I used to have this boyfriend who was obsessed with the colour white. More specifically, he was obsessed with women dressed in white – possibly because he’d absorbed lingering cultural tropes about purity, chastity, virginity etc. and tediously allowed them to fuel his fetishes. Or maybe he just liked the clean brightness of bleached cotton; how it reflects the light, so that the wearer appears bathed in an ethereal glow. I can see how that would have turned him on. He was quite pretentious.
Obviously I was a massive disappointment to this particular boyfriend (and all the subsequent ones, but let’s not go there. Too depressing), because within seconds of my donning any white garment it became immediately smeared with bike grease, ketchup, lipstick or some other substance (fag ash, Ribena, coffee and, most often, let’s face it, wine) that I don’t remember spilling, but there it was, memorialised in a faded brown stain (every stain turns brown eventually, no matter its original colour. No one knows why) on the breast-pocket of my linen blazer. And it doesn’t matter how fine you are, a big brown stain is a turn-off, signifying, as it does, filth and lazy hygienic habits and minimal hand-eye-coordination. Not hot. Not erotic. Not the grist for anyone’s sexual mill.
No wonder he dumped me.
(Before we move on, can I just ask: how are you supposed to wash white clothes? Even if I put Daz in, after four or five washes they inevitably become grey and floppy and sad and wearing them in public is just too much like failure. I know it’s possible to keep your whites pristine because I lived with this girl for a while and her whites were always sparkling, though she could never fully explain how she managed it – and we’ve fallen out so I can’t ask again. Help me.)
I’m not sure if it is a result of my ex-boyfriend’s fetish, or a symptom of my escalating mental illness, but for the last decade or so I have been increasingly preoccupied with broderie anglaise. When I’m not worrying about work, men who don’t love me, or the prospect of dying all alone with no babies, I am googling broderie anglaise and imagining myself living some other life. Calmer, more wholesome. A life where I know what cheesecloth is, and how to sew. I’m wealthy and bohemian and I carry my firstborn about in a hemp sling that I bought at a craft market. I accessorise my wardrobe of whiteworked frocks with hooped gold earrings. I drink red wine without spilling it, I spend my weekends at a second home in the country and I can smoke marijuana without triggering an existential crisis. On Sundays I do not sit in my flat main-lining Carpool Karaoke in my pyjamas, eating an out-of-date cheese string and tweeting Deliveroo to discover the whereabouts of my takeaway, I bike to the local market and buy organic chicken for a wholesome family stew.
You might be wondering how all of this would manifest through clothes. And I don’t know how to explain it to you other than to say: Hello? How much better would my life be if I were invited to functions where this was an appropriate outfit:
Because the tragedy of it is, I don’t own any broderie anglaise, despite it being my favourite fabric, by some margin. (I did used to have a dress and couple of tops, but they pulled taut over my bosom in a most unflattering way and see above with regards my ability washing and wearing whites.) Even though I am 100% sure that a wardrobe of broderie anglaise would improve my life tenfold, I just carry on buying everything in leopard print and accessorising with a black wicker shopper I got free from a winery because I can’t afford the bag I want. It’s sort of like how I can’t be arsed to do online dating, or flirt with anyone, or engage in any serious way with the idea of sperm donation, even though I really want to get pregnant at some point in the not too distant future.
I suppose if it does anything useful, broderie anglaise serves as a reminder that it doesn’t take much to move towards happiness. You can embrace the ideal version of yourself very easily, if you are just brave, drink only clear liquids such as vodka and water and don’t let the internet distract you from your ultimate purpose. That is why I have ordered a cropped linen broderie anglaise polo-neck off net-a-porter, and am about to buy some gold hoop earrings. It’s never too late to have what you want, darlings.
I’ll see you in the autumn, with my baby wrapped in hemp*.
*I’ll actually be back next week with another nonsensical essay on my non-existent love life. But you know what I mean. Also, if you’ve had sex with me recently (yes, you. I know you read this even though you don’t answer my text messages) don’t panic. I’m not pregnant, that I know of. It’s just jokes.