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How I fell back in love with 'the dress'

Updated: Oct 25, 2017

Author Kate Kerrigan talks about how she fell back in love with dresses.

My falling out of love with dressing up was not an instant thing. There was no insightful flash where I decided that how I dress wasn’t going to be important any more. Motherhood then middle age just slid me into it.

Having worked as editor of women’s magazines throughout all of my 20s and much of my 30s, fashion had always been a big part of my life. Every season I was either fighting my way to the front of the shows as a fashion editor or writing captions for great swathes of catwalk shots that came in from various photographers around the world telling me that florals were ‘back in for spring’. I was never somebody who spent a fortune on designer clothes, although working in the industry meant I was friends with many designers so usually had a few good dresses for ‘public show’ events. However when I relinquished my magazine career to become a full-time novelist I can honestly say that the standard of my wardrobe plummeted overnight. The speed with which this happened was also down my becoming a mother soon afterwards. Finding I could no longer fit into any of my single media chick designer duds, I was unwilling to invest in new ones. After all, most of my life now is spent alone, writing in a shed.

After the birth of my second son, and a battle with depression, I finally lost all interest in clothes. I was a writer and mother. Most of my time was spent alone and with small children. Clothes no longer plays an important role in my life. Fashion became meaningless. Bothering about what one more on what accessories one carried seemed pointless and shallow. I took to the retired fashionistas last point of refuge: black. Black leggings, black T-shirts, black jumpers – a general generic pile of cheap black jersey that sat in a mound on the floor of a walk-in wardrobe hung with beautiful dresses I’d lost interest in. They seem to be from another life. A life where I attended glamorous parties. Before real life took me over.

However as the launch of The Dress became imminent I realised I would have to find something to wear to the launch. It had to be of course, address. So while my youngest son was in the bath, one evening, I opened up my walk-in wardrobe and stepping over my jersey mound I tentatively reached for the rail of evening dresses, all in their plastic covers, having lain untouched, some of them for fifteen years.

The first one was wedding dress. Worn once on the happiest day of my life, a bias cuts symphony in cream silk made for me by Niall Tyrrell, it made me feel more beautiful than any day before or since. Next to that, was a dress made for me by my friend Adele Hickey, for the launch of my first book in 2001. I fell pregnant while she was making it for me, so she heard news of our first child before some members of our family! The vintage dress I was gifted by an old lady neighbour as a teenager, faded floral silk chiffon, is over 100 years old. As I pulled out each of these dresses, I thought about the significant role they have played in my life. Some of them I may never wear them again, because I’m too fat or too old or simply disinclined to, Nonetheless each of them hold memories that are precious to me; each carries a story, a part of my history that is important. And as I stood in my bedroom, listening to my precious youngest son, the light of my life, splashing in the bath behind me I thought about how, just because people are the most important thing, and love and emotion - all the other things that I write my books about – it does not negate the role that clothes play in all of that. I remember the days I wore those significant dresses in a way that I don’t remember the black jersey days. I had always thought that worrying too much about what I was wearing would distract me from the important things in life. However, remembering the important events in my life I realised that wearing a beautiful dress can throw everything else into sharper focus. A dress gives a sense of occasion that no other item of clothing can. While I favour tailoring and trouser suits, the truth is I never feel more feminine or alluring than I do in a good dress. It seems that clothes can, and do matter after all.

My novel, The Dress, took me the guts of two years to write and through its process I started to celebrate clothes and their meaning in the way that I’d not done before. Researching the history of couture gave me a deeper appreciation of the artistry of dress design and the craftsmanship of lacemaking, embroidery, corsetry - all the other skills that go into making a magnificent gown.

I looked through my tunas for something to wear for my launch and picked out a black cocktail dress that I had commissioned Niall Tyrell to make for my 40th birthday. It was low-cut with a split up the front and three-quarter length sleeves. Sexy but demure, I wore it to every party for three years until the second baby stole my figure. Tentatively, I stripped off and stepped into pulling it up over my torso, saying a small prayer. It was a tight squeeze, but the garment was so well made that the zip did not flinch and I managed to do it up. I picked out a pair of black high heels from my closet, dusted them off and put them on. Then I stood in front of the full-length mirror in my bedroom and had a good look at myself wearing a dress that had been lying idle for eight years.

The dress still has it, I thought, and you know what? At fifty-one girl - so do you!

And with that I fell back in love with the dress.

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