A woman gets ready for an evening out in 1955
A woman gets ready for an evening out in 1955 © Hulton Archive/Getty Images

I’m in the bathroom. On my feet are a pair of sparkly, silver Balenciaga heels I last wore to a gala dinner in Paris, back in February, about a week before the world shut down. They are, to quote Germaine Greer’s most memorable outrage, “fuck-me shoes” of the most aggressive order.

The toe narrows to a devastating knife-point that weaponises the foot by several inches, the back of the shoe is flattened to a square, the heels ascend to 95mm. Swathed in glittery metallic Lurex, they are Cinderella slippers for the #metoo generation, poised to walk across the ballroom and lead Prince Charming on a very merry dance. 

But I am not in a ballroom. I’m wearing a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a schlubby T-shirt that is overdue a wash. This has been the extent of my wardrobe for months now. There will be no ball tonight. 

I put the shoes on because I fancied a reminder of what it felt like to dress up. Teetering across the black and white linoleum, I can just recall how one should walk in stilettos but I’m so long out of practice I fear I might fall down. I slip them off, put them away in their dust bags and feel a pang of longing for a reason to put them on again.

Considering I loathe parties, avoid all social contact that involves a group of more than half a dozen people and have never knowingly opted for an outing if there was an option to stay in, I have been surprised during this period of confinement to find myself yearning to go out. Well, not the out bit actually, that would be too atypical. What I miss is the ceremony of getting ready for an evening, and the promise of opportunity it brings: you know . . . that moment just before you set off for the evening, convinced that this party will be the one that has that Gatsby-charge of wow! 

Through my work, as a fashion editor and more recently as editor of How To Spend It magazine, I have always had an embarrassment of invitations from which to choose each week — shop openings, catwalk shows, dinners, drinks — and for years my evenings have been studded with events. Before lockdown, I would look at my diary and groan about the calendar of engagements that it presented every Monday. Now, faced with the barren programme of domestic incarceration, I’ve grown quite wistful for the past. 

The writer’s Balenciaga ‘Square Knife’ stiletto heels © Jo Ellison

Because however ghastly the actual party, there is still magic in the getting ready and the ritual it entails. I miss how it unleashes my girliest behaviours. I miss all those anxious conversations about what everyone is wearing. I miss the two-hour flash of panic that finds you standing by a shop-till with some stupidly impulsive, last-minute panic buy.

I miss the 40-minute countdown before the taxi arrives and you’ve got to be ready — and the decision that perhaps tonight isn’t the night to unveil the fuchsia dress that made so much sense in the shop as the clock ticks down to five.

I miss the hot flush of panic that comes when you accidentally blunt the mascara wand across your face while you’re trying to do your make-up, and the group texting — “I hate my look. My bra’s all wrong. My stomach looks so bloated” — while sitting in traffic that has suddenly contrived to deliver you waaaay earlier than ideal.

And I miss those gloriously indiscreet aperitifs you down with the friend you’ve arranged to meet just beforehand, that perfect little window of sororal bonding, charged with adrenalin and alcohol, when everything is giddy and the evening is pure fun. I’d give up any Bafta party, or fashion gala, for the 50-minute session that invariably precedes it at the pub.

And I really miss the shoes. Party shoes. Pretty as anything. Properly uncomfortable. Painful to walk in. Inevitably discarded in the taxi on the journey home. The resulting blisters a memento of a big night out. I look forward to them.

What can I say? I’m an unreconstructed fairytale fantasist. Besides, I’ve had enough of working and staring at the cinders. Surely a night out in sparkly, silver Balenciaga slippers sounds like a fair exchange? 

A very different summer

Football matches without fans, the quest for the most remote cottage and yet more childcare... Over the next three days, FT writers share what they have missed — and what they haven't — during lockdown and why this will be a very different summer. Explore the series here

Jo Ellison is the editor of How To Spend It. Follow Jo on Instagram @jellison22 and email her at jo.ellison@ft.com.

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