Brilliant. Fun. Mad. Obsessed.
This year I decided to wear a different dress each week to watch Strictly Come Dancing. Brilliant, fun, mad and obsessed were just a few of the words used to describe my decision.
I enjoy dancing, and I enjoy Strictly Come Dancing. If I was indeed famous, I would jump at the chance to perform (I imagine the Charleston and jive to be my dances, but I may be sadly misguided). Every Saturday out come the blankets, the chocolates snacks, I was even gifted a glitterball which now makes an appearance, and we all snuggle down to watch Strictly. By ‘all’ I mean my ‘second family’ – some of my nearest and dearest friends. Afterwards, once the children are tucked up in bed, there is usually a bit of card playing, and as December approaches the occasional glass of mulled wine or festive mojito (cranberry instead of lime).
Last year I spent a number of these evenings bemoaning the fact that I was clad in jeans and a hoodie while watching celebrities and professionals waltzing and samba-rolling around the floor in a myriad of beautiful dresses. So, in the spirit I am embracing this year, I decided to stop moaning and do something about it.
I decided that each week, I too, would wear a different dress.
I was met with the obvious initial question – do you have enough dresses? Happily, and worryingly, yes I do. 13 weeks, 14 shows, 14 dresses. I have 19 dresses to my name; I discounted my wedding dress (although if I was still happily married, rest assured, I would have worn it!), and the one that does fit…if I don’t want to breathe out. So that left 17 contenders.
Choosing a dress each week was open to a number of factors.
Was I ‘chez Bishop’ and with my good friends? If yes, raw silk in 2 sizes too big (week 9) was acceptable, not so much for an evening at my Aunt’s with a 10 month old baby (week 6). There was also warmth, shoes, hair, and whether I was out and about beforehand and therefore needed to not look like a total loon in a ball gown in the middle of town.
As each contestant speaks about their Strictly ‘journey’, I share with you now my own ‘Strictly story’.
Week 1 consisted of 2 shows to kick off this series, and I chose a dress with tags still attached – I hadn’t been convinced I’d keep it, but this Friday night solved that. I also love these shoes. They’re black, suede-like stilettos, and unbelievably comfortable. If I could wear them to work I would, but I could almost guarantee that would be the day of cancellations.
The following night, being as it was still a balmy September evening, I unearthed a maxi dress from my parents’ 30th wedding anniversary party. The brilliant thing about this dress is the length. As it’s a petite maxi dress I didn’t need anything taking off, or taking up, and it didn’t culminate in a puddle of material on the floor!
Week 2’s outfit, I won’t lie, was uncomfortable. The shoes fall off as soon as the foot is lifted, and an artfully placed broach ensured my modesty was maintained, as happily and sadly, this dress is now too big. It does however have actual sequins on which, as any good viewer will know, is a Strictly essential.
Week 3 was more about comfort…I have a sneaking suspicion I was out somewhere beforehand, as this is a dress I wear regularly. I did toy with the idea of wearing knickers over the top for superhero week (as well as underneath of course) but decided I would be unable, again, to maintain any dignity, and contented myself with a superhero pose..some may feel I may as well have worn the underwear over the top as I lost my dignity with this pose anyway.
Strictly Week 4 was a pinnacle – my birthday! My birthday was actually on the Sunday, but wherever possible in September-December all birthdays tie in to a Strictly event. My incredible friends had manufactured an A-MAZ-ING Strictly themed cake, and had all dressed up themselves. Ellie and Libby won the prize for ‘most sequin-ey’ and Tim for ‘best dressed’ – a dinner jacket no less.
Week 5 was the week of sickness in Family Bishop household, and they were in lockdown and isolation. Depleted in numbers, we reconvened at the Selwood house instead, where I debuted my paso-doble dress. As a (bargainous charity shop) wraparound it has significant potential in the dance stakes. It completely unwraps and can double as a paso-double cape! I did not however, treat/scar my friends to this full use of it and contented myself with the photo below, and my best balletic arms. 12 years of training come to fruition right there.
Agreeing to attend other social events on Saturdays throughout September to December are difficult decisions because of the fun Saturday evening holds. However, I had agreed to go to the dedication of my cousin’s daughter, over week 6. Undeterred, I packed a dress and got changed at the hotel in advance of fish and chips at my Aunt’s. This was also Halloween week, which is my least favourite, as I don’t celebrate it myself. It was perhaps fortunate timing as I missed most of it in the melee that 12 adults and only one small baby can produce. I did however, get given the Strictly tour mug, as my crazy dress-wearing stance had become more widely known. By this time, people had begun mentioning it to me, asking what I would be wearing next week, and commenting on the dress choice the next day at church.
Week 7 was the week the skirt got shorter…one of the ones that you could grab a fistful of to shake in Samba or perform flicks and tricks in for a jive. I coupled it with some bridesmaid shoes in ivory satin to offset the polka dots. I’ve worn it to many a wedding and love this dress dearly, but haven’t worn it in years. The reason for this is possibly that it’s very difficult to maintain any form of modesty as soon as you sit down – all I can say is thank goodness for blankets and friends who’ll look the other way.
Inadvertently on Week 8, I had agreed to social engagement that I only later realised might run up to the time of Strictly. As a result I completely overdressed for the matinee of ‘Oh What A Lovely War’ to avoid any time needing to be spent in getting changed. This dress was an especial ‘Christmas party’ purchase in my first year of ‘proper’ work and I wore it on one of the two occasions I went clubbing in my home town. This week was in the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool and I totally missed it (grateful for BBC Iplayer). I did however, get to view the Winchester illuminations and feel incredibly young after an evening with my Grandma and two of her friends. I was the youngest by a mere 52 years, multiplying my feeling of glamour from the dress.
By now, there was much less of a dress selection, and indeed for Week 9 I took two dresses with me to the friends’ to change into. I debated the ‘change halfway through the evening’ but decided against it once it took me long enough to wrestle into tights, dress, heels having peeled off several layers from football, although I am somewhat tempted for the final. It was certainly a day of two halves, dubbed ‘the synthetic and the silk’. Most of my dresses, as you may have noticed, come in red or blue. I have a couple in pink too, but this is my only green dress. When Claire suggested green bridesmaid dresses I was apprehensive because I never wear it, and having worn a bottle green uniform for 5 years was not overly enamoured by the colour. I am, by nature, fairly pale – English-rose like (if I do say so myself), but this green is a beautiful shimmery thyme and brought out the best, rather than the worst, in my skin tone. This dress had a saga all of it’s own (I was a lot heavier when purchased, and a lot lighter when I eventually wore it) and I’d ended up with two of the same outfit. I knew I needed to sell one, but it was the smaller one (although still too big) that had sold. So I merrily wore this one – straps attached to ensure modesty prevailed – which rode up to my chin each time I sat down it was so big. This drove me mad as I sat there, the boning in the bodice creaking whenever I moved, and I’m afraid this is the one dress that has had to come off straight after – although I’d like to add that I got changed rather than just abandoned it on the floor.
My post on Week 10 was only facebooked at around midnight, by which time I had received complaints at the lack of photograph (blame my phone battery). The phrase ‘it’s almost like a tradition’ sums up a lot of the attention this project was getting. People shared that they were now in anticipation of my outfit of a Saturday night and awaiting the photograph to see which I’d worn next. The actual dress I wore had to be appropriate to walk around Brighton for the day. In retrospect, I could probably have worn any of my remaining dresses and not stood out too much, but I played it safe with in my favourite colour day dress with many a matching accessory.
I don’t know when we lose that childhood sparkle of wanting to wear our favourite glitter-and-sequin-covered dress with plastic high heels to the supermarket, or parade around town in a Lycra superhero outfit with sewn in muscles. Secretly, if it was socially acceptable to do this in the middle of the day, I think a lot of us still would. Now, we hold onto these favoured outfits for a special occasion, and rightly so, but too often we feel overdressed if we go for anything special. Those items we keep, like precious china for the day when the queen comes, or that dress for our invite to Buckingham Palace. I have loved wearing all my dresses, and dressing up.
This week I wore 4 dresses in a week, unheard of before. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can wear a pretty dress, jewellery and shoes to church on an ordinary Sunday as much as I can wear jeans and a hoodie. When did I become legalistic about only wearing slouchy clothes? Does it matter that some days I’m dressed up to the nines and others I’m more casual? I don’t think so. It’s only appearance. Looking nice gives me confidence, even while I know that the true test is in my character.
There will always be someone who disagrees with you, thinks you’re ridiculous, or doesn’t like what you like. For the ‘mad and obsessed’ there will always be ‘brilliant and fun’. It’s been a blast, and the best bit is, there’s still 3 beautiful and in some cases very dressy dresses to go!