Fun before evening

When "getting ready" was the highlight of a girls' night out.

The other day, I got ready for a rare night out. I say this with no sorrow. My needs have changed enormously in the past ten years since I "settled down" and I'm perfectly, ludicrously content with not going out anywhere near as much as I once did. Sometimes, when I am driving home of an evening and see people queuing up for clubs, I remember that I never really enjoyed that sort of life anyway, and how good it was to get old and finally be able to admit it.

Anyway. I got ready in minutes and, as I did so, I got this flash of memory of being in my teens, when getting ready to go out was a far more languid affair. I used to listen to Billie Holiday as I dressed up, wondering what the night would hold (answer: nothing, the best part was getting dressed and waiting for my friend Sandra to come round, and then the bacon double cheeseburger we'd have on the way home). I remember very little about my outfits, save for a big stripy shirt I wore with a huge belt and a very chic, black dress I'd made that played well with my tiny frame, back then.

The summer of being 18 saw me and five girlfriends go to Callosa d'en Sarrià in Spain. We had spent the preceding two weeks making our own bikinis so successfully we had a production line going. That's how easy it is when you're still so young and lithe that four triangles can be translated into swimwear. We made several for each girl, in all sorts of fabrics; but sadly what we had not accounted for was the fact that cotton drill, when wet, sags. There was lots of crotch-holding as we exited the water.

Getting ready to go out would start about teatime, when we would come in from the terrace or beach smelling of expensive sun oil (even back then, I never slummed it with cheap potions). It would take ages and was the highlight of the day. We'd shower and talk outfits, sometimes swapping them, but all of us looking fantastic, simply by virtue of our extreme youth. One night, I remember, we all went out wearing just belted T-shirts. Six bronzed teenage English girls in a Mediterranean town that wasn't on the tourist trail, and who were regularly seen carrying home bottles of hard spirits from the supermarket - well, we attracted a lot of attention. When we went out to the disco that night in our T-shirt minidresses, the local girls threw cigarette stubs on the dance floor (we had also, foolishly, gone out barefoot - I think perhaps we had been trying to see if we could go out wearing the absolute minimum items of clothing).

It's different now. I don't know when dressing up to go out slipped into being, really, what it should be: the ante to a rather more pleasurable evening. Only a small part of me is sorry that it has.

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 17 March 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Iraq: the war that changed us