Two of our three suitcases didn’t turn up when we landed at Bodrum Airport for our holiday in Turkey. As we waited beside the baggage carousel I had that sinking feeling as all the other passengers picked up their luggage and left.
I was so sure it would never happen to me. I’ve been on hundreds of flights all over the world and my luggage has always been there. But not this time. I’d like to tell you that I was calm and philosophical but I wasn’t. I ranted and raved. How could this happen? How could our holiday start if we didn’t even have our luggage?
The one suitcase that turned up was the one with all my husband’s clothes in. The one person out of the four of us who really couldn’t care what he wears. The one person who could have really done with being forced to buy a few new items of clothing.
But that’s the way it was. Fortunately, the boys’ swimwear and shorts (but no tops) were in that case so they weren’t too badly off, but I had packed every single item of my clothing in one big suitcase and it was stuck at Gatwick Airport. For two days. You know things are desperate when you’re grateful to borrow your husband’s used underwear…
I was in a state of panic because besides the obvious irritation of having no clean underwear and nothing to wear other than the uncomfortably hot long-sleeved top and trousers I wore on the flight, I realised that my whole life was in that suitcase. It’s a suitcase full of stories. My stories.
The clothes I’d packed aren’t just a pile of summer dresses, tops and skirts. My fail-safe holiday wardrobe is made out of clothes I wear very little in the UK where it’s so rarely warm enough to wear anything vaguely summery. Some of the clothes I packed in my suitcase have been with me for nearly 20 years. They have a history and significance that is completely irreplaceable.
There’s the red silk Paul Smith dress that I bought at great expense from a tiny boutique in St-Tropez 15 years ago. The elegant shop assistant assured me that the most wonderful thing about the dress was its versatility: the fact that you could just as easily wear it as a sundress on the beach as to go out in the evening.
I loved that the average French woman would think nothing of wearing a dry-clean-only silk dress to the beach and in honour of that ‘devil-may-care as long as I’m dressed well’ philosophy, I’ve packed it for every beach holiday I’ve ever been on since.
The truth is that I only wear it in the evenings. Wear my silk dress to the beach? Are you joking? I’d get sand and sun cream all over it. I’ve worn it to at least two weddings though.
Then there’s the slinky long cotton sundress from Kookai. It’s covered in tiny daisies and is so tight that I can only take pigeon steps in it. If you need to take a proper stride (almost always the case for someone who is constantly running late), you have to hoist it up to your knees in as ladylike a fashion as you can muster.
I still love the way it looks though. I wore it on my first date with my husband. To me, it smells of Lancôme’s Pôeme perfume and reminds me of Clapham Common. I even wore it on my hen night.
There’s the bright orange dress I bought for my honeymoon. I can’t wear it without being reminded of strolling through the streets of Zanzibar, the smells of sandalwood and cinnamon in the air. It looks so good and so thrown-on-but-stylish that it was the only thing in my wardrobe that I could think of wearing when I had to have a business lunch with a supermodel and didn’t want to look completely inadequate.
Then there’s the 1950s-style sundress with the geometric pattern that I fell in love with on a Top Shop mannequin and bought for my first holiday with a baby. It always looks crisp, never gets creased in the suitcase and is the perfect dress for a cocktail while watching the sunset.
There are the three pairs of Havaianas flip-flops I bought on a market stall in Brazil for about £2 each, long before you could pick them up anywhere for £20 apiece.
The truth is that not having my luggage is a stark reminder of the difference between the clothes I wear at home and the way I dress on holiday. At home, particularly if I’m doing the school run, I’ll just throw something on before I dash out the door. But when I’m on holiday, I delight in choice and variation. That perfect casual, strappy dress for breakfast; something to throw on over my bikini at the pool; and a longer, slinkier dress for the evening.
I’ve packed strappy high-heeled wedges I can barely walk in for the sheer pleasure of how good they look and how good they make me feel. And I’ve packed a box full of accessories: glass rings, hair clips, a bracelet from Bali and another from Greece, a red bone bracelet I picked up in a gem shop on the island of Syros; and a silver and lilac bracelet made out of safety pins that a French woman bought for me in St-Tropez.
I suppose I was lucky to be without my luggage in Turkey of all places. Turkey is one of the world’s leading nations for clothing manufacturing and so, even in the relatively small town of Yalikavak where we were staying, there were lots of shops where you could pick up decent clothes for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the UK.
We buy Ralph Lauren polo shirts for the boys for £6 each and I get a Desigual dress for £12.50 and a bright blue shirt dress for £27. They’re quite different from the clothes in my suitcase but I like them nonetheless and can see myself wearing them at home too. The Desigual dress is a bit big for me so I’ve added a belt to make it look less like I’m wearing a sack.
Who knows what stories these dresses will tell in a few years time?