It’s All In The Preparation…

4th December 2009

It’s that time of year again… and, whether you like it or not, there’s every chance that your diary is already filling up with a cornucopia of seasonal celebrations. And that means one thing: preparation. Start early, have fun and – hey! You shall go the ball!

Grace Fuller plans ahead…

The pressure is well and truly on. This time of year there’s plenty of it… how to fit the turkey (or the tofu) in the oven… how to wrap and disguise a dolls’ house, a rocking horse, a bicycle… how to write and send 137 cards when your first opportunity looks likely to be three days after the last posting date. And, for natural party animals and shrinking violets alike, as the invitations start pouring in, the biggie… how to look good, feel great and be ready on time!

If panic hasn’t already set in, be assured that it soon will. With the diary full to bursting, you’ll soon realise that all these occasions – from casual drinks, to cocktail parties, to dinner and dance in full regalia – present their own challenges. Each require the appropriate hair, make-up and clothes; for each, naturally, you want your female friends to be complimentary – and envious; your male friends purely complimentary. It’s all about making an impact. The right impact. Unless you’re an exhibitionist with an undentable ego, now is not the time to turn up in fancy dress when everyone else is in diamonds and designer, for example. Sure, everybody loves Santa – but that’s coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve, not sitting next to them at the office party. Well, not unless they’re dressed as an elf or a reindeer.

So does the perfect outfit exist? I approach the annual search with enthusiasm (and maybe just a little anxiety); this is supposed to be fun – and I’m not asking for much, after all: just a selection of garments that will make me taller, thinner, prettier, sexier.

It’s not going to happen on the first attempt. That much I do know.

This is a mission that requires careful – and repeated – consideration. With the help of a range of retailers (is it just my imagination, or are they really open 24/7 throughout the festive season?) I can shop myself into a frenzy. And do you know something?… I love it. I love the smell of anticipation in the air, I love the glitz, I love spraying a mist of some new fragrance over my wrists at the entrance to a store and asking myself ‘Is this the one?’. I even love the queues for the changing rooms. It’s as if we’re all out there in pursuit of the same goal, and there’s a real camaraderie, a recognition of the guilty blend of stress and pure delight in the whole process, that binds us together.

So, if it takes half a dozen trips to find that sublime Cinderella gown and a perfect pair of glass slippers, that’s just fine. I do pick up a few presents for family and friends each time I’m out, though; it wouldn’t do to focus just on me (!).

Clothes are only one part of the equation, though. Next, there’s hair. I envy those people who have one, usually short, stylish look. Whether it’s crisp and sophisticated or textured and tousled, it seems to me that short hair can take you from smart to casual without any attention at all. My more… unruly… locks always require coaxing and cajoling into any one of the myriad of styles theoretically possible: up, down, coloured, natural, straight, curly. Perm – sometimes literally – any three from six, and you’ll understand my dilemma. Up, for elegance? Down, for the artful ‘no, really, I haven’t done a thing with it’ look?

If I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that the basic cut makes all the difference – and that if you don’t have absolute faith in your hairdresser, then you’re living dangerously. Very dangerously. My best move, last Christmas, was walking into an almost unknown salon at the beginning of December, and saying “I want an appointment with the best stylist available.” Risky, but I’d done my research, and it worked for me. I’m not doing it again though; now I’ve found Nik I’m not letting him go (and I’m not sharing his number, either…)

The face is part of the package too. I spend most of the year following one basic formula… aiming to seem as if I’m wearing very little make-up when actually I’m wearing a great deal (I sometimes think I’d look just the same if were actually wearing as little as I’m pretending to wear… but I’ve never dared find out). Come Christmas and New Year parties, though, I like a more ‘finished’ look. That’s ‘finished’ as in ‘stylish, dramatic, glamorous and always superbly appropriate’, not as in ‘ready to take to the stage as a pantomime dame…’. I’ve been there before. No, not literally. Nowadays, with the right products, applied on perfectly moisturised and suitably conditioned skin, I like to believe that I can create the illusion of perfection (at least in my head; bright lights and mirrors not recommended.)

Think I’m paying too much attention to this? You may be right, or you may be secretly on my side. Either way, I’m not alone. A survey a couple of Christmases ago revealed that the average woman uses up three years of her life in those small fragments of time she spends getting ready to go out. Before a big event, apparently, the typical woman spends 22 minutes showering and shaving her legs, then seven minutes moisturising or applying fake tan, 23 minutes drying and styling her hair, 14 minutes on make-up and six minutes getting dressed. That’s all very precise and open to mockery and debate… but it tells us something about who we are. If you’re going out, then getting ready is all part of the fun. Preparation, whether it starts two weeks or two hours (or, often in my misguided estimation of how long these things will take, 20 minutes) ahead of time, is key.

It’s not all in the anticipation, though, much as I love it. Remember that old phrase of Robert Louis Stevenson’s that grandmothers and maiden aunts used to trot out when you were getting over-excited: ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive…’? Yes? Christmas preparation is my ‘travelling hopefully’ – but my theory is that if you travel hopefully enough, arriving is pretty good too. The phrase finishes with ‘…and the true success is to labour.’ He knew a thing or two, did Robert Louis.

Not everyone shares my view of planning, I know. Not everyone has the time, or money, or inclination to spend hours of their life in search of sartorial splendour or cosmetic cachet. Can’t stand the stress? There’s an answer… one little black dress, half a dozen bright accessories to create a portfolio of different outfits, and a slash of scarlet lipstick.

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