It’s taken me a long time to find my perfect dress. Two decades or more. I was probably around five when I started looking. The journey has been strenuous. At times, I’ve almost given up hope. At times, I’ve become so jaded I stopped believing. Sometimes, I took a detour off the winding path and sat at a greasy table in a rest stop cafeteria, eating limp fries and grinding out a sarcastic laugh or two at the thought of my lost innocence. There’s no such thing as a perfect dress. That’s a lie they tell you, to keep you going. That’s a lie they tell you, to keep you complacent. Wake up, little girl. The world is full of lies.
I started out very daring. I didn’t have a perfect dress, but I had a hot pink shiny plastic belt that I wore with everything for years—ages 6- 12 or so. My favorite outfit was tights, a giant green shirt with a picture of a fish on it that I’d won in a fishing competition, and my pink belt. I made clunky yellow geometric clip on earrings from a kit and wore them, too. I was stylin’.
I wore a too-small shirt with a kitten on it with tights and boots.
I wore overalls. Like my friend Emily is modeling for us, here, in the above picture. Actually, I wore overalls mostly because she was really cool.
Then, in my teens, I became a hippie. Not philosophically (although I was relatively passionate about saving both the whales and the trees, so maybe there was a little of that, too), but for fashion’s sake. I wore flowy green embroidered pants and tunics. I braided my ridiculously long hair. My dresses were loose and multi-colored and they came from a store in Princeton called Madalay, which felt at the time a little like the promised land, and an Indian place in New Hope.
I spent my freshman year of college in enormous red sweatpants and a skin-tight purple shirt that read “Homeschoolers Learn Everywhere.” Because I wanted to make friends.
And then I wore jeans and cute, plain shirts for the next three years, when I found myself caring more about fitting in. (Except for one slip up which involved a burnished orange skirt with tiny bells on it and a red suede vest.) I put the thought of dresses out of my mind. I gave my old ones away. The only dresses girls on campus wore were tiny and booby and sporty. There was this beautiful, petite Asian girl in my bio class who sat with her flip-flopped, pedicured feet up on the seat in front of her and her head thrown back. She once wore a lime green strappy, beachy dress, without a bra. It just grazed her mid thighs. Her legs were tan and shiny. Lumbering guys who might or might not have played on the football team loomed over her, cracking effortful jokes after class. I couldn’t compete with that. I was too awkward to take my bra off, and my legs always had razor burn.
I graduated and moved to New York City, where it was immediately evident that people were fashionable. Not like at college, where fashion meant Abercrombie. In NYC, people were bold and put together at the same time. If they wanted to wear lavender velvet, they did a whole outfit, with matching shoes and accent pieces. They did eye makeup, too. In shock, I wore my jeans and plain shirts every day, trying to collect myself.
And then, gradually, I crawled out of my shell. It took over a year. And then I got a white, flowy dress, which made me feel like potential goddess material. A goddess in training. And then I bought every single sundress I could find in every thrift store I went to.
(this one was from a street vendor near my apartment– I bought a lot of stuff from him)
I was like a kid who never got to eat candy, on Halloween. Like a kid who grew up without sugar and white bread, in a college dining hall. (That’s a true story, by the way.) I had no ability to discern between things I liked and things I didn’t like. Things that might look good on me, and things that would never look good on anyone and also had a giant stain down one side. I wanted all of the dresses.
I got married. I panicked and bought the biggest wedding gown in the store. It screamed “WEDDING!” at the top of its lungs. It looked great, but I felt like it was swallowing me whole. It could stand up on its own, without my help. It had bigger breasts than me. I don’t think it even liked me.
But after that, I grew up. I became wise and calmer and good at making quiche and able to listen without interrupting. And then I knew exactly what I needed.
It was totally specific, right down to the dip of the neckline and the feel of the fabric.
For almost a year, I looked everywhere. I googled it from time to time, without much luck. I saw a version of it for a second, in an expensive department store with my mom, for $400, and there was no way.
I thought about what I’d do with it. I knew which belts would go with it.
I waited for it.
And just last week, I found it.
At Macy’s, of all places, for $34. I ordered it online. I wore it for my birthday.
And it is my perfect dress.
It is long and black, with not-too-long sleeves and a scoop neck. The bodice clings, but the skirt is loose. It shows off my shoulders, my breasts, my belly, and my hips. It shows off the belts that I love, and my dramatic earrings. It doesn’t disguise anything about my body or particularly enhance anything either. It is utterly simple. It is elegant, and graceful, and a little important looking. But it lets me do the talking. And maybe most importantly, it is soft, and stretchy, and it feels like pajamas, even as it looks like it might be able to slip into a fancy party without too much trouble. It’s open-minded.
I think I’m more open-minded now, about myself.
Maybe more trusting. The world didn’t lie to me, after all. There’s such a thing as a perfect dress.
Although some days, I really miss that bright purple shirt that said “Homeschoolers Learn Everywhere.” I feel like I could still rock it.
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What’s your perfect dress? Have you found it? If you don’t have a perfect dress, what’s your perfect outfit? TELL.
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in the morning.