky. Yes, it was a bit panto. No, it wasn’t nearly as fashionable as many of the outfits there. But it was also me to a T, and that’s what matters.
As I write, the newlyweds are enjoying their honeymoon in the South of France while their guests are recovering from what will surely go down in history as one of the most remarkable weddings of all time.
As for me, suddenly I’ve got rather a lot of clothes to take back. Now, what did I do with those receipts?