“That’s a nice piece of schmutter,” Miles said, fingering the cuffs of Jason’s charcoal-grey jacket. “You should think about getting it made into a suit some time.” Caroline, overhearing, rolled her eyes. Could they have one – just one – drinks party that her husband couldn’t turn into the occasion for some sartorial one‑upmanship? She’d heard it all: the endless mantras of “never brown in town”; the sniggering at a bottom waistcoat (“weskit”) button done up; the knowingly patronising smirk at some unfortunate who wore a wing collar with black tie; the inevitable pre-bed post-mortem, as Miles unbuttoned his braces and fitted his brogues back onto the shoe trees, about the chap Jane brought (“Where did she find him?”) who obviously had a clip-on tie.
Miles, by now, was into the whole cuff‑button routine – lecturing the hapless Jason on how a proper suit always had buttons on the cuff that could be undone. Pointless, but the mark of quality.
She sighed. After all, this was the man she’d married. In their early 20s she’d found his dandyishness charming. The other men in their circle had slouched about in ripped jeans and band T-shirts; Miles had spent his student loan on Savile Row. But now he was in his late 40s, he just seemed, well… pompous. Oh God, look at him. The buttons on his own wrist were now being showily undone for the education of the naïve.
That night, guests long departed, after Miles had hung up his suit and hopped into his Gieves pyjamas and was snoring away peacefully, eye-mask on and earplugs in, Caroline stirred awake. She’d forgotten to take her earrings out. One too many glasses of soave. She padded over to the dressing table and noticed Miles had left his clothes brush out. Just as she was going to put it away, something caught the light: a long, very blonde hair.
In a moment of calm clarity, she recognised the shade exactly: Francesca. And she remembered that moment, shortly after 10pm, when she’d been to top up Francesca’s glass and come back to find her gone. And Miles’ long visit “to the loo” at the same time. And at once a whole history of Wednesday afternoon “meetings” took on a new complexion.
But Caroline was a calm person. A sophisticated person. There were the girls to think of. And besides, she was not exactly without sin – she’d been seeing Roger, the groom at the stables, most Mondays for the past six months. So she did not wake her husband up, confront and yell at him. Nor, though it crossed her mind, did she cut the crotches out of his many thousands of pounds worth of suits: it would only give him a welcome excuse to buy more.
No, she had a better idea. She stowed her earrings in the vanity and crept back to bed.
The dry-cleaner was sufficient for the basic work. Each of Miles’s suit cuffs was altered so that the buttons were firmly but invisibly sewn shut. The middle buttons on each of the jackets of his single-breasted suits were moved just a quarter of an inch higher, and one trouser leg of each pair was shortened by half an inch.
But it was to Savile Row she had to go – not his tailor; another – for the really subtle stuff. He “dressed” to the left, so each trouser was invisibly altered to accommodate a gentleman of the other persuasion. It would be subtly uncomfortable and, better yet, would minutely spoil the drape of the trousers. And the vents in the jackets – against the tailor’s protestations – were altered so that they would splay out gauchely and the fabric tighten unflatteringly across his love-handles when he sat down.
Then she threw another party. She couldn’t have hoped for a more exquisite payoff than when she saw him, across the room, ever predictable, undoing his cuff buttons for a new acquaintance – or trying to. His face purpled. He’d obviously been sneering at anybody whose buttons didn’t work. And here were his, stubbornly fastened like off-the-peg M&S. He looked up and, catching her expression of perfect innocence, something hardened in his face.
It was two weeks later, just as she was dressing for the reception for the ambassador, that she noticed her Rigby & Peller bra just didn’t seem to fit. She was spilling out like a cocktail waitress. “Darling,” she said, then thought better of it. She made a mental note to call in at the tailor’s in the morning.