I’ve Joined the Navy.
I’m in a play at the Hampstead Theatre, in which my character, a widow, buys a red coat. “It’s a bit young,” says her mother. “I’d have thought at your age you’d have gone for something a bit more classic. Navy or camel.” It rings a large bell every time the actress says it.
“Ooh, you can’t go wrong with navy blue, can you?” my late mother was wont to say. “You can twin it with anything. White, lime green, red…”
“Brown?” I would say cheekily, “black, purple, maroon…”
“You know what I mean. Navy and white — you can’t beat it — it always looks absolutely bandbox.” This was her highest compliment, along with “it never crushes”, “head to foot in Tricosa,” and “she pays for dressing.”
It has taken me a mere 50 years to come round to her point of view. Given a choice between a little black dress and a little yellow and purple one I was always going to take the latter. Turquoise, lilac, cerise and all shades of green tumble from my wardrobe. When my chum Julia McKenzie went to the sales, she invariably picked up a shiny outfit in three shades of olive, sage and celadon that “only you would wear”, while chapping the grey, black and beige Jean Muir’s for herself. ( She didn’t know she was “chapping”. There’s not much call for basic Yiddish in Miss Marple.)
When friends wore those ubiquitous navy-and-white-striped Matelot tops, I always thought how effortlessly smart/casual they looked, but it never occurred to me to buy one. I have never had towels, footwear or a car in that hue. Or painted a wall or door in a matt shade of it. Likewise, I never owned a pair of jeans, not just because of the colour but because every toches in the world did.
My school uniform was navy. Gym slip, beret, knickers, enlivened by a dash of yellow and orange on the badge and tie. Perhaps that is why my mother put me down for scholarship there — smart, hardy and dirt resistant. Maybe that explains why, for the next few decades, I was never attracted to it.
Then, in autumn, hanging around the last day of a designer sale and hoping to get off without buying anything, while Kathy Lette and Ruby Wax bought 77 outré outfits between them, I saw a plain, belted, navy coat with black trim around the lapels and my allegiances and wardrobe went into reverse mode. It fitted me like a second skin, bore the name of Donna Karan and cost the education budget of a small South American country.
I have never regretted that purchase. In sartorial terms, it was the beginning of my growing up. The coat takes me anywhere. It sits slightly apart from the mauve suede mistake and the purple, green and white Diane Von Furstenberg — which I still love in spite of it making me look like a fruit stall — and it just purrs class. It has been joined by a draped navy dress from M&S that draws praise far and wide and cost all of £49, a navy-and-beige striped sweater that, to quote Zelma, “covers a multitude of sins”, and yes — in my 65th year — a pair of hugely over-priced navy pin-striped jeans that ensure I spend 25 minutes struggling to pleat my stomach behind the zip every time I visit the Ladies room.
Now when I walk out in my coat with my chap in his navy blazer from B Lipman (no relation) of Charing Cross Road, I reckon we look like a cruet. I’m on the lookout for navy suede shoes with a heel that won’t give me vertigo and a navy bag that will be both big enough to house a script and a bag of apricots and flat enough to leave me unencumbered when I jump on the 46 bus or carry my granddaughter to see Father Chanucah.
There’s a lot of orange about this year, I note. I’ll have to twin it with my new purchases and come out with something resembling a naval orange.