So, I was looking for a dress for a fancy work occasion. I don’t mind wearing fancy dress, as the Brits say, but I don’t like to shop, and I don’t like to spend a lot of money on clothes in general, never mind something I will wear a handful of times. To be fair to myself, I’m also not that picky, if not picky means basic, no frills (or ruffles), elegant/timeless, and not floor length.
But if you have spent 3 minutes looking for a cocktail dress in the past few months and have seen the current fashions, I am apparently very, very picky. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Several weeks before the event, I started looking online, typing in “evening wear,” “fancy dresses,” “cocktail dresses.” I searched online only sites, I search webpages of brick and mortar stores, I searched sites in other countries. What popped up was a frightening assortment of frilly long skirts, puffed sleeves (which will end up dragging across my food despite my best efforts), and the most unforgivable feature, a neckline that goes up your throat.
People. If I’d wanted a dress from the 70s or 80s I would have looked on Etsy. I know, fashion comes back around like the circles of hell, and I really am not fond of how many loops I’ve had to live through. But the high neck thing? My legs still look pretty good and my clavicle is worth showing off. Everything else is negotiable. And while it may very well be possible for someone under the age of 35 to pull off a high-necked dress without looking like an old lady school marm, I am definitely closer to being an old lady than the under 35 set, so I don’t need the extra shove, if you know what I mean.
OK, so Google is just showing me what’s popular, I thought. If I go to an actual store, I’m sure they will have a range of things, including a simple black dress that shows just enough skin and doesn’t cost a gazillian dollars.
Cue evil laugh of the fashion industry and stores in general.
I have forgotten how to do a lot of things because of COVID, like interacting with strangers, social graces, and having empathy. Clothes shopping needs to be added to the list. I literally could not think of what stores to go to, what stores I may have gone to in the past. And I forgot that I don’t really like malls in general. So I defaulted to geography: the mall closest to my house, which was the absolute worst choice as I would never have shopped at this mall in the beforetimes. And before I get too far down this road, to anyone who loves and adores this mall, please forgive me. See the beginning of the paragraph lacking social graces.
The anchor store is Bloomingdales, which is super high end for me. But I had some vague notion of big sales and a final markdown rack, forgetting that 1) 20% off of a gazillian dollars is still a billion dollars, and 2) That final markdown rack only has sizes 0 and 2. I started hyperventilating within minutes. Each fancy designer has their own little alcove, so you have to walk around the whole damn store to see a 100 variations of frighteningly frilly, high-necked dresses. Or solid sequins, which I don’t mind, but this year is just not a sequin year.
I made it around twice — maybe I missed the simple black dress? Or even a top. I have a pair of velvet pants, so I would have settled for a top. But, alas, I missed nothing. Undeterred, I then entered, the rest of the mall. This would be store-to-store combat, pounding the concrete floor. It was only slightly better in that I could eliminate the stores more quickly. I was a one-woman fashion S.W.A.T. team. Sweep in, note the appalling styles and flowered fabrics, weep silently, and sweep out. One store sold dresses all one size, as if it magically fits everyone. Like that was their branding. How is that even possible? The woman working there had to explain it to me. Even though it was clear to both of us, I was not a candidate for one of these mysterious one size fits all dresses. I actually felt sorry for her having to explain this weird idea to every single person who entered the store. And they weren’t caftans. These dresses looked more like they were discards from a medieval faire. How on god’s green earth did we get here?
I fled the mall.
Trying to regain my breath, I remember buying fun sparkly tops for holiday parties at Burlington Coat Factory. Which I guess is now just called Burlington — um, OK. Eventually it will probably be called B, right KFC? I found one not too far away and hit the gas. Once there, I was back in familiar territory. The long straight racks of jumbled together clothes, more or less by size, that allow you to efficiently zip up and down. No roaming alcove to alcove, store to store. True, the shopping ambiance is created by the wailing of hot, tired children, but the efficiency means you don’t have to listen to it for long.
Within 10 minutes I had 5 dresses and 1 top to try on, all with very basic cuts and colors. I was ecstatic and thought I might just be able to pull this off. I headed to the dressing room, only to encounter a long, tall metal fence across the entrance. The sign said “Closed temporarily.” My hopes rose a little. How temporary? 15 minutes? 30? To clean up some spilled juice mishap perhaps?
“Oh it should be open next weekend,” the clerk said in a voice that was entirely too chipper. It was Sunday and my event was the upcoming Saturday. Fuck. I did not have the energy or desire to try on all the dresses at home and bring back what didn’t fit. I was planning on not entering a store for at least another 3 years, perhaps forever if I could manage it. My eyes settled on the top. I held it up to my body. Close enough for jazz as my old band instructor used to say. I bought it, and for $12.99, I decide that if it didn’t fit, I would just put it in the used clothing bin.
I tried it on when I got home and it fit, Phew. Done. Here it is, and yes, the sleeves are puffier than I would like, but at least they didn’t drag in my dinner. And yes I taped the sleeves so you could see them.
But that is not the end of my sordid tale. When I went into work to complain about my trip to the mall and all the frilly high-necked dresses, my female coworkers gave me several alternatives, which I had also forgotten is Standard Dress Shopping Procedure. Ask your coworkers, “What are you wearing?” Two of them rented a dress, and of course, one was a frilly, high-necked thing, but it had a long slit in the skirt, she is young, and she looked great in it. And she knows me well enough not to hold too much of grudge for my dress trash talk.
OK, so lesson (sort of) learned. The work event was a smashing success, and the top is now hanging in my closet. The Monday after, I was online and suddenly several ads popped up for cocktail dresses. Simple, basic, elegant, and timeless dresses. For like $60-70. I let out a stream of expletives and punched a pillow.
So you’re telling me that I have to live in this world of the ever present echo chamber and constant marketing white noise promising to make everything easier, faster, more productive, and simplified. That I can get socks that save the world, and bamboo underwear, and washable lunch bags that will keep the planet from ruin. But it took the algorithms 3 weeks to get me some stinking dresses?
And to add to the insult. I just did a search, so I could find an ugly dress for the top of the post. There is nary a high-necked frilly dress to be found. It took me several searches to find one. So now I just feel persecuted and gaslit. Or is the cycle of fashion that fast? This is how conspiracy theories get started.
OK. Fine. Great. Fashion, you can fuck right off. Let’s see the algorithm for that.