04 May 2007: The Times

My life in fashion: I loved my crushed velvet knickerbockers

Dame Diana Rigg tells our correspondent that in her youth she was frowned upon for daring to wear trousers after 6pm

The actress Diana Rigg was born in Doncaster in 1938. In the 1960s she played secret agent Emma Peel in the cult TV series The Avengers, and the Bond girl Tracy di Vincenzo in On Her Majestyís Secret Service. She has appeared in many plays, including Mother Courage and Medea, for which she won a Tony award in 1994. Her latest film, The Painted Veil, adapted from W. Somerset Maughamís novel set in 1920s China, is out now.

The leather catsuit I wore in The Avengers was a total nightmare; it took a good 45 minutes to get unzipped to go to the loo. It was like struggling in and out of a wet-suit. Once I got into the jersey catsuits they were very easy to wear but you had to watch for baggy knees; there is nothing worse. I got a lot of very odd fan mail while I was in that show, but my mum used to enjoy replying to it. Some of the men who wrote to me must have been a bit startled because she would offer really motherly advice. I would get a letter from a teenage boy, say, who was overexcited and my mother would write back saying: ďMy daughter is far too old for you and what you really need is a good run around the block.Ē

Society was so much more prudish in the 1960s. In one episode of The Avengers I played a belly dancer and I had to stick a jewel in my navel because the Americans wouldnít tolerate them. In those days you didnít flash the boobs at all. What you did do to look glamorous was jack the boobs up and probably wear something quite low-cut.

I think I was quite daring. I was once escorted out of a restaurant because I was wearing a trouser suit. It wasnít considered good breeding for a woman to go around in trousers after 6pm, especially in smart restaurants and bars such as the Connaught hotel, which served the best cocktails.

In those days, trousers were appallingly cut for women so I used to go to a gentlemenís tailor to have them made. Nowadays you can look at some quite highly priced clothes and be astonished at how badly they are finished. But then, people donít look for that any more, itís only old bags like me that do. When I need to look smart, I go for Armani because heís just absolutely brilliant at tailoring. I always dress for myself, not men or other women. Iím well aware of them though Ė you get the sweep of the eye up and down and I think, ďYou poor thing, are you so competitive that you have to measure yourself against everyone else?Ē Itís so pathetic.

Many people regarded Biba as a temple but I was never a floaty person so I couldnít get into all those divine Celia Birtwell prints. I used to go to Yves Saint Laurent in Bond Street, where there was a wonderful woman who would pull you into the changing room, put stuff on you and give you the whole ensemble. One of my favourite outfits consisted of raspberry crushed velvet knickerbockers, with black suede boots, a black silk jersey top and a ravishing belt. I just love looking at beautiful clothes.

Naomi Watts, my co-star, wore the most beautiful handmade 1920s dresses for The Painted Veil. Iím in a nunís habit, but I am past any sense of competition about whoís got the best wardrobe.

I didnít like my Bond Girl outfits. The designer was a friend of the directors and I thought they were too boring and middle-aged for my character. The right costumes are essential for getting into a part; Iíve witnessed many costume parades with grumpy or even weeping actors because theyíve been put into the wrong thing.

If I meet a woman who is immaculately groomed, I really admire her discipline. I grew up admiring out-of-this-world screen goddesses, such as Ava Gardner and Rita Hayworth, but I have to acknowledge that I havenít the patience for getting dressed up very often Ė at my age you think: ďWhy bother?Ē Now that Iím older I donít go to premieres or first-night parties, not even my own.

I donít go without make-up, though. I rather like that transformation in the morning from ďI donít want to look in the mirrorĒ; then you start pulling yourself together. Itís a rather nice present to yourself that you can still do that.

I had an eye job in my early forties. Someone took a photograph of me in a play, after Iíd lost a lot of weight, and I did look like Miss Havisham. I thought: ďI have to do something Ė Iím too young to look like this.Ē So I went and had an eyelift once the play was finished, and the doctor said that it would last only about eight years. I imagined after that it would all cave in with a terrible groaning sound, like scaffolding, but it didnít, and I havenít had anything done since. I look at women who are my age who look absolutely ravishing and I know they have had something done. Well, why not?

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