A brief guide to power dressing for girls

“Hi mum,” called Ruth as she let herself into the house and headed straight upstairs to the attic in a quest to find my 80s clothes for a themed party.

Lynne Mortimer

“Hi mum,” called Ruth as she let herself into the house and headed straight upstairs to the attic in a quest to find my 80s clothes for a themed party.

My husband became quite animated at the thought of me in shoulder pads.

“Have you still got that sexy kingfisher blue jump suit with the diamante starburst?” he asked, looking interested.


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“No,” I said firmly.

Crestfallen, he returned to the newspaper.

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It was a little harsh but I didn't want him getting over-imaginative on a weekday evening.

I made a mental note to withhold any information about visiting Abba tribute bands. He doesn't need that kind of excitement at his age… in my opinion.

A distant whoop of glee told us that Ruth had found something in the loft. It turned out to be a binbag full of her childhood toys and while I perched on the loft ladder she loved them all over again, one by one.

Her happiest discovery was the “princess dress” she had for Christmas when she was eight or nine.

“I reckon I could still get into that,” she declared and promptly put it on.

To be honest, it was a bit tight on the chest but she instantly reverted to the innocence of childhood and wondered again at the sequins, lace and frothy net.

No longer one hundred per cent sure that Father Christmas exists, she asked me where it had come from and seemed to be expecting the answer Lapland via sleigh but I admitted I made it from a charity shop bridesmaid's dress.

Eventually she came upon my eighties wardrobe which turned out to be somewhat too small. It seems I was a size 10 back in the old days.

“What am I going to wear?” she despaired.

“What about your princess dress - that was eighties,” I suggested as she lobbed one of her favourite cuddly toys at me but missed due to the tightness of the frock around her upper arms.

The loft haul was decidedly unimpressive. If Cash in the Attic came round to my house they'd have to bring their own stuff.

Feeling I had failed her, I promised to have a look round town to see what I could find.

Next day I visited the nest of charity shops in the town centre. The staff looked on, puzzled as I went through the rails of blouses, squeezing shoulders (the blouses not the staff) in the hunt for shoulder pads.

At the time, really big shoulder pads constituted “power dressing” for women. It was a myth, of course. What it did was make you look like a short-sighted NFL quarterback (broad-shouldered with a tendency to misjudge the width of doorways).

It was at the Salvation Army shop that I found a beige suit in ridged polyester with shoulder pads the size of sandbags. The pulled in waist accentuated the incredible wideness of the shoulders.

It was just awful and exactly right.

Ruth was duly impressed: “That is horrible… perfect.”

She tried it on and instantly went widescreen. By the time she set off for the party she was full on eighties; big hair, moulded and sprayed into place, over-bright lipstick and the suit. It was somewhere between Tracy Ullman and Nik Kershaw.

“Did I look like that in the Eighties?” I asked my husband.

“Yes,” he said with the sort of smile guaranteed to bring on one of my headaches.

If there is anything worse than being a woman shopping for a new outfit accompanied by a husband/partner, it is shopping for his outfit.

In the same way as they won't stop the car and buy a map when hopelessly lost in north London (no dear, I'm never going to let you forget it), men are very resistant to buying new clothes even when they really need them.

My guess is this is why they always ask for pants and socks for birthdays and Christmas - so they don't have to go into a store and shop for them. This sort of thing requires knowing what size they need, and which sort they have. On the occasions men do shop for their own clothes they are invariably shocked by how much everything costs since we went metric.

The underwear aisles throng with men asking their other halves: “Do I have boxers or briefs?”

My husband needed a new suit.

“I don't really need a new one…”

“Yes, you do”

“We'll go next week.”

“We'll go today.”

“Tomorrow.”

“Today.”

He wasn't grumpy, more resigned when at last we arrived in Debenhams, about an hour before closing.

“I like this one,” he announced, picking up what I suspect was the first one he saw that wasn't light brown, too shiny or heavily pin-striped.

But it would have been madness to ignore a favourable comment and I found the right-sized jacket which he tried on while I held the matching trousers, his coat, scarf and pullover.

“What do you think?” he asked.

Now, as any fule no, this is a very dangerous question when a woman asks it and it is hardly less dangerous when a man asks it.

The last thing you want to do is say something that will spark a mid-life crisis. Next thing you know they'll have a pierced nipple, a motorbike and tickets for Elbow at O2.

It is best to ask a question back: “How does it feel, darling?”

“Okay. I like the lining.” Now, if the lining is a violent pink it could mean they're thinking about getting a tattoo so you still need to tread carefully. Play your trump card.

“What about this suit? It's a little more expensive - but more stylish.” (It's the one with the classic grey lining)

“Do you think so?

“I do - try it on.”

He does and it's perfect. Job done. Now you have to act quickly and get out of town before he sees the man bangles.

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