Just the job if you're dressing for success

Unlike Joanna Lumley, I have not yet been invited to donate one of my designer outfits
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The Independent Online

Forget about Joanna Lumley and Geri Halliwell. What happens when Ann Widdecombe sends her cast-off designer outfit to the Government's new employment services scheme? The idea, if you missed the story, is to help women who have been out of a job for some time and can't afford decent clothes to wear to job interviews. I don't fancy the chances of anyone showing up in the loud tartan jacket that the shadow Home Secretary sported at the Tory conference. It would probably look OK on a bloke, a well-built fellow looking for an opening as an Edinburgh rock salesman, say.

Forget about Joanna Lumley and Geri Halliwell. What happens when Ann Widdecombe sends her cast-off designer outfit to the Government's new employment services scheme? The idea, if you missed the story, is to help women who have been out of a job for some time and can't afford decent clothes to wear to job interviews. I don't fancy the chances of anyone showing up in the loud tartan jacket that the shadow Home Secretary sported at the Tory conference. It would probably look OK on a bloke, a well-built fellow looking for an opening as an Edinburgh rock salesman, say.

"The job's yours, Mr Gowdridge. Start on Monday, and I don't mind telling you that it was all down to that jacket you're wearing."

It's a pity Dame Barbara Cartland is no longer with us. Her powder-pink lace and feathered-trimmed hand-me-downs would have brightened up many a dreary morning in Peterhead, as the recruiting officer for the Herring Board and White Fish Authority worked his way through the shortlist for assistant slab technician. I defy anyone to fail to impress in the outfit she was wearing the afternoon I had tea with her at her gracious home in Hatfield (it was nearer Potters Bar), when she told me about her new business venture into health products containing royal jelly.

It was a suit, in pink of course, comprising brocade jacket with a ruff like Elizabeth I's and velvet cuffs over matching pink ballerina-length silk voile skirt, which she yanked up above her knees so that I could feel the flesh on her thighs. "You see," she said triumphantly, "firm and supple as a 16-year-old's - thanks to regular consumption of royal jelly supplements. She must have been well over 80, but the suit, like her, was ageless; if it is still around it should be snapped up by Reed Employment Services, which is helping to run this exciting government project.

Incidentally, isn't it a tiny bit sexist? Why are unemployed women dowdier than unemployed men, or any other men for that matter? Or are we getting so PC these days that it's taken as read that Miss Lumley's, Halliwell's and Widdecombe's suits are unisex and can just as easily be worn by men?

Surprisingly, no one has yet invited me to donate one of my designer outfits, but when they do (and I am confident that they will), I shall send them my grey Nazy Cook cardigan dress. It isn't new and it wasn't when I bought it. Designer labels on my wages, indeed.

There's a small second-hand dress shop just down the road from Chelsea police station called Sign of the Times, which specialises in designer labels. Most of the clothes are brand new, because the women who bring in their cast-offs for resale belong to the Imelda Marcos school of shopping. They think nothing of buying a dozen Prada outfits before lunch. The only reason I'm giving my Nazy Cook dress away is because I can't cope with it any more. Wearing it is too much like hard work, and I've had enough of challenges.

On the other hand, it's exactly right for a job interview, because it shows the potential employer that the applicant is prepared to rise to a challenge. It's the sleeves. To be precise, it's the cuffs. They aren't neat little velvet jobs like Miss Cartland's, they're foot-long woolly, fuzzy tendrils, which sound fetching but in practice fetch up in the soup, the ravioli and anything else lying around. There are job interviews, I know, which look beyond the candidate's academic qualifications and seek to assess their wider social skills.

"Would you be free to join the other members of the ICI dye staff division at an informal evening in Lu Fung Yuk's?" asks the interviewer enthusiastically. "They do a pretty passable sweet and sour mongoose in black bean sauce."

I wouldn't get the job, but I bet an ambitious young woman bent on a career in chemicals, wearing my Nazy Cook cardigan and emerging from Lu Fung Yuk's with pristine cuffs, could name her salary. I'd better get it dry-cleaned.

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