No strings attached

You don't have to slave over a hot stove to make use of an apron.

A while ago, I went to a very posh person's house for lunch. Also invited was a man - very, very high up in the world of glossy magazines, I'm not sure you can get higher - and his wife. "There's something I've been meaning to ask you ever since I heard you'd be here," said his wife. Here we go, I thought: an autograph, an offer of the job of fashion editor on a magazine, one that I'll have to turn down because I like eating too much. "What do you do with clothes you've worn for one day and want to wear again?"

Clearly, this had perplexed her for some time. As I didn't think it would be polite to spit my food out and say, "You have time to think about things as insanely unimportant as that?" I chewed on my quenelles de brochet for a bit longer before answering: "What exactly do you mean?" This is a great holding question if you need to buy time.

"Well," she said, "you can't put those clothes back in the wardrobe, can you, and you don't want to put them in the wash, so what do you do with them?" "Oh," I replied, "you mean you don't have a special place in your wardrobe for 'worn once but want to wear again' clothes? I have a special shelf and a drawer."

I don't. This was a lie, equal in showy-offy magnitude only to pretending that I was being picked up by a chauffeur after my first haute couture show, at the age of 17.

She looked pained, and gave her husband a look that implied the carpenters were going to be commissioned the moment they got home. "No," she drawled nervously, as if the whole world would now for ever judge her on her lack of such a place, "I don't." "You'll have to use a chair then. I sometimes put mine on my special chair, or put them back in the cupboard and remember which they are. Squirting a bit of Eau Dynamisante on clothes is always a good idea to freshen them up." She seemed placated, but disappointed with my pedestrian advice. I wonder what rabbit-out-of-hat advice she had hoped for?

The men in my family who did manual work - farmers, well-diggers and the like - would have laughed at such a problem. The sort of work they did rarely gave you clothes for two days' worth of wear. The women in my family, who worked no less hard but at different things, always wore aprons, which were changed daily: each a chronicle of what had been baked or polished that day. They still wear them now, although they are more housecoats - rarely seen it seems, in this country, these days. I should have suggested such a thing to the wife of the glossy magazine king. But one always thinks of the best retorts when the situation has slipped just out of view. I doubt that the scenario will ever repeat itself.

Annalisa Barbieri was in fashion PR for five years before going to the Observer to be fashion assistant. She has worked for the Evening Standard and the Times and was one of the fashion editors on the Independent on Sunday for five years, where she wrote the Dear Annie column. She was fishing correspondent of the Independent from 1997-2004.

This article first appeared in the 03 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Gas gangsters