Pippa Langinger stood back to admire herself in the enormous gilt mirror. She took a deep breath, secured one last pearl button and ran her freshly manicured hands approvingly over the neat ivory wool peplum. It had taken months but she’d finally found it – the perfect outfit for the most important day of her life. In four weeks’ time her only child James was going to be married to Lucy, a willowy gallerist.
As soon as the engagement was announced, Pippa knew the stakes were high. Lucy’s mother Gloria, a whippet-thin sixtysomething, had been a model for Ossie Clark and could still fit into the Botticelli-print flares she’d been gifted in 1969. She practised yoga daily and hosted wild, barefoot summer festivals for her hippy friends in the vast acreage of the family’s Oxfordshire home, Bridlington Manor.
As the ceremony was to take place in the chapel at Bridlington, Gloria had an absolute stranglehold on the planning, right down to growing the bridal wildflowers in her walled garden. Not that Pippa was privy to the details. To celebrate the engagement she’d hosted a dinner at Claridge’s for James and Lucy, as well as Gloria, her broker husband Bill, and her late brother’s bookish daughter Persephone – a gathering that did not include James’s disgraced father, who’d run away with a twentysomething masseuse he’d met in Gstaad four years earlier. After far too many Kir Royales, Pippa ridiculed the post-supper campfires and wild swimming in the lake Lucy had set her heart on. Sent swiftly home in a black cab by a terse James, Pippa later recalled no wrongdoing, but from that day on was persona non grata at supper summits.
The more Pippa was sidelined the more she resolved to create the mother of all wedding looks. She hired Sophia, a former magazine fashion editor, to source possible suits, and hung a D-Day schedule on her study wall. She spent days trialling endless sculptural headpieces and endured whole afternoons pacing the floors of Harvey Nicks, deliberating her ability to walk in a succession of towering heels with dizzying price tags. She visited Champneys every Friday for toning and tightening, and existed on a diet of Nourish juices.
Pippa was so preoccupied with the flurry of pre-wedding prep she didn’t even skim the burlap invitation that fell out of its envelope with a drizzle of wildflower seeds. “How peculiar,” she thought, brushing aside the dusty seedheads and returning to the latest spiky accessories that had pinged into her inbox.
On the morning of the wedding Pippa felt a triumphant thrill as she squeezed into her size 10 McQueen suit with its ravishing pagoda shoulders. She’d commissioned a matching straw saucer hat topped with a halo of sculpted quills from Philip Treacy and, although she could barely walk, her luscious Louboutin heels were the perfect punctuation.
As her driver pulled up to the front of the manor, Pippa tutted at the sundresses and flat sandals everyone was wearing. “No one knows how to dress up these days,” she harrumphed, as she carefully climbed out of the back seat. Steadying herself, she made for the little chapel festooned with hops and wildflowers, went inside and found James waiting nervously at the altar. “Hello my darling,” she cooed.
“Mother! You’re very, um, dressy,” he said, rushing her into her pew. “Didn’t you read the invitation?”
Pippa pulled the floppy piece of burlap from her clutch as she took her seat next to Persephone, looking surprisingly fragile in a delicate tea dress, and read the rest of it: Wild wedding – come dressed for a hoedown. “A barn dance,” grimaced Pippa. She should have known Gloria would pull a trick like that.
After the ceremony Pippa tiptoed across a woodchip path and proudly joined the bridal party in picturesque woodland. Lucy looked beautiful in her wildflower crown and even James’s oatmeal linen suit had a certain charm. She resolved to make the best of a bad situation and beamed as the photographer started snapping. Then, a sudden gust of wind whipped Lucy’s homemade bunting straight into the tendrils of Pippa’s towering quills. As she wrestled to liberate her hat, Pippa’s beautiful ivory silk Louboutins sunk deeper and deeper into the soggy ground.