PENELOPE GOES CLOTHES SHOPPING
By Lesley with Art by Castre
For weeks my mother had been teasing Penelope about the fact that all his clothes were "hand-me-downs" and that one day soon she was going to take him shopping for some "pretty new clothes of his own". Eventually she got me to agree that she could take him "for a treat" and one Saturday morning she arrived, with my sister Kate and Ros, a friend, for a girly shopping day! Penelope was very agitated but, of course, had no say in the matter! So, dressed in his normal black weekend working dress, and his wig and make-up tidied, he found himself being bundled into the car with four very excited ladies.

We arrived at a nice little dress shop where, it transpired, the manager was something of a friend of Mummy's, and soon found two very nice summer dresses on the bargain rail which Mummy said she thought would be ideal for him during the coming summer months. As I held them up against him to assess them, which always causes him to squirm, the assistant replacing an item on the rail laughingly said, to my surprise, "Oh, this must be Vanessa's son-in-law, he can try them on if you like, you can't really see like that". So Mummy had prepared the ground! Wonderful!

I saw the chance of having even more fun than usual and thanked her effusively asking if she was sure no one would mind. "Of course not, anyway, we'd probably be accused of sexism if we didn't allow a man to try on a dress wouldn't we" she said with a laugh and a questioning look at her colleague. The other lady, who seemed to be the shop manager was quick to join in what they obviously saw as a bit of fun to brighten their dull day, "no problem" she said smiling " provided we get to help choose of course"! Well, the look on Penelope's face was a picture as I led him firmly towards the changing cubicle " Lesley, you can't do this, you didn't tell me they would know I was a man" he spluttered. "Get in there and get this on" I said firmly, handing him the pretty blue dress to try first, "why are you worried about them getting to see you in a pretty dress when you're already wearing one?"

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He seemed to be taking a long time in the cubicle and as the shop was empty the two ladies came over to join me waiting "he obviously isn't used to putting on a dress" laughed one of them. I smiled at her "he doesn't usually take this long" I said, "he must be having trouble with the zip" leaving her with a puzzled look as I went over to the cubicle and opened the curtain to find him, as I expected, in the dress but struggling to fasten the back zip whilst cowering with a petrified expression on his face "I can't do the zip" he whispered, "why didn't you call me to help" I snapped, turning him round to pull it up "I... I didn't want to attract attention" he stammered. I laughed knowing full well he was about to get plenty "come on" I said, taking him none too gently by the arm and leading him out into the shop "your audience awaits".

The assistants were quick to make teasing remarks about how cute he looked as Mummy insisted that he gave a twirl. Both ladies were now really getting into it, watching with amused contempt as Penelope was made to walk up and down and do his pirouette, the full skirt of the pretty V-necked dress flaring out attractively as he did so. The senior assistant looked thoughtful "mm, a good fit but a bit big at the top don't you think?" I smiled wickedly at Penelope, "Oh that'll be OK when I stuff his bra a bit". They were both now laughing fit to bust and enquired, disbelievingly, whether he was wearing one at the moment. "Of course" I replied and readily agreed when they suggested that in that case he borrow a couple of scarves to pad it out, which they quickly produced. Seemingly in a daze, Penelope retired to the changing cubicle to make the adjustment and when he emerged, with a much more feminine shape, both assistants clapped their hands with glee and declared that the dress was now a perfect fit.

Mummy then handed him the pale pink dress in a similar style and despatched him to change, with a warning not to take so long this time! Before he could go however, the shop manager came forward, "just a moment" she said with a cheeky smile on her face, "I think these would complement that dress perfectly" and handed him a beautifully feminine-looking handbag together with a pair of shoes which appeared indeed to match the dress very nicely. He looked at me distraught but I waved him towards the changing cubicle with an impatient gesture.

After assisting him with the zip he was soon emerging to be greeted by more teasing and a cheeky wolf whistle from the younger lady and was put again through the "catwalk" process to assess the fit, which we all agreed was perfect. The shoes had a higher heel than he was accustomed to but we all insisted that he carry out his (rather unsteady) walk of shame to our satisfaction. At this time two more ladies came into the shop to browse, but, to Penelope's extreme discomfiture, seemed much more interested in the impromptu fashion show than their own shopping, clearly finding the whole thing very amusing. So he was now subject to the teasing attentions of several ladies enjoying themselves at his expense, wonderful! At length I decided he'd suffered enough and said that we needed to decide which dress we wanted.

I turned the screw even more by asking the senior assistant what she thought "I don't know, he looks really cute in both of them, I suppose you only need one for the fancy dress party?" Penelope looked at us pleadingly but we were in full swing now, I looked at her feigning surprise "Party? Oh no these are for his summer wardrobe" as her mouth dropped open I added mischievously "I think I prefer this one, but the blue will go with his pinny far better when he's doing the housework". She was clearly having a great time "Oh that's lovely, what a wonderful idea" she said, beside herself, "will you want the shoes and bag for this dress?" Of course I agreed they looked stunning, really making the outfit perfect for a nice summer outing. "I'll tell you what, as you've been so much fun, and Vanessa is such a good friend, I'll do you the second one at a discount, bring them to the till when you're ready and I'll do the price adjustment" she winked at me, "unless he would like to wear one home?"

I thanked her but replied that we had other shopping to do. Mummy, who was clearly delighted with the proceedings insisted that Penelope thank her for her kind reduction on the price and go and get changed. "Thank you very much Madame," he stammered, his face the colour of a beetroot. Mummy stared at him firmly, "a curtsy, I think" he looked at me appalled but seeing my expression made a neat little curtsy before scurrying back to the cubicle. The assistant was laughing fit to burst, "oh that's so precious" she managed to say, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes, "wonderful, I'd never have believed it possible, well done my dear. What a lovely idea, my son in law is going to be in for a few surprises".

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