Just the Way You Look Tonight
I flung open my closet doors, and stared in horror. My wardrobe is suitable for washing cars or walking on a treadmill at a really shabby YMCA. I have nothing even remotely dressy for warm weather. For a minute, I dimly hoped that the invitation for an evening wedding at four-star hotel would read “Dress: Casual, poster paint stains preferred”. I found the invitation and my hopes were dashed. This was going to involve shopping.
After a certain time in your life, dressy clothes are no longer a wondrous adventure in expressing the feminine, alluring parts of yourself: they are damage control. If you are anything like me, you have a photographic graveyard of ill-advised evening choices. Here is the slide-show:
Here I am in my backless dress, my one attempt at going braless. Please note how my arm is up to my elbow down the front of my dress. I was trying to create a strapless shelf bra with my forearm. Later in the evening, I snuck into the kitchen and took some of the string they use to truss up turkeys and created a sling-like contraption.
This one I call “Why do I keep wearing black to formal events? I should try color”. Please note how the color, which was a lovely bright tangerine in the store, became traffic-cone orange in evening light. People keeping shading their eyes to look at me. I eventually draped myself in my date’s jacket, claiming to be cold, just to create an area not capable of scorching the retina.
Yes, I am in this picture, but I can understand the confusion. I chose a cocktail dress with a pattern. Unfortunately, the pattern exactly matched the wallpaper in the reception room. Look carefully and you can see a blur: that was my arm, which I kept waving so the caterers would stop leaning extra chairs against me.
This was my most recent bad purchase. After seeing several tweed suits being featured in Vogue, I bought a pink one for two winter events this year. Sadly, it didn’t occur to me that the reason the models looked so winning and adorable in this look, besides being a foot taller than I am, is that they were fifteen. Post-pubescent girls in matronly outfits can look sweetly incongruous. A woman who is well into her thirties in a pink tweed suit looks like she is sixty. Several men offered to find me a chair and a defibrillator.
And yet, I shop again. But this time, I am shopping FRENCH. I am going to find something classic, timeless and expensive as hell, with the unwritten expectation of wearing it for the next forty years and being buried in it. I entered the department store, went to the “Hemorrhage Money Here” section, and tried on a navy suit. Fitted jacket, straight skirt, nothing that said “This year” or “Next year”, “Ingénue” or “Crone”. What it did say, and quite loudly, was “Flight Attendant”. I tried on a red suit: unless Consort runs for the Senate from a conservative Southern state, I am going to look a little dowdy. The black suit was timeless, all right: I looked exactly like some pictures I have seen of women being processed at Ellis Island, circa 1890. I looked as terrified as they did, because it was starting to dawn on me that this wasn’t working. I had booked in exactly two hours to find my inner Frenchwoman, and she was off somewhere having a Pernod and sneering at me.
Scarf, I thought desperately. French women do things with scarves, and everyone thinks it’s neat. I put the navy suit back on, and went to the scarf department and grabbed some colorful silky bits. I tied one around my shoulders, leaving it draped to the side.
The look said -
“Hi! I got a coffee stain on my shoulder, but you won’t even notice it now!”.
I moved the knot to the back, putting the fullness in the front-
“I’m eating lobster!”
I moved the knot to the front, putting the fullness in the back-
“I’m a Girl Scout Leader!”
I yanked that scarf off of my body before it hollered anything else at me.
When it came right down to it, I couldn’t buy any of those suits. They were perfectly fine, if you like giving up. Because that is what it felt like, failure. These suits said I am no longer capable of prettiness, just practicality. In the war between the sexes, I would become Switzerland. It’s unrealistic to expect an evening outfit to transform you but, damn it, it’s the only unrealistic fashion goal I have left. I gave up thinking I could wear boy-cut bathing suit bottoms, metallic eye-shadow or ankle-high boots with skirts. I need to keep the moment from every cheesy movie where our dowdy heroine comes down the stairs in her formal dress, finally wearing her contacts, and her date forgets what he was saying. Yes, I know, those characters are in high school. Getting dressed up in the evening is all about high school. And I will find my prom dress before Saturday.