Bob Hoskins walks into the Ritz wearing a Naugahyde jacket the color and texture of an orange fruit roll-up, and beneath that, a Hawaiian shirt which even retired Floridians would decry as too loud. Later, he shows off a gold medallion. At the bar, smoking a cigarette and drinking a Bloody Mary, he thinks nothing of his clothes: they’re new, after all. He’s comfortable in them, proud of them, until the call girl he’s been driving around she sees him and sums up her feelings in a word: Christ.

The camera shows the dining room: white arches, chairs with red velvet cushions, and crystal chandeliers. Rose marble columns, potted palms, Oriental rugs. Everything is gilded—the statues in the recesses, the harp on which the harpist plays—and when the light reflects on your skin, you yourself become golden.

Matthew and I were there on Christmas Day. My cousin, who lived in London at the time, made the reservations, her treat. Tea at the Ritz!: the only hotel to have its name adjectivized. On the long escalator rides in the Tube, adverts framed on the walls spoke of the tradition of spending the holidays at the Ritz, only £50 a person.

But once we arrived, I felt under-dressed. Some men wore tailored tuxedoes. I wore a suit I had owned since college, when it fit a slightly skinner version of myself. It pinched, and the material seemed scratchy. When I reached for my teacup, too much of my cuff showed. Even the waiters’ uniforms seemed custom-fit. For the next hour and a half—before we had to make way for the next seating—I tried to convince myself that I belonged there.

But my clothes gave me away, I thought. The call girl who paid for Bob Hoskins clothes tells him: Being cheap is one thing. Looking cheap is another. That really takes talent.

Afterwards, sated with cucumber sandwiches and lapsang souchang, as we gathered our coats, an older woman emerged from the downstairs casino. She was tall and elegant, Parisian, I imagined.  But:  she wore the most astonishing hat. It teetered upon her head, a swirl of purple, as if Gaudi had built a beehive out of felt. I couldn’t help but gawp as she passed by. I turned to Matthew in order to confirm that what I had seen was real, but instead, I caught the eye of an older British woman. With a wry smile, she said, “I see you looking,” in a tone of voice that humored as much as it chastened.

Chances are that hat cost more than my suit. But she seemed so at ease in it that it didn’t matter that I found it slightly ridiculous, much in the same way that I found myself slightly ridiculous. She wanted to call attention to herself, so if she was there, then Bob Hoskins could be there, and so could I. I put on my overcoat (second-hand, bought at a Washington D.C. garage sale) and headed out into the London winter.