The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 24 October

Lending expensive clothes to friends can be a risky business. Should there be a contract, asks Thomas Blaikie?
Dear Thomas,
When I lent a friend’s daughter my vintage ball gown by Victor Edelstein, I did assume it would be returned – how shall we put it politely? – in a spotless condition. It wasn’t just that the young lady fancied this particular dress. She had literally nothing else.
Adele Barrow, Droitwich

Dear Adele,
This world of ladies lending clothes to each other is unfamiliar to me. Men cling onto their garments for dear life, whether off or on. But of course I recall now The Girls Of Slender Means by Muriel Spark. ‘Anne said, “I don’t want your bloody soap. Just don’t ask for the taffeta, that’s all.”’ The scene is the May of Teck Club, where a clutch of silly young ladies, on the lookout for husbands, are lodged, just after the war. The ‘taffeta’ is ‘a Schiaparelli taffeta evening dress that had been given to [Anne] by a fabulously rich aunt, after one wearing. This marvellous dress, which caused a stir wherever it went, was shared by all the top †floor on special occasions… For lending it out, Anne got various returns, such as free clothing coupons or a half-used piece of soap.’ Anne had to point out an obvious diŠfficulty, though: ‘You can’t wear it to the Milroy. It’s been twice to the Milroy…it’s been to Quaglino’s. Selina wore it to Quags, it’s getting known all over London.’

The intimate management of the Schiaparelli is not gone into. In 1945, everything was in such a dog-earred and bombed-out state, maybe nobody noticed the odd ‘mark’. When the Queen was married in 1947, people’s diamonds were still filthy. But now standards are higher and many clothes are ruthlessly washed far too often, in my opinion, both for their bene˜fit and the planet’s. Perhaps the person who borrowed your Victor Edelstein dress didn’t notice that they’d stained it. Or if they did, perhaps they panicked and thought, ‘I’ve ruined it.’

If it were mine, I’d rather a person didn’t bung it into any old dry cleaners or, even worse, have a go at it themselves. I’d like to control its fate.

Perhaps when you lend you should say, ‘I absolutely don’t want it cleaned before you return it.’ This is on the same principle that one ‘lends’ one’s guests one’s china and glass when they visit (ie, they use it at dinner or tea) and it’s never their fault if they break the Waterford or Sèvres. Or you can say the opposite, ‘I absolutely do want it cleaned before you bring it back.’ And you can then specify where or by what means. I must say, I rather favour the ˜first option.

Another way of looking at this dilemma is that in the very act of lending you are subscribing, whether voluntarily or not, to a less-than-precious approach to the fate of your wardrobe.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


‘Not one for readers of The Lady,’ the person who told me about hot-desking proclaimed. I had vaguely heard of it myself. But The Lady readers are surely not to be underestimated. Besides, I’m sure a sizeable number of you might be affected or at least are under threat – for hot-desking is a creeping trend. And even if office life is unfamiliar, of course you’re intrigued to hear of it.

Put simply, hot-desking is a practice whereby an office worker doesn’t have a permanent desk. Instead they are permitted to occupy a ‘work station’ on a first-come-first-served basis. When they have finished their work, they must on no account leave any trace of their existence on or around the desk. The purpose is to save space and money. If all workers have their own desk, some desks will be intermittently unoccupied. But employees hate hot-desking and do everything in their power to try to claim a work station as their own. They leave their teddy bear there, or their mug, or some leaves mounted on cardboard by their children. This is pleasing, don’t you think?