This is how long I’ve been wearing this dress: I thought about reproducing the older photo you see here when having my picture taken for this, but I couldn’t make it work because Alfie, the baby son I’m holding, is at university in a different city. Alfie is now 20; the dress is almost a year older.
The funny thing is that, when I bought it, I wasn’t at all sure I’d get much wear out of it. The year was 2002, Net-a-Porter had recently launched and “internet shopping” was an exciting new world. Diane von Furstenberg and her wrap dresses were enjoying a renaissance. Her New York fashion show that season was a headily glamorous scene, Ellen Barkin clinking champagne glasses with Paris Hilton. Also, I go weak in the face of leopard-print anything, always have done. I saw this dress, dropped a few heavy hints to my husband, Tom, about my upcoming 29th birthday and before I knew it I was lifting it out of layers of black tissue paper and putting it on for the first time for a birthday dinner at our local Italian.
But then – plot twist! – about a week later, it turned out that I was pregnant with Alfie. A wrap dress doesn’t really work without a waist, so within a couple of months this dress was relegated to the back of my wardrobe.
By the time Alfie was six months old, the dress was back in my life – as was the champagne, as you can see. (Yes, I was still breastfeeding – but it was the 00s, we did things differently.) And I’ve been wearing it ever since. I’ve worn it to two weddings and a christening. I’ve worn it to Ascot – with a dodgy asymmetric fedora hat, not its finest hour, with the benefit of hindsight – and to interview Von Furstenberg herself. (Never underestimate the power of sucking up to an interviewee.)
I used to dry-clean it, but I’ve found that washing it on cold in the machine and letting it air-dry works just as well. It is pretty much as good as new. And it isn’t, actually, the oldest thing that I still wear – there is a Gap flippy black above-the-knee skirt, still a staple of my summer wardrobe, that I have had since I was a student. When I say “this old thing”, I mean exactly that.
This is quite categorically not intended to portray me as a saintly pioneer of sustainability. I am nothing of the sort. For many years I bought way, way too many clothes. In the glory years of the big Topshop at Oxford Circus, I sailed up those escalators laden with shopping bags on a Saturday afternoon in blissful ignorance, like a passenger on the Titanic knocking back the Moët even as the ship tilts. I overshopped, and I wish I hadn’t. I have a lifetime of buyer’s remorse, and more clothes than anyone could ever need. The least I can do now is keep wearing the clothes I already own, instead of buying more. A leopard doesn’t change his spots, after all. And I have no plans to change out of these ones.