...we had our annual team building day at work. We're a small team - there are only six of us delivering safe accommodation and recovery services for women and their children fleeing domestic violence and abuse. The work is emotionally taxing and pretty stressful. Not only because of the daily horrors of witnessing the damage that some men do to those they supposedly care for but also because the agency itself is constantly under threat of reduced funding and support from statutory agencies. We're a Not For Profit organisation and, as such, life is tough.
So the annual team building event is our way of looking after ourselves, reminding ourselves that we value one another and care about each other as colleagues and friends - that we're a bit special. Every year (at the same time as our team building event, funnily enough) a huge craft fair is held locally - the biggest in Europe, so I've heard - and every year we go, as a team, to wander round together for hours in marquees that are brim-full of the results of staggeringly impressive human creativity. It's great.
My co-worker's son is getting married in July and she's having huge problems finding the right outfit to wear to this family occasion that has all the usual sub-plots and family politics going on behind its happy premise. She wants something with the 'wow' factor - she has statements to make - but it's difficult because she's short and very, very round. Clothing manufacturers seem to think that women of her shape and size just ought to be happy to find anything that fits them if they're not prepared to hide themselves away behind closed doors. On top of this J, my co-worker, has a woman friend who believes she knows best about everything and has been bamboozling her into buying stuff that doesn't fit properly, doesn't suit her and that she knows she really won't wear to her son's wedding and doesn't even want. All this is begining to seriously worry her.
So, back to the craft fair. The first marquee we went in....all kinds of wonderful stuff happening - lace making, tapestry, quilting, wood carving - even spinning. That made me think about traditional women's crafts that we're in danger of losing and it would be a shame if we did. The woman at the spinning wheel seemed so attuned to what she was doing - the result of which is the basis for almost everything we wear.
There was also a milliner. Such amazing hats I have never seen before. Each one an original and each one totally spectacular in its own way. I kinda like hats... Anyway, I saw one particular hat and my first thought was "That's J...that hat just says 'J' all over it". I put it down and half covered it up - it was in a wicker chest with lots of others - and called her over. She looked in the chest and immediately pulled out the hat I'd been looking at. She put it on and, I was right, it was the most wonderful hat for her - bearing in mind her size and stature and the fact that hats, generally, do nothing for her. It was perfect. Though subtle and understated, it was the kind of hat that stops you in your tracks. I won't try to describe it because it's impossible - suffice to say it transformed J's vision of herself and she could at last see herself with the 'wow' factor. It wasn't that expensive either but J is a cautious woman and never makes hasty decisions (unless she's being bamboozled) so she asked the milliner if she'd keep the hat to one side for an hour or so while a decision was made.
We looked around a couple more marquees before J acknowledged that she had a nagging worry that someone else might have expressed an interest in the hat and the milliner had sold it. She obviously wanted it. So a decision was made and she went back and bought the hat. We discussed the various approaches to putting together a wedding outfit and concluded that, although building an outfit around your hat might be an unconventional approach, it isn't impossible.
Right at the very end of the day, with tired feet after lots of marquees filled with all kinds of fascinating things, we arrived at one that included handmade women's clothes. The woman stall-holder had come from San Francisco to exhibit and sell her creations. They were completely wonderful - so original and completely un-catwalk it was refreshing. And she did 'out-size' sizes. (That's an extremely offensive term, I think. Out-size. Out of what? The norm? Who says what the 'norm' is?) J looked and liked. The woman and her assistant paid attention to J, listened to what she needed for the wedding and spent a lot of time with her - so much time, in fact, that we were still there 45 minutes after the craft fair had closed and everyone had gone! They kept bringing different things for her to look at and choose from. They saw the hat and were duly wowed. They helped J (and the rest of us) build her wedding outfit around the hat.
J came away having spent a lot of money but with an outfit (including hat) that gave balance to her figure, that was comfortable for her to wear and, most importantly for her, has the hugest wow factor. She'll have the confidence to deal with all those sub-plots and family politics at her son's wedding and she'll definitely be remembered as the incredibly stylish mother of the groom.
I saw her briefly this morning. She'd been too tired to try on the ensemble last night but had spent an hour twirling in front of the mirror earlier on and, d'you know what, she liked what she saw.
I know there are a hundred and one feminist issues to be explored and examined here but, for today, I'm just happy that J is happy and feeling so much better about all the personal issues she'll be facing on her son's big day.