“Pass me a handkerchief. Someone? Oh, blast. Why is it that there’s never a tissue when you need one? I’ll have to hold it in.”

The sneeze was tickling the roof of her mouth, her arms were bound to her sides and it was becoming ever so hot. And never mind all that, what poor excuse for couture was this ghastly construction? It looked like it had been knitted out of pocket lint. No, silk apparently. Hand made. But that’s just what the Saturday girl had said, and Lord knows you can’t trust anyone but the designer. She’d learnt that the hard way after a close encounter with a souvenir Breton shawl and a flaming pan of Crepes Suzette. On the plus side, she never needed those last two epilation sessions: the hair on that side had never grown back.

She felt utterly ridiculous, all trussed up in this strange shroud. It covered her from head to toe so completely that all one could see from the outside were two pointy patent shoe-tips and a crown of shiny, raven-black hair rising from the top. It fitted her curves like a second skin.

“Nancy? It feels like it’s getting tighter, Nancy. I – I can’t – breathe,” she gasped, “Get it off me.” But it was too late. She was swelling too fast to find the zip. She let go of the sneeze she had been holding in, and with it came the humiliating ripping sound of seams becoming unstitched; of a thousand threads parting unexpectedly. The robe fell to her feet. At last, she could breathe again.

Nancy arrived nonchalantly, wheeling a full length mirror in an ornate gilded frame.

“You’re too late, Nancy,” the lady sighed. “Just look what’s happened. Really, what are they paying you for?”

“Not too late, ma’am,” the shop assistant replied. “See?”

Nancy angled the mirror so the lady could see herself, and in an instant her grave expression transformed. It was like nothing she had seen before. Layers of royal blue crepe. A deep blue velvet bodice. Behind her, almost like wings, the finest, lightest feathery fabric swept into elegant wisps which seemed to disappear into the air.

“Oh!” she exclaimed melodically, her eyes sparkling with delight, “It’s simply exquisite. I knew you wouldn’t let me down.”