It is now some weeks since my birthday but the shopping trip Mamma and I planned to buy me something pretty to wear had to be put off, owing to poor Papa's indisposition. In the meantime, we received an invitation to the nuptial celebrations of Mr B's cousin, who weds at the end of November.
My delight at receiving this invitation notwithstanding, I must confess to a slight sinking of the heart, increasing to veritable trepidation, on reading one part of it: the dress code. The code for ladies is cocktail frocks. For me, this was a disastrous concatenation of circumstances, each one multiplying the others. Suffer me to explain.
I am , ahem, a 'petite rondelette' as the French might say it. In plain English, I am short and somewhat round. The former problem is mostly of little concern to me, except on the few unfortunate occasions when I try to buy a gown (or try to reach anything on a top shelf). I am so short that I always find the low point of what should be the décolletage of any frock in any shop is, in fact, much closer to my navel than to my décolletage. Leaving aside (as though one could!) the indecorousness of it, it is scarcely becoming, particularly bearing in mind the deficiencies of of my figure.
For my embonpoint (note my preference for French circumlocution as opposed to plain English while discussing the failures of my form), I have been striving to reduce my proportions somewhat, although I am loth to go to the extremes adopted by Lord Byron of subsisting on potatoes mashed up with vinegar, accompanied by glasses of seltzer water. While my efforts have been attended by a certain measure of success, the unquestionably skimpy nature of cocktail attire might be considered the worst wardrobe imaginable for ladies such as myself.
Now, I would never be guilty of the either the stupidity or the vulgarity of trying to compete with a bride at her own wedding (I am no Mrs Veneering), but the fact that Mr B's cousin is a tall and strikingly beautiful girl with an extremely elegant figure added considerably to my trepidation. However insignificant, one does like to look one's best at such an event, but I was beginning to think I would have to contravene the dress code in order to achieve this.
Figure to yourself, then, my amazement when on our shopping trip, for the very first time in my life, I found an actual 'little black dress' that fits me; yet without emphasising all those disastrous bits that one would rather cover up (which is my usual fate in dress shopping). I could scarce believe my eyes. Mamma asked would I not rather have the dress put aside and try on some few others in other shops? I adamantly refused and insisted on purchasing the dress there and then. I suspect Mamma was a little disappointed as she was hoping for a more exhaustive degree of thorough shopping than we actually achieved. Nonetheless, she was delighted to be able to give me as a belated birthday remembrance my first 'little black dress'.
I will never have a figure like Elizabeth Bennet's: 'light and pleasing'. Little as I have in common with Fanny Price, I believe I felt the same degree of amazement at the relative improvement in my appearance as she felt before the ball at Mansfield Park.