We’re having what Cosmopolitan magazine would call ‘A Girly Night In’.
Earlier in the day, I tell Alice that I’m making vegan ginger brownies and a cinnamon loaf. She asks if she needs to bring anything – drink, nail polish, pyjamas, a feather pillow? No, I reply, whilst wondering if she’s only ever hung out with other girls in the imaginations of teenage boys.
We’re telling horror stories, but not the torch-under-your-chin and all-the-lights-out type urban legends you told when you were a kid. These are true horror stories – mainly grim anecdotes of medical terror or the sexual exploits of our absent friends, which tend to dip into medical terror too.
‘Betty loves squeezing spots…’ volunteers Alice after one of Rox’s stories about vomit in A & E. Cue a lengthy chat about pus and cysts and smells that make most of us queasy and wishing we hadn’t eaten so much cake and drunk so much wine. But for Rox and Betty, it’s a conversation topic made for mining.
Betty is only too happy to list the top 3 spots she’s ever squeezed, one of which was disappointing at first glance – ‘It looked a bit past it’s best’ – but turned out to be unexpectedly enjoyable by producing ‘a really forceful spray’ when put under more pressure.
Is that what you had in mind, Cosmo? Probably not, but this is what I wanted.
I’m giving away clothes and shoes and scarves and bags because it’s gotten out of hand. It’s mostly a depressing experience – going through dresses, tops, skirts that used to fit, but no longer do. A different kind of horror story – this is the narrative of skinny to fat.
‘You’re not fat!’ my friends scream reproachfully and they’re right. I’m a healthy weight, I’ve weighed myself and done all the BMI stuff and I walk everywhere because I can’t drive and I hate public transport. But it’s all relative to where you came from. Five years ago I weighed about 6 stone, at 5 foot 3 (I’m taller than Alice Duke). Comparatively, I’m fat now, and there’s nothing like a marker for that than going through clothes that stretch and strain in protest if I try to wrestle them over my hips.
It’s true that in lots of ways, fashion is trite and meaningless – the autumn trends pass by like auburn leaves on the wind, the new spring collections wash over us like April showers. And for many people, what you wear isn’t who you are.
When I tell Pete via text that I’m getting rid of clothes, and text a photo of me wearing the ‘Selected Popcorn’ dress – the dress she wore for the opening of our club night in Edinburgh 10 years ago, she sends a list of demands. Not of clothes she wants for herself – of clothes I’m not permitted to get rid of. Regardless of the fact that they fit neither of us right now.
The so-called popcorn dress fits at the bust but is too big at the waist and hips. The vintage white-shift-with-yellow-polka-dots hanging in my hall hasn’t been worn for about seven years, and is too big for me. The vintage peach mini-dress with the green piping and puff sleeves was last worn while drinking rum cocktails at a housewarming party three years ago and would burst at the seams if I attempted to haul it over my bust these days.
I try not to drink a whole bottle of Sailor Jerry in a night these days too. Some changes are for the better, I suppose.
I tell Pete it’s okay – I wouldn’t dream of giving those away.
Putting on that popcorn dress is the equivalent of listening to Junior Senior’s Move Your Feet – I can’t help but remember a dingy nightclub with dodgy electric wiring and a grumpy Irish bar manager.
In the same way that listening to Alligator by The National takes me back to a tenement flat above a fancy dress shop in Edinburgh, ignoring my dissertation to play with my pet rats and a fireplace so stacked with books, it’s easy to accidentally pick up your high school year book and hand it in to the university library – just looking at that polka dot dress drowns me in nostalgia for living with my best friend and my final years as a student.
And although it never leaves the hanger these days, that peach dress is an eternal reminder of a party I can’t remember – both an advocacy and a warning of drinking entire bottles of rum by yourself.
As the girls paw through the garments that are up for grabs, I narrate my life.
‘Those are the heels I wore to my first ever Soap Awards’
‘This horsey shirt was my leaving present from my friends in Demijohn. They gave it to me in The Bow Bar, and I put it on straight away. Then I drank cherry brandy while lying on the floor under one of the Demijohns and got it all over me... It was amazing’
‘I got those shoes in a wardrobe sale at work but never wore them – they used to belong to Louise/Hannah/Zoe’
‘I got that dress when I was in Cambridge and wore it to a fancy dress party that night where a boy tried to chat me up in the queue for the toilet’
‘I wore those shoes to my interview for Lush in the Arndale – I’d fractured my foot, strained my back and had an eye infection – I looked like Quasimodo’
‘This blouse went over my dress at my first High School Leavers dance. That’s the dress I wore to the second one…’
‘That’s the dress I wore to my first Hollyoaks Christmas party’
‘I got that skirt in Urban Outfitters in Toronto, and wore it out for Pete’s birthday and we got into a fight with a waitress. I wore it with her pink short sleeved sweater from H & M, with the pussy bow tie at the neck. We were really into pussy bows back then’
‘Those are the heels that made a hole in the dancefloor at my work’s Christmas party, when I wore that red vintage dress and fell over…’
‘My ex-boyfriend’s Mum bought me that and told me not to worry about showing off my boobs’
Bex pulls out a blue dress from New Look – a floral geometric pattern.
‘Noooo, Niki,’ she says. ‘Not this.’
It’s not just my memories…
‘Isn’t that the dress from Indietracks?’ asks Ellen – who didn’t even go to Indietracks.
I laugh and point to a photo from Indietracks 2009 – framed, a gift that year for my 25th birthday from Gordon, of me, him, Bex, Nick and Pete – we’re smiling and drinking beer and I am wearing that dress. It has been rated as my best weekend ever numerous times in my life.
‘It’s splitting at the seams’ I explain. I do not have the skills to fix this.
‘I’ll sort it for you’ says Bex.
It’s not an offer, it’s an order. This is not a dress I can afford to lose.
The girls take what they want and leave behind what they don’t. Dresses, shoes and accessories go off to create new memories for new owners. I suppose it wasn’t really a horror story after all – it was a biography.
Fashion is trite and meaningless.
But clothes and shoes can possess a value that won’t appear on a price tag.