the big girl’s guide to wearing what you want;

A couple of days before I left Toronto, I was wandering around the Eaton Centre when I fell in love with a dress.

Ever get that feeling? You see a dress – or whatever other item of clothing – in a shop window, or on a mannequin, and feel an instant connection, like it’s a dress that you’ve been searching for your whole life? A dress that you can just tell, without trying on, will hang perfectly, flattering your curves and all the rest of that nonsense? That you can envisage yourself wearing every day, to any occasion, whether it’s to work or on a night out or just around the house?

“I can’t,” I sighed, looking regretfully at the shop assistant. “I’m 35 years old. I can’t come all the way to Canada and spend $60 on a rainbow tulle My Little Pony dress.”

The Hot Topic assistant, to her credit, kept a straight face as she looked me up and down. “I don’t think you get to say that to me today,” she said.

I didn’t buy the dress in the end. The spaghetti-strappy jersey top wasn’t made to flatter the big-breasted, but more importantly I got back to the hotel and did some calculations for sales tax and exchange rates, and realised I’d be able to get it cheaper on EMP. EMP, for those of you unfamiliar, is probably the best online destination for alternative clothing and band, TV and movie merchandise (that’s their TV advert above). Their tracking cookies follow me all around the internet, tempting me with TARDIS-print dresses and t-shirts that mash up Peter Pan and Nirvana.

EMP is, almost certainly, the sort of site that Jennifer Wright, the author of a vehemently viral piece entitled “Grown Women, Please Don’t Dress Like Toddlers” thinks that I, a 35-year-old woman working in the legal field, should not be shopping on. With a headline absolutely guaranteed to get jaws dropping and fingers angrily tip-tip-tapping over on my Facebook page, Wright argues that wearing clothes with rainbows or unicorns on them equates to “resisting adulthood”, and therefore literally makes you as bad as Donald Trump. Women who “snuggle into rainbow-coloured unicorn- and mermaid-festooned outfits” do so in order to avoid coming across as “those bitchy adult women in their pantsuits”, who are the only women standing up for reproductive rights and flying across the Atlantic and making scientific discoveries. “Toddlers embracing Polly Pockets,” Wright reminds us, “don’t get to stop health care bills.”

“I miss the days when little girls wanted to rush toward the phase of adulthood where pantsuits were appropriate work attire,” Wright sighs.

I had a trouser suit once. My mum bought it for me ahead of me starting my first “career” job (the one I got made redundant from, but that’s beside the point). We went to Slater’s in Glasgow where, after picking the closest thing to my size off the rack, a fitting expert measured the legs and the sleeves and tailored that suit so that it was near as dammit custom made. It was grey, with faint baby blue and baby pink pinstripes, and I absolutely hated it.

Cute Lis with floral cocktail decoration, 2009

I do not have the sort of body that looks good in tailoring. I have big boobs, thin wrists, a not-as-hourglass-as-it-used-to-be waist and a round little belly. The only way I can wear a suit jacket – unless we’re starting from scratch, which is in barely anybody’s budget – is to go up two sizes, by which point the sleeves will be flapping somewhere around my fingers as if I’m playing dress-up in my dad’s workwear. And the tailored trousers I can just about fasten in the morning will be straining by lunchtime (which is why the only suit I owned that I actually loved consisted of a skirt and jacket).

I have never felt so self-conscious and so distracted by worrying about my appearance as I did in that suit. And when I’m distracted by worrying about my appearance, I am not getting shit done.

Lis in business suit reading a newspaper, 2007

These days, this adult woman dresses to get shit done, even if it does not look anything like the Jennifer Wrights of this world think that looks like.

I feel as though I’ve been butting up against articles like Wright’s, which attempt to pit “adult women” and “pretend … cute sexy bab[ies]” against each other, my whole life. They dictate our skirt lengths, our shirt buttons, the length of our hair. They order us into stiletto heels and send us home for not wearing makeup – but not, you know, too much. They caution against visible tattoos.

In fact, just about the only place I am not bombarded with this nonsense, contradictory messaging is at work, where I am trusted as an adult to dress myself appropriately and maybe see about getting on with my job.

I have never felt anything less than capable and convincing in vintage-repro dresses and cute prints, and I’ve been told that my sense of style cheers up those I work with. The occasional compliment on a particular accessory or ensemble I’m proud of doesn’t hurt my confidence in myself and my abilities either.

The trouser suit went to Smart Works or a similar initiative, who provide clothes, coaching and interview preparation to women re-entering the workplace. I hope they gave somebody the fresh start that they needed.

Meanwhile, I’m over here adding EMP’s Alice in Wonderland-style dress to my wishlist.

Incidentally, when I click through to the Jennifer Wright article an advert for that My Little Pony rainbow tulle dress appears. Which just goes to show.

More EMP: Web | Facebook | Twitter

This is a sponsored post, but all views are my own and unbiased.