Those first lazy, hazy days of summer tend to bring the average Brit out in a hot sweat, and not just because the mercury is rising.
This sweat is almost as likely to be due to the fashion dilemmas presented to us by the sudden, shocking appearance of that big yellow thing in the sky.
Despite the forecast of good weekend weather bringing a flurry of excited planning a week in advance, casting my beady eye around town it seems that half the population didn't get the memo. Instead of shaving, plucking and tanning to within an inch of our lives in a frenzy of anticipation, most dubious Brits won't allow themselves to believe the sun's about to put in a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance until the evidence is high in the sky.
Suddenly we're shoehorning pasty-white bodies into last year's skintight summer garb and whipping out embarrassingly pale, blue-veined limbs reminiscent of an anaemic squid.
This job is gonna need tools. Industrial-strength power tools.
Fire up the chainsaw and get hacking through the dense undies undergrowth. Get the shears on those thick horny toenails. I've seen elephants' tusks hacked off by poachers with more compassion than some people's pedicures. Dark red polish hides months of nail-care neglect; alternate clamping those feet in a vice and plane half an inch of hard skin off the trotters. Don't forget the protective googles: it's time to get sandal-ready, sisters!
Working as a boutique manager, at least I have none of the "what shall I wear?" daily dress dilemmas, since I spend the entire summer reluctantly clad head-to-toe in black, in the manner of a six foot blonde ninja, as my uniform dictates. I may as well wear a year-round burkha. It's like a cloak of invisibility. Oh how I wish orange really was the new black. I'd love a splash of colour in my sombre wardrobe. I actually have two wardrobes: one bursting with funereal work attire, the other my colourful civvy gear. Sadly, it's the graveyard-friendly get-up that gets the most outings.
Whilst the rest of the country flip-flop sloppily around town, camel toes showcased in ill-fitting white jeans or butt-cheek-bearing hotpants, I'm the one buttoned-up in black, my face pressed up against the cold tinted glass of the steely shopping centre, quietly mourning yet another summer lost to mall life. Two decades, in total. I've spent so many years encarcerated it's a wonder I don't have rickets.
The only consolation of being merely an observer of summer, rather than an active participant, like, say, a mum ;-) , is that I get to people-watch from my position on the sidelines of life...
As I sit on the park bench munching my usual M&S sarnie and scrolling blindly through strangers' holiday snaps on Facebook, I can't help but glance up and stifle a snicker at the many sartorial slip-ups of the other earthlings that cross my path. Well, I have to get my kicks somehow, don't I?
Some of the images remain burnt onto my retinas long after the offender of crimes against fashion has left my field of vision. Some things just can't be unseen.
I shall document a few of the aforementioned criminals' offending outfits henceforth....
Ahh, my first specimen, what have we here?
Exhibit A: The Urban Mum
The large battered brown Primark paper bags dangling from the buggy mimic the similarly-sized crinkly bags under her eyes. I hope she's got some big bug-eye sunnies in those carriers. A half-full (or half empty I should say, she looks depressed) Maccy D's drink cup clutched in one hand, squawking child wedged on the opposite curvaceous hip. A pair of faded black leggings are straining across jiggling buttocks, whose circular movement brings to mind a couple of hyperactive ferrets fighting for release. What are those monstrosities on your feet? Crocs?! Really? Those rubbery atrocities with little round holes where your dignity leaks out.
Her expression is as tight as her pre-preggo ensemble, her glazed gaze indicates she's miles away: daydreaming about the cold Sauvignon which awaits when little Archie finally sleeps this evening. She'll chug it down super-quick in a vain attempt to erase the horrors of today's toddler melt-downs from her memory. She clutches the wailing child to her heaving bosom in an attempt to pacify or suffocate him. I'm just deciding which, when my attention is diverted to....
Exhibit B : The duck-billed platypus
I swivel in my seat in alarm as a shrill sound emanates from this curious creature before me. I'm reminded of the mating call of some unidentifiable mammal I encountered on a recent jungle tour in Costa Rica, but no, it's just Stacey stepping out of her office for a sly fag and a catch-up with her fella via Facetime. She's cackling with laughter, a Pall Mall dangling from a glossy bottom lip, orange-palmed hands (from a recent dodgy tan job) clutching the phone.
There's a cool breeze caused by her 2 inch eyelash extensions and I gather my cardi around my shoulders with a shiver. It's a good job there's no real wind blowing today: the way she's alternating between that constipated-duck pout and resting bitch face as the conversation takes a moody turn there's a good chance her top lip would be stuck like that forever.
Reassured I'm not in imminent danger of an animal attack, I relax and surreptitiously take in her outfit. She's slapping about in flat-footed circles in cheap ballet pumps like Pingu's pooed himself. Any real ballerina worth her salt would be horrified by those fallen arches. Corned-beef legs lead up to an unflattering pleated skirt and then....dum, dum, dummmmmb.......my absolute pet-hate.
A black bra under a white shirt.
Why, why, why...?
I have never understood that particular fashion faux-pas. Flesh-coloured bras, ugly as they may be, are clearly the only option under a white top. Like, hello?
My eyes! I look away, in pain. My finger is poised over the number 9 on my phone as I'm about to dial the emergency services. "Hello, what service do you require?" "Police! Fashion police! I've got an emergency....."
Hang on a minute.
I stop dialling.
Could that be....? Surely not....? Someone who's got it....right?
Sashaying along the gravel path is a lady who's clearly got this summer style thing down-pat. She's not so much walking along as gliding, oozing the kind of self-confidence that comes with knowing you're catwalk-ready. If she were made of chocolate she'd eat herself. I bet she high-fived her reflection in the mirror this morning. She probably has several thousand Instagram followers hankering after her on-point pics.
Long, glossy chestnut hair gleams like glass in the sunshine and she casually flips it over one shoulder and strides out in her strappy, low-heeled sandals. She's wearing a jumpsuit and managing to look stylish. At the same time. I'd love to be able to wear those things, but every time I try one on the leg-length is far too short, leaving me looking like Huckleberry Finn with a wedgie. I resemble a deranged inmate, a Death Row prisoner with no hope of reprieve....nothing like this slinky minx before me. A fringed cross-body bag and long pendant complete the look. I'm just wondering how you negotiate the zip up the back whilst alone in the pub loos, when I'm distracted by....
Exhibit C: Parsnip-leg Pete
There's just time for one last observation before my break is over, so I hone in on:
Exhibit D : Dad-bod Dave
There's something endearingly British about Dave: he's had a go at making shorts stylish, bless him, but he looks a tad awkward as his puny pins put on a brave show of propping up the straining beer belly that's clearly taken a fair amount of time, money and effort to acquire. Fair play to him, he's definitely put the hours in at the pub. Tatty tattoos are green and blurry, an impressive pair of moobs visible under pink Ralph shirt, collar inexplicably upturned. A pair of Ray Bans are perched atop the balding bonce. All the gear, no idea.
I glance at my watch. Break over. Time to get back to work. I get up from the bench, grab my bag, oblivious to the fact that my skirt has got tucked up as I haul it onto my shoulder.
I catch Dad-Bod giving me the eye.
It's a good job one of us has got this summer style thing down, I think, as I shimmy off.
With my skirt caught up in my knickers.
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