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FAMILY CIRCLE,  August 1986


Pauline Goes Upmarket!

Billie Figg talks to Wendy Richard about her fashion formula.

The essentials, she says, are clear, bright colors and the simplest of shapes.

What Wendy Richard wears every working day always depends on her choice of socks.  "I love those colored Argyll socks, you see, so whichever color pair I pick up first thing dictates what color sweater, shirt or T-shirt I put on that day.  I like a bit of coordination."

Like most actresses, Wendy wears jeans and sweatshirts for work because to dress up for dusty rehearsal studios is pointless.  Anyway, she doesn't have time.  EastEnders, BBC's bi-weekly drama series, absorbs all her days from Monday to Saturday, two of them until 10pm.

"It's different if I have to go somewhere immediately after work.  Then I lay out my clothes the night before.  And I rehearse outfits for big events like appearances on Wogan or This Is Your Life -- you know, check my tights are the right color, no runs, that I've got a suitable bra to wear under my blouse and that the jewelry is right.

"The sort of things I wear for events like that, or for Blankety Blank, are genuinely what I like to look like -- and the suit I've designed for your pattern sums it up.  Smooth natural fabric, fairly straight line, no clutter, a collared neckline because that's flattering and a straight, not-too-long skirt.  I shall wear it myself for a big charity event this summer."

Wendy's preference for a classic style in the simple French manner was probably clinched at a tender age:  "When I was a kid  my mother bought me a blue silk party frock.  It was all frills and puff sleeves and I had very long hair that she used to put big big bows in.  I loathed it."

Visualizing this Shirley Temple lookalike was a bit of a culture shock, for Wendy had just knocked off work and was wearing a big, black leather rocker jacket, dark shades and trousers.  We quickly riffled through our other images of her -- as Miss Brahms in plunging tops and microskirts in Are You Being Served?; as Pauline in downbeat sweaters and basic skirts in EastEnders; as Miss Richard herself in classic blue trouser suit on Wogan.

Cutie-pie Wendy remained hard to focus.  But then few of us relate to the regalia we were stuffed into by our parents.  In fact, hating our childhood get-ups is probably crucial in forming our fashion leanings as grown-ups.  In Wendy's case, anyway, nothing could be further from the adult Miss Richard's cool fashion persona than the fuss of her hated childhood party dress.

"I had to wear that dress so much.  Practically every week somebody was having a party where we lived in London," she wails.

"No, my mother didn't have particularly good fashion sense but she had strong ideas about what her daughter should wear.  You had to have a new suit every Easter.  Your spring outfit.  You wouldn't dream of going out in jeans and a T-shirt in those days.  You always wore a skirt or dress.

"Even as I got into my teens it didn't matter that little black cocktail frocks were the fashion.  My mother just said:  you're too young.  No black.  She was probably right.

"When I left school she made me go to work at Fortnum and Mason in the fashion department.  I was a junior.  Juniors weren't allowed to sell -- at that time you didn't sell there until you were about 60!  But she was right again -- it was a useful experience.  One watched and learned.

"I suppose I was about 18 before I got more say in my own clothes.  It screws me up to remember some of them now -- black and white geometric stuff and those boots with the toes out.

"You used to have dresses tapered really tight in and if you wanted to go to the toilet you had to take the whole thing off because you couldn't get it up over your thighs.

"I remember doing a charity night, a weekend ball at The Lyceum, and Vera Lynn's husband had to unzip the back of my frock so that I could take it off to go and have a pee.  And then wait outside the toilet to zip me back up again.  That was my main fashion disaster -- having skirts too tight.

"But I grew out of all that and in to this more classic style I like today.  I suppose it started with those braided suits based on Coco Chanel's designs which you could buy from Wallis Shops in the Sixties.  I remember a lovely, straight, linen-weave summer coat with little gold buttons and a very long vent up the back.  The jacket of the suit I've designed has something of the same look about it.

"My first audition was to go and see Sammy Davis Junior for his TV show Sammy Davis Meets The Girls and I had on one of my tight dresses for that.  But as soon as I started getting lots of work in Hugh and I, Dad's Army, Hog's Back, Please Sir, and On the Buses, I found I needed easy casuals quite as much as dressy outfits.

"I still liked them to look 'got together' though.  I'm not keen on the way some young people dress today, it's too messy for me.  Even in the Teddy Boy era, those chaps used to take pride in their suits, didn't they, always looking clean and immaculate."

In fact, Wendy's discreet approach to detail is quite unusual today.  She wears gloves, adores hats, prefers court shoes to slingbacks -- and doesn't like jewelry unless it's real gold!  "I'd rather have a simple gold chain then masses of junk so I've only got a couple of bits of costume jewelry.  And I haven't the time to change earrings to I just keep my small plain studs in.

"When I do get some time off, at weekends, I put on nail varnish and become myself again.  Pauline's not allowed to have long, polished nails but I like them.

"On the other hand I never wear lipstick.  I never wear green.  I'm very superstitious.  If I have something new and the first time I wear it I enjoy myself, whether it's going out to supper, working, or whatever, than that for me becomes lucky.  If I have a miserable time then I never wear it again.  I throw it away.

"I've got several lucky things in my wardrobe.  The blue trouser suit I wore on Wogan and then out that evening.  And the outfit I wore for Hi-de-Hi's Felix Bowness, when he was star of This Is Your Life."

Most of Wendy's "charmed" outfits are in silk, fine wool crepe or cotton -- smooth rather than textured fabrics -- and in primary colors.  "I love navy and scarlet, blue, yellow, white and black.  My main basics tend to have easy jackets and straight skirts or trousers, often teamed with shirts that are detailed with cut-out embroidery -- they're by the French firm Jacques Vert because they've got the cut and look I like.

"I get silk shirts made.  I met this marvelous dressmaker, Jenni, when I was playing Dandini in Cinderella three years ago.  She made all Pauline's clothes, fitting in the pregnancy padding and getting the scale so right that, though I've never had a child, I actually felt pregnant.

"I've also got a very nice leather trouser suit the General Leather Co made for me and which I wear a lot.  Rest of the time, it's Marks & Sparks cardigans and cashmere sweaters plus the odd thing I pick p from Next and Jaeger."

So when Wendy gets home dead beat to her London basement flat after a day in those downmarket Pauline Fowler clothes, how does she "dress her way" into a relaxed, upbeat mood?

She has two answers.  One is to put on a bright, easy-to-wear Club Sport tracksuit.  And the other?

"To get into my silk nightshirt," she says.  Now that sounds more like Miss Brahms.

Billie Figg


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