I didn't mean to buy the perfectly fit, timeless dress. I only meant to stop by Nordstrom's dress department and try to find something for the annual Founder's Day Dinner, celebrated every year to commemorate the founding of West Point. We were going to attend, and I needed a dress. The dress code was sort of hodge-podge (unusual for the military, but we were in CA after all).
So, I was looking for something along the semi-formal lines. I hit the dress department of Nordstrom and within minutes, my excitement diminished and I thought: really? People buy this crap? And let me say, it was real crap. Cheap fabric. Awful cuts. Dodgy buttons. Way too much in the way of sequins, and the dresses were mostly really short. Like, inches above the knee short. Who wears those?
I felt suddenly very old, like when my grandmother bemoans the state of anything modern: clothing, manners, vocabulary. Then, just when I was about to give up, I saw the designer clothing section. It's small in Sacramento, but I stopped and looked and thought: maybe, just maybe, there is something to it.
Here's the thing: I've always considered designer clothes to be a rip-off, a testament to vanity and an indication that our society has become wealthy enough to be bored enough to shell out thousands of dollars for clothes that, frankly, I don't think look any better than J Crew.
But, given the offerings I'd been subjected to view, I shrugged and thought I had nothing to lose. I'd try a dress on, see that it wasn't such a much and head home. I took three dresses into the dressing room (and let me tell you that the saleswomen in designer dresses is a different breed than her dodgy-low-end counterpart). I took an Armani, a St. John and a Dolce and Gabana. The D&G was a corset-style dress, which I thought was slightly trashy but was willing to try on simply to say I'd done it. So, I started with that. I slipped into it and the girl helped me button it up the back. And then she brought me a pair of Christian Louboutin heels (the perfect size - how did she know?). I slipped into the shoes and turned around to the mirror. WOW. WOW...............wow.
The dress fit perfectly. It was tight in the right spots and not so snug in the other spots, and just when you thought a corset dress might be slightly tawdry, it hit just below the knee, which made it seem....almost.....possibly....ladylike? I walked out of the dressing room and into the main dressing area, where they have the three-way mirrors. A woman came out of another dressing room, and she stopped right there and stood there with her mouth open and looked at me and said: you have to buy that dress.
This caused a few other doors to open, and all these women came out in various states of bra/panties/jeans half pulled up, and they all agreed. I had to buy the dress. The dress....was.....amazing.
I felt like a million bucks. Really. I went back inside and tried on the Armani. The quality of a designer dress, I realized, is undeniable. No loose strings. No dodgy length. The fabrics simply slide over your skin like silk, not clinging but fitting (I realized then and there that there is a difference). The Armani was lovey, but it was ever-so-slightly boxy for my frame, and while I didn't dislike it, I didn't love it.
Then, I tried on the St. John's. It was simple. Black knit, tank top, knee-length. I slipped it over my head and it fell to my knees in one simple swoop and along the way it decided to hit every curve I might want to accentuate and bypass any curves I may want to hide. It felt like pajamas. It fit....perfectly. I slipped into the Louboutins and walked out of the dressing room. This was the dress. It was THE dress. It was perfectly cut, made of soft, supple fabric, it didn't but fit like a glove, and it was knee-length, which is perfect for me. It could be paired with a cardigan, a suit jacket, a wide belt. It could be paired with pearls, a wide bangle, a broach. It was subtle enough to go with anything and special enough to make a statement.
It was also $700. I know. To be fair, the other two dresses were both almost $1,000. So, really, it was a bargain, right?
I thought about it. I called Ray. He laughed but said to buy it if I loved it that much. I hung up and thought about it some more. I bought the dress.
Then, I went downstairs and walked into the designer shoe section and bought a pair of Prada heels.
I tried on two pair: Prada and Cole Haan. On my feet, side by side, you can't tell the difference. They're both black, patent-leather, slight platform. They look identical, in fact. But oh Lordy....the feel. It's like the dress. The cut of the shoes.....the Prada.....is amazing. You know when you wear heels and there is that gap between your ankle and the back of the shoe? And it looks like your stumbling around in your mother's heels?
Ya, doesn't exist in Prada heels. The shoes feel like they were made, then and there, by a pair of Italian shoe elves who know my feet like they know the back of their tiny little elf hands.
So, I found not only the perfect, timeless little black dress, but I found the perfect, timeless black heels to go with it.
And the irony of it all: we ended up not going to the dinner after all!
But the dress is there, in my closet, and I sometimes walk around my room in shoes (you don't stumble and teeter around in Prada) and feel like a million bucks. So, you know, it's worth it.
Quote of Inspiration
I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Atilla and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar