When is a Dress Not Just a Dress?


I wanted to buy a new dress. I wanted the dress to be one I could go to work in, go out fancy in, or just lounge around at home in. I wanted to get compliments on it from others, but also feel totally satisfied wearing it just for myself. And above all, I wanted the dress to fit me perfectly, and be so well made it lasted a lifetime.

I went online and felt myself responding to lots of ads for a classic LBD (Little Black Dress) and soon became overwhelmed and rather frightened at what I was finding out there. After all, buying the perfect dress was a huge commitment. Each day I’d pore over the descriptions and photographs and send my specific questions to the advertisers who would respond with very generalized answers like, “It’s one size fits all.” or “The sleeves can be worn off or on the shoulders.” This went on for months until I realized this wasn’t getting me any closer to my dream of actually WEARING a real dress.

Perhaps choosing a dress in person was a more organic and natural way of achieving my goal. A longtime mall-hater, I braved the traffic to get to a crowded department store and immediately found a fitting room where I told the personal attendant in great detail what I was looking for. “I’ll fix you up,” she said and returned holding a blue dress (mostly matching my description) and hung it in the tiny little room with all the mirrors.

Something came over me and I decided to take it home without even trying it on, even though blue wasn’t the color I had in mind. In my bedroom I admired it from all angles, then shoved it in the back of my closet. Around 2 am, I grew restless with insomnia and decided to slip it over my naked body and immediately knew it was all wrong for me. Disgusted with myself, I flung it over the little table next to my bed (my one nightstand) and vowed never to lay eyes on it again.

Thoroughly ashamed, the next morning I faced the same lady who sold me the dress as I sheepishly explained I’d been impulsive. This time I elaborated even more about what I was looking for and she said, “That’s a lot to ask from a single frock.”

“Oh so it’s a frock now?” I said amused. “Yes, I’m aware. I’ve had two that didn’t work out for me in the past.”

“You’ve already gone through more than one frock? What a crock.” she said, looking at me critically.

“You can mock the frock, but my first had a lot of baggage.”

“Does that mean it came with a matching purse?”

“Not exactly. And my second one was really clingy.”

“Stay away from polyester and spandex,” she warned.

“Look, I’m just looking for a frock I can rock, as they say. And I don’t really want to settle.”

Without hesitation she brought a different kind of dress in and immediately I was drawn to the plunging neckline, the sexy slit up the thigh, and the sparkly material. Could this be The One? “I’ll take it!”

“Try it on this time,” she admonished. I listened to her sage advice and it was love at first sight. Much wiser from my prior experience I inquired, “How long do I have to return it?”

“Sixty days with receipt and tags attached,” she stated.

No problem, although I felt slightly anxious with the time limit. Would I know in only two short months?

“I’ll just wear this dress everywhere and tuck the tags under my long hair, so nobody will be the wiser.” I thought.  I was anxious to get friends’ and family’s opinions. This was a big step.

“Wow! That’s a real Bad Boy dress!” Tiffany told me that afternoon at a fundraiser party.

“What are you saying? You think this dress could cheat on me?” I asked feeling worried.

“Are you kidding? I’d let that dress press up against my breasts in a New York minute,” my friend whispered seductively, which really disturbed me, so I left to meet my family for dinner.

“What were you thinking? A dress like this? How can it be practical?” my mother was having trouble controlling herself. “It’s not like you’ll wear it in stormy weather. And you’ll trip in the high heels needed to keep that hemline from dragging on the floor and you’ll break something.”

My mother was always exaggerating. My children would feel differently.

“We liked the nice dress you wore everyday when we were born,” my kids chimed in together. “Please, mommy?”

“But you know how I feel about that ratty old thing. Besides it’s been given away to Goodwill. Who knows what other woman could be parading around in it these days,” I reminded them. They looked disdainfully at the new dress I had on and slowly shook their heads.

Back at the mall I sat forlornly watching other women walk happily around in their basic dresses. I asked a few of them how long they’d had theirs and was given answers that ranged from many years to six decades. How in the world were they all able to do this?

“Gentle cycle only,” one elderly woman confided in me. “And I mend it as soon as any threads unravel.” I nodded with appreciation. But that still didn’t explain how one dress could meet all their every day needs. And how they didn’t become bored with it.

More determined, I went into a bookstore and read up on fashion for hours. I became so knowledgable, I felt like I could even design my own gown, but I had a better idea. I found a resale consignment clothing store and bought a simple dress that looked like it had been well cared for by a previous owner. I drove, holding the dress in my arms to a dry-cleaners I knew did alterations.

I had photographs of all the revamping I wanted done. Much of it was rather drastic, but the dress would be more versatile and exciting when I needed it to be. And I wanted zippers added to attach and detach parts of the dress to really change it up!

“You vant excitement?” Olga, the Russian seamstress asked me, “You do exciting things vearing this dress. That’s all. I not alter this dress. You vill tank me later.”

Rude much? Unbelievable. I stared at the dress but to my surprise, I suddenly felt a strong attachment for it welling up inside me. But still I kept the tags on — I was no dummy anymore. Plus I had a real case of the jitters, like I should buy several others as back-ups in case this one didn’t come through for me, but something prevented me from doing any more shopping that day.

Throughout the months to come, I wore the dress everywhere and discovered a big secret. Accessorizing! I added a belt and the dress became perfect for editorial meetings. Diamond drop earrings and my hair in an updo and the dress took me out dancing. I put on a string of pearls and dark sunglasses and my dress saw me through a heartbreaking funeral. And really, when you think about it, not many dresses can do that. This dress obviously had my back, literally.

One day while walking past the consignment store where I’d found my beautiful garment, I noticed a sign in the window. “Make sure you like it. All sales Final.” Gosh, I’d kept the tag on all this time as a precautionary measure, just in case. But I felt no panic. This time there was something very reassuring about the word — ‘Final.’

I gingerly patted the soft sleeve and reached inside to pull out the cardboard tag that had been feeling kinda scratchy against my arm all this time, and gave it a tiny tug. It came off easily in my hand and I saw there was handwriting on the back where the price was stamped. “Sewn with Love by Olga. Wear in Love for Life.”

I’m keeping my dress. And the tag. Forever. Because I finally understand what it means to be all in.

 

 

 

14 thoughts on “When is a Dress Not Just a Dress?

  1. I love the way you stepped outside your niche and delivered this gem. I had to read it twice because I thought I knew what it would be. Like dresses and like those they represent – you have tailored this perfectly. A lovely look for you. ‘Fitting’ and flattering ‘wear’ it should be.

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