On being a lady


Many people struggle with being a lady

Although blessed with two X chromosomes – the biological spec for a human female – I struggle with being a lady. This may be surprising to you, given that the harp is often considered to be the most ladylike of all instruments. And I love shoes, baking and knitting (and playing women’s rugby – sadly no more after nearly breaking a hand before an important gig…)

But it’s not lady-like activities I struggle with. It’s the rest of the girly stuff – the presentation. My nails are nibbled and scratched. My hair is perma-frizzy – straightened only for high days and holidays. I tried curlers once and ended up looking like I’d lost a battle with a power socket. My house is a mess – I wish for the elegant surroundings of the Domestic Sluts but end up with piled books, crumpled papers and stinky trainers. I don’t wear makeup, except for gigs and big nights out. And I bloody hate romantic comedies.

I don’t fare any better in the clothing department, as witnessed by my previous post on fashion. Although I love dressing up for special occasions and gigs, you can guarantee I’ll spill something down my front – toothpaste, coffee, curry are my favourite accessories. I would love to wear ditsy little cardigans, but I get cold too easily. And far from being a co-ordinated heaven of colour-matched scraps of silk and satin, my underwear drawer is bursting with ASDA socks, sturdy bras and M&S pants.

As a cyclist, I’m stuck with the fluorescent cycling jacket and helmet-hair. And I’m more often found in my sports kit or jeans than flirty tea dresses, which have a tendency to ride up terribly under my rucksack. Ah yes, the rucksack. Probably the single thing that does most to quash my femininity. Because I cycle, I’m usually hauling huge amounts of crap around (change of clothes, packed lunch, knitting, puncture repair kit, kitchen sink….), I rely on my trusty rucksack. Although it’s highly practical, it’s not exactly elegant or ladylike. And when I do venture out without it (feeling strangely exposed), I have a small selection of practical and sturdy corduroy or felt shoulder bags. None of which are very feminine.

To rectify this situation, I recently bought my first proper handbag. It’s big, it’s purple, it’s leather, it has a pink satin lining and a massive shiny clasp, and it cost more than I would normally spend on a suitcase. It does not have a long shoulder strap – portage is solely in the hand or cheekily slung over the shoulder and tucked under the elbow, like a proper lady.

Over the past few weeks, a combination of poor weather and illness mean I have been unable to cycle to work. So I have been experimenting with the handbag, hoping that it will be my first step along the road to true lady-hood.

Preliminary results are not promising.

For a start, I miss the protective turtle-shell of my rucksack – the reassuring clasp of the padded strap as it clips around my waist, and the balanced weight on my back. One problem with having a handbag is that it drags you down on one side, like Quasimodo in heels. It also makes me feel vulnerable – anyone with a firm grip and a bit of determination could snatch it. Just try doing that to a rucksack buckled on in two places!

But the biggest problem with the handbag is the issue of organisation. I cannot find anything in it. The other night I ended up squatting on the floor of an achingly trendy bar, pulling out knitting, hair straighteners, knickers, plastic bags and rogue receipts in a desperate attempt to find my purse. It’s like the bloody Tardis in there – I’m sure I spotted a Dalek when I was looking for tampons. Perhaps there is some secret lady-trick to organising your handbag that I have yet to be initiated into. Or maybe I just need to wean myself off carrying so much crap around.

My quest for femininity continues. I am slowly learning to stop biting my nails (and resist chewing off any coating of polish I manage to paint on). I am making an effort to actually shower and change out of my sports kit when I get to work – although my colleagues are a tolerant (and apparently anosmic) bunch, it’s not terribly professional to scamper off to important meetings in leggings, T-shirt and trainers.

But it also strikes me that being a lady takes up so much time and effort. Putting makeup on and doing the hair every morning, managing to pair up (or even just buy) matching bra and knicker sets, doing the nails – and (of course) the hours spent rummaging in the multi-dimensional handbag. I could be spending that time sleeping, eating, practising, or even just managing to do the bare minimum of laundry to stop me being mistaken for a tramp.

Do you feel like a proper lady? If so, how do you manage it? Or do you shun the dictatorship of hair’n’face’n’nails? And does anyone know I can take control of my handbag?

16 responses to “On being a lady

  1. HAHA, I love this. I had my first ever pedicure this summer (only have had “medical/sports related” foot baths before) and my second only manicure. After 10 hours my polish on my hand was tattered… “I like to do things with my hands”?

    Although, I am better at being dressed up nowadays when I can’t ride my bike to work, I am still not ladylike.

    Oh, and for organiseing the hand bag. Two options; 1) less stuff 2)nifty little insert bags where you can put the smaller items together.

    • Thanks 🙂
      I think the solution to the handbag problem is to have started with a handbag with more pockets. Less stuff is never going to work…

  2. I love you, Kat. I am hopeless at being ladylike; all the more so now that I am a trainee gardener and spend all my time up to my elbows in organic matter. My hands are calloused and my fingers feature dirt so ingrained even an acid bath couldn’t shift it.

    I too spill things down myself on a regular basis. I have a handbag but it is disorganised at best and everything gets tangled up in my earphone wire. I have to dress up to go out tonight and I am dreading it, fully expecting to look like a four-year-old who’s raided the dressing-up box and her mum’s make-up drawer. x

  3. Ha! That is a brilliant post. I wish I could add something constructive other than ‘so been there myself’… You have nailed it.

    When I’ve gone through phases of attempting lady-like bags, I’ve generally been both delighted and frustrated by the “liberation” of carrying around less stuff. I also went through a stage of using one of those muji toiletries sorter bag things inside the handbag, but in the end I couldn’t be arsed.

    I also sometimes put my small panniers inside a canvas shopping bag, which can look lady-like-ish, though perhaps it more a look for popping down the high street than out on the town.

    Matching your pants to bras is fun though.

    • Thanks 🙂
      Matching bras and pants requires that you actually buy them in matching sets, non?
      Pretty much all of my underwear is black, which means that it does match, but isn’t very pretty.

  4. I think costly as well as time consuming, no? I’m sure there’s an excellent Germaine Greer rant about what proportion of their disposable incomes women spend on looking like ladies vs what proportion men spend looking like men (pants on? Bingo!)

    • That’s so true – yesterday Ricky and I both went for haircuts. They took the same length of time (and are basically the same style…), but mine cost $30 and his was $15!!

  5. I’m in the same club, but like you, I scrub up well when I have to.

    • You certainly do 🙂
      I think mums have it even tougher – after a week here with my niece there is double the amount of stuff thrown down my front!

  6. I think the key with bags is to have 2 types – a small to medium sized one as your proper handbag which should have handbaggy things in it like your purse, keys, tissues, mobile, emergency tights etc., and then anything else you should put in a snazzy but practical shopping type bag, like those cloth ones you get as re-usable bags.
    In answer to the being a laydeeeee question, I really like doing it now I’m a mum, cause let’s face it, I don’t really get much opportunity to look glam when I’m watching Peppa Pig and doing the washing up. So if I want to go to the market in full make up and blow dried hair I bloody well will 🙂
    Top laydeeee tip – always paint your toenails. Even if your hair looks like you’ve been dragged through a hedge and your body hair is yeti-like because you haven’t had time to do your legs, bright pink toenails will make you smile 🙂

  7. I scrolled through the comments, ready to add my thoughts, and then Piclked Weasel beat me to it. Two bags, that’s the ticket. It makes you walk better, as you can balance the load out, and (this may not be a consideration for you), the 2nd bag can go on the bag rail above your head when you travel by train. I’d recommend the 2nd bag having short handles, so you don’t get into the habit of having both bags dangling from your shoulders.

    • Thanks for the suggestions about handbag organisation, ladies. I’ll be back on my bike again soon so back with the trusty rucksack. Though it has been fun having a handbag on holiday, and did make me feel a bit more glamorous on the plane…

  8. Thankfully I have never woken up feeling like a proper lady. Not sure you have to have Aces in makeup or wardrobe. Depends, I guess on who you are trying impress the ladies or gents. I have probably said it before but I think your both beautiful and brilliant.

  9. Pingback: On wardrobe malfunctions, in which I unwittingly flash an unsuspecting Cheltenham Science Festival | You do too much

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