It felt a bit odd this afternoon as I dressed in a pretty blue frock, an aqua jacket and slipped on my treasured aqua and gold paisley shoes with the clear Perspex heels and pink swans up the sides. All I needed, I felt, was a pink rose corsage and a smart hat and I would be ready to go to a wedding.
But it wasn’t a wedding I was attending; I was going to the funeral of a friend.
The instructions in the local newspaper announcement had been quite clear: “At the family’s request please wear something pink, mauve or blue in Audrey’s memory.”
So the church was full of pinks in every hue from the softest baby pink through rose madder to the boldest raspberry; blues from sky to delphinium (navy doesn’t count in this instance) and everything purple hued from lilac to smoked grape.
Audrey was a Sweet Pea Summer and these are her colours; a Classic Gamine (read Naughty Pixie with French Sophisticated Chic), and oh, did she love her clothes!
Audrey was a member of the local WI, a group to which I delivered a talk in my very early days as a consultant. As I stumbled nervously through a carefully prepared talk and fumbled the drapes during the demonstration, this group of (mostly older) ladies were very kind and accepting. At the end of the talk I even took a couple of bookings and one of the ladies who booked was the lovely Audrey.
Over the colour consultation, as well as discovering that she was a Sweet Pea Summer, we also discovered that she had gone to school with my mother; like my mother was a quilter, and that we liked each other enough to want to be friends.
When my first daughter was born I used to take her round to Audrey’s. My little girl would lie on a patchwork quilt and play with her toes while Audrey and I drank tea and talked clothes.
I persuaded Audrey out of her long and frumpy skirts. “You look like a little old Grandma!” I would say to her, and she would reply “Well, I am nearly seventy, you know.”
“Nonsense” I would refute robustly “You’re no more than eight at the most inside! Remember; you have to dress the age you are eternally, not the number of years you’ve lived on this earth. Show off those delicate ankles and slim calves!”
So today one of her quilting friends confided to me: “You know the thing about Audrey; she never dressed her age.” Well, absolutely. She may have lived for seventy-eight years but she retained that youthful look of her namesake Audrey Hepburn to the end!
Audrey sent her partner Michael to me (I don’t think he took much persuading). He had just retired and didn’t know quite what to do with himself now he wasn’t wearing a suit every day. (Oh yes: lots of Classic there). Michael is another Sweet Pea Summer with an elegant charm and warmth; the kind of man who can wear tasselled loafers without looking ridiculous. He too loves his clothes.
When I saw him yesterday he spoke about the silver-grey designer suit he would wear today and the new pink Van Buck tie he had bought. He told me about the clothes in which he had dressed Audrey (her favourite Jacques Vert jacket and best shoes); the lovely earrings he had given her.
We laughed together, thinking that many people would consider our topic of conversation to be shallow and materialistic; utterly inappropriate to the situation.
But to Audrey (and indeed Michael and me) clothes are much more than a means of keeping warm and decent. Clothes are a means of self-expression, a way of showing respect to the company we keep, a way of honouring ourselves and a very deep and abiding pleasure.
At some point in the future Michael and I will go through the clothes that Audrey has left behind in this life and find new and loving homes for them.
In the meantime I am comforted, imagining Audrey in heaven (for she was a woman of strong Christian faith) wearing the robes of glory. I am sure they are in colours that we mortals can never imagine with our earthly eyes and I am sure Audrey is enjoying wearing them very much indeed.