We throw on a dress, “what, this old thing? Had it ages…” Glamourpuss stands in her slip, a polished nail flicks past hangers in a closet, casting her eye critically over each garment in turn before pulling out the dress she’ll wear. Discarded dresses are tossed over the bed, to be returned to the closet later, if they had feelings they’d be looking on enviously as the chosen gown is scrutinised from hem to décolletage, turning this way and that and peering over her shoulder to check out that all important rear view. She’s treating the dress like something functional, on par with the Elnett hairspray and Mac Ruby Woo, but we know different, I mean, it’s not just a dress, right?
Our relationship with our clothes is one of mutual dependency; Glamourpuss needs that glorious gown because it makes her feel like a million dollars, but that gown needs the curves and movement she brings to give it life. And once it’s zipped up and the seams smoothed it is only the start; those powder-dusted shoulders are carrying not just an artisan gown, but a piece of history.
See the way expert pattern cutting and clever darts create that shape? A beautifully-created pencil dress is quintessentially 1950s; designed to be narrower at the hem than the hips, it encourages the wearer to sashay and wiggle as she walks (the wiggle dress is a relatively new phenomenon, the original name was a pencil dress, and because we strive for the most authentic retro style, that’s what we call it, too).
When Liz Taylor played Cat and draped herself around Paul Newman in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof she deliberately wore an outfit designed to suggest the sexual tension of the story; a figure hugging slip, virtually seam-free and clinging to every curve like its life depended upon it. The look is iconic and incendiary… and it launched a thousand copies in the form of pencil dresses and skirts that coerced women into an undulating gait and showcased the curves of the voluptuous whilst giving shape to the less curvaceous. But, you needn’t brave the winter chill in a slip to achieve the allure of Liz, the beauty of the pencil dress is that it will adapt to a variety of styles, from the jacquard print lovely I mentioned earlier, to the sumptuous luxe crepe and (polar/feline) faux fur trim – something Cat would surely have adored. Warm to wear, hot to look at!