Frock right off

Dresses, dogs and dinner

Woman About Town

This article is taken from the February 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

There’s a line in the blackly brilliant sitcom Such Brave Girls that made me feel, as they say, extremely seen. “New clothes are really exciting,” gabbles the mentally fragile Josie during a shopping spree, “because you haven’t had a chance to create any sad memories wearing them yet! I could be a new me!”

Clothes are never just clothes. They’re also the experiences embroidered into the fabric through wear — experiences that sometimes make a garment more treasured and sometimes make you want to throw the thing in a bin and pour bleach on it.

A friend arranged a night in the pub for her birthday. One rule: come dressed up. Turned out my “dressed up” setting is a notch higher than most people’s, especially when the venue is the kind of unreconstituted boozer where “the menu” is a choice between scampi fries and pork scratchings.

Still, I looked pretty nice in my pink gingham frock. So nice that a man at the bar bought me a drink and said, “Can I ask you where you got your dress? You see — don’t be offended — but I’m a transvestite.” I accepted the compliment graciously (I could hardly deny that it was a bit of a Grayson get-up) but the dress is now officially retired.

* * *

It shouldn’t happen to a dog

One family member who doesn’t share my love of getting dressed is Jessie the dog. Historically, any effort to put her in clothes has resulted in her standing completely still, tail down, looking betrayed. But as she is now a senior dog, I thought it was time to invest in something to protect her from the elements.

So Jessie became the owner of a black Barbour dog jacket. Personally, I thought she looked pretty fetching in a provincial bourgeois chic way — especially when I coordinated with her and wore my own Barbour trench. Jessie, however, did not agree.

Because she’s a compliant dog by nature (the labrador retriever is not a rebellious breed), she tolerated having the coat put on. But she was obviously not happy about it, trudging dutifully through the rain when she’d normally be rushing cheerfully in the most disgusting puddles.

Stopping in a cafe to read a book and warm up, I looked down and saw that Jessie had taken matters into her own paws. Whilst leashed to the table, she’d somehow contrived to wriggle the velcro loose and escape her quilted prison. I decided not to draw attention to the matter. But the coat, like the dress, is now retired.

• • •

The big topic of conversation over the last month or so has been Saltburn: have you seen it, did you like it and what the heck about that bath scene? (If you have seen it, you’ll know the one I mean.) I saw it in a cinema and I’m glad I did. Hearing the collective intake of breath as the film sloshed its way into truly unthinkable territory made the shock even more delicious.

Saltburn has had a rough ride from some commentators who seem to want it to be a morality play rather than deepest black satire. Some defenders of director and screenwriter Emerald Fennell have suggested there’s sexism at play, other people have called anti-posh prejudice given Fennell is a member of the upper classes with the temerity to tease middle-class aspiration.

I’m not sure either of those are the reason, though. I think Saltburn rubs people up the wrong way because it’s gleefully resistant to pieties: its first duty is to entertain you, and if the price of that is being utterly disgusting, it’s willing to fearlessly go there. As one film critic friend said to me: it’s an id movie for superego age. No wonder audiences seem ravenous for it.

Taking the win

By this point in the year, most New Year’s resolutions have crumbled to dust. Not mine. This year, I decided to tip the odds in my favour by setting an aim that was so unambitious, it came close to insulting. The resolution: go for one short run, once a week, with no expectations of getting faster or going longer. Just get outside and jog gently for half an hour or so.

To make it even easier, I run anyway — just not very consistently. But why would I resolve to do something that I didn’t already want to do enough to already be doing it some of the time? With plenty of opportunities for failure waiting for you in the world, it’s nice to give yourself an easy win when you can.

* * *

Awaiting game

Towards the end of last year I had an excellent dinner at Il Portico in Kensington. It’s a place that’s acquired legendary status amongst feminists after it hosted JK Rowling and was subsequently vandalised by trans activists. Its owner, James Chiavarini, took a robust attitude to the harassment and simply carried on turning out excellent food with exemplary service.

So exemplary, in fact, that he was very nice to me when I got a couple of negronis down and decided to recruit him to my project of learning how to hunt (Il Portico serves game from the restaurant’s estate in Kent). He took my email, and by the time I sobered up I had an introduction to a crofter in Scotland called Megan Rowland (@wayfairing_hind on Instagram) who was warmly encouraging of my plan.

2024, then, will be the year I eat something that I’ve killed for myself. I’m quite excited about this — at the very least, it should settle for good any moral questions I have about my meat eating. If I can’t bear to put a bullet in a deer, it’s a vegetarian future for me. It’s also an opportunity for my wardrobe: time for some new tweed, I think.

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