A Christmas wardrobe

Laying my outfit on the bed, making it almost lifelike, was my childhood ritual.

Should you dress up for Christmas? When I was a child, it was always a very special time of year: Christmas Day involved dressing up, although nowhere near as much as if we were spending the season in Italy. There, the sheer volume of velvet, frills, buttons and petticoats worn - and that was just the men - would mean that, instead of eight to a church pew, you could fit only six. Fur coats not seen on any other day of the year (unless there had been a wedding) would make a sudden and brief appearance, the sheeny fur, flattened from 364 days stuffed in a wardrobe, making everyone look like a rat when seen from behind. And everybody in Italy, it seems, gets their hair done in the days before Christmas. I rather like that they take such care, and make such an effort.

In London, while our mother still had influence over how we dressed (for me, this was roughly until I turned 14), our Christmas wardrobe usually involved some new item of clothing, hand made by one of many aunts and sent over in advance of the 25th. This was a particularly special and cherished ritual, as wearing new clothes often, gloriously, is. As soon as I was old enough, I'd lay my clothes out the night before (a part of me still wishes I were organised enough to do this) and I'd particularly delight in making my outfit look almost lifelike; so my tights would go under my skirt, and sometimes I'd tuck my blouse into the waistband. I can't remember when I grew out of this slightly insane little ceremony, but one day I did. We took equal care putting some sweet delicacy out for Father Christmas until my sister, rather cruelly, and prematurely, told me he didn't actually exist (which is a lie, of course, because he does).

But then, as I grew up, I started to reject dressing up for Christmas. One year, aged about 24, I decided to really dress down, perhaps in rebellion, or perhaps because I just generally felt rather rubbish about myself (how you dress always reflects what you think about yourself, however subliminally). Whatever the reason, I dressed in dreadful trousers, the sort that drain the very hope that life can ever be any good from you the moment you put them on; and very probably in thick cotton jersey that would have been better suited to gardening - with a lumberjack shirt (ditto). Although I might have been comfortable on the day, I regret the aberration. Hence, there are some glossy prints of me looking very matt. Finding them makes me jolt in shame every time.

My parents know how to dress; for Christmas Day, my father always wears his bespoke cashmere coat, which comes out only for special occasions. In the pocket is a black skullcap made of crêpe paper, a legacy from more than 40 years ago, when he wore it to the funeral of an old Jewish employer; for some reason, he has never removed it. On the way to Mass, I still hold his hand as I did when I was a little girl, and find it when I snuggle into his pocket. My mother will wear shoes that shine and she will look wonderfully smart and well turned out, despite always questioning if she really is. Happy Christmas!

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