Little Victories: perfect dress

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.

*  *  *

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.

Some other posts from the Little Victories series: I forgot to look in the mirror, my breasts.

P.S. Check out my piece on the Frisky, about why I’m glad I’m not a perfect 10. It was really fun to write.  And my piece on xoJane about homeschool prom.

A reader cake pic! Yay! (cupcakes count). Send me yours!

49 Comments »

Kate on March 7th 2012 in beauty, Little Victories

49 Responses to “Little Victories: perfect dress”

  1. Chris responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 1:15 pm #

    Great dress! If I wore dresses, I’d want one too!

  2. Melanie responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    I’m glad you found the dress. And for such a steal!

  3. Jenna responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    That is a nice dress. It’s funny how the simple styles are always the hardest to find. I love your descriptions of what you wore as a child. Your childhood clothing sounds so colorful!

  4. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    @Melanie
    Right?! I was shocked.

    Is it sad that my perfect dress is black? I’m feeling like maybe this makes me boring.

  5. Courtney Warren responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 1:34 pm #

    I found mine at Target; long, stretchy, strapless, cotton, lovely cerulean blue. I can’t wait for summer to wear it again (it’s too cold in Seattle for me to think about wearing anything but jeans, t’s and sweaters).

    Thank you for your courage to speak honestly about your journey with body image and your undiluted love for CAKE!

    I LOVE CAKE TOO!!

  6. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 1:37 pm #

    @Courtney
    Oh my god– Target is my favorite place for dresses. Yours sounds awesome.

    YAY CAKE!!! :-)

  7. Kiannah responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:04 pm #

    Love the ensemble, Kate! (And your kitty’s interest in the photo shoot).

    I’m still looking for my perfect dress *sigh* When I was little and homeschooled, I had quite a few; they were hand-made dresses from bygone eras- mostly were fairly Little House on the Prairie-ish. I would tell the seamstress exactly how I wanted them to look. I picked out the buttons, the fabric, everything. I think some of them even had sashes.

    Now I’m looking for my perfect outfit- something sophisticated and and subtly sexy and elegant, something that looks like it could fit right in on Mad Men (fantastic show, btw), but with just a hint of modernity too.

  8. Amanda responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    I found mine at Coldwater Creek — black taffeta-esque fabric, smaller through the top, draped fabric scoop neck, wide sash at the waist, fifties-style length and fullness through the skirt. It works with sandals or pumps, hose or bare legs, winter or summer.

    My favorite outfit at the moment is a pair of ankle-length black leggings and a pewter grey knit dress, just below the knee, with my sandals and black jet necklace. I don’t know why, it just suits my kinks and it’s as comfortable as wearing my jammies to work. In fact, it sounds like a good outfit for tomorrow.

  9. Lilli responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Kate, I love your dress, it’s perfect :)
    I must admit, I have three perfect dresses, one is the dress I wore to my prom, which is full length, and deep burgundy, with a sweetheart neckline, I was the only person at the entire prom who wasn’t wearing anything with diamante, which meant i felt gloriously conspicuously un-teenagerish :)
    My mother dress is a short, black evening dress with one shoulder, which i happened to stumble upon in Dorothy Perkins (do you have that shop in the US?) for £30, which is an absolute steal.
    My last dress is a really nice, all soft material, with bold navy and white stripes and a low cut back, it’s simply perfect.
    Is it cheating to have three perfect dresses? x

  10. Amy responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:24 pm #

    Two things:

    1) What do you mean it doesn’t enhance anything? You look like perfection in that dress!

    2) Look at your cat! I laughed at her little paw. She is so cute :)

  11. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    @Kiannah
    Have you looked on http://www.shabbyapple.com/? They have some Mad Men-esque stuff…

  12. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:27 pm #

    @Amanda
    Sounds like the perfect winter look, with a twist. I love knit dresses. I wish I didn’t sweat through them. My armpits are rebellious.
    I love that you wear it with sandals. You’re a trend-setter!!

  13. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    @Lilli
    It’s not cheating. Some of us are just very, very blessed :-) That would be you.

  14. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    @Amy
    1) I guess I just mean it doesn’t make my breasts look bigger than they are, or my waist slimmer, or my legs longer. It just sort of represents how I usually look.

    2) I love her!!! I try not to talk about it too much, because I get all gross and mushy.

  15. Frankie responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Your dress is fabulous! I love, love, love it. Perhaps, since it’s the perfect dress, and relatively cheap you should go grab another one as back up? That way you’re never devastated when it gets wrecked…

    I had the perfect pair of jeans. Then I overwore/ washed them and they tore, up the butt-seam, and I could never wear them again.
    Then I had another pair of perfect jeans and I overwore/ overwashed them and they developed holes in the upper thigh area. And I couldn’t wear them again.
    After the third time it happened, I decided that when I fall in love with items, I get a back up if it’s affordable. :)

  16. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    @Frankie
    You’re smart. I should do that.

  17. zoe (and the beatles) responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 2:41 pm #

    there’s nothing to disguise. you’re banging.

    still searching for a perfect dress. frustrating as all hell.

    (man, i always got razor burn, too)

  18. margosita responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 3:01 pm #

    The dress is great. And I love the kitty in both photos, swatting and staring you down. Hilarious!

  19. Kelli responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    I have a few of my perfect dresses. I am large busted & have full hips but a small waist. I like my legs, too, so my perfect dress is more of a late 40′s style but short shirt dress. Stretchy material to let my curves have room, but fitted & button down, ending a few inches above my knees. And my perfect dress template is available at the most surprising place- Land’s End Canvas. Inexpensive but really adorable!
    Yours looks amazing on you. I think it highlights all the right things!

  20. Sarah responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    That dress is just plain STUNNING. You look long and lean and confident, like you know you look hot. I love it.

    …and want to buy it myself! Link?

  21. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    @Sarah
    It’s here: http://www1.macys.com/shop/product/bar-iii-dress-three-quarter-sleeve-fitted-maxi?ID=578017&PseudoCat=se-xx-xx-xx.esn_results
    And OH MY GOD– they raised the price!!!!!!! I’m sorry!! And indignant.

  22. Kate responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 4:35 pm #

    Oh, and it looks like they only have it in XS now. Oy

  23. Sooz responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 5:10 pm #

    Perfect dress. Love it. :)

  24. Diana responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    1) For my husband’s 10th year high school reunion, I had the perfect dress. It was deep dark eggplant in color, draped wraparound on bottom, demure v-neck on top. If I could ever find a similar style in any color, I’d buy it again in a heartbeat.

    2) Your kitty and mine could be matching bookends. And I get all silly and gooshy too. We call him Mango.

  25. Mallory responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    That really is your dress. It looks amazing!

  26. Kaarin responded on 07 Mar 2012 at 11:13 pm #

    I’m so glad you found your perfect dress!
    I actually own a few that make me feel amazing every time I put them on. Love that feeling! Right now I’m really into dresses that twirl real well. I do a “twirl test” before purchasing.

  27. Val responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 12:43 am #

    Yes, my perfect dress isn’t much different from yours, black velour, gorgeous hem, soft, doesn’t disguise, doesn’t enhance, just always shows up and looks good.

    I have had it for ten years, and it’s no more in or out of style now than when I bought it.

    However, I have a second perfect dress too, one my mom bought me at Target, said it looked like me.

    She’s right! It does.

    A friend told me if you find a great dress, even if you don’t need it for anything–buy it because when you do need a dress you’ll never be able to find one.

    This is great advice.

    Your dress looks spectacular, btw, makes your neck look Audrey Hepburn, and shows off your cute face.

    love, Val

  28. Lynellekw responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 3:33 am #

    You are awesome and I wish I knew you in real life. I developed a taste for dresses in my late 20′s. When I left Australia I gave them all to my little sister, who looks even more awesome in them than I did.

  29. Nicole responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 4:29 am #

    Firstly I LOVE your wedding dress.. you look lovely in it. It is not too big at all.

    I have 3 brand new dresses – bought months ago in my cupboard unworn! I think I need to start wearing them. :-)

    When I was a small child – my favourite dress was white with a big ribbon around the waist. In those day, my own pre-requisite for a dress was that when you swirled around it went out (like a princess dress) :-) the good ol days when a puffy dress was all you needed to be happy.

  30. Aezy responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 7:23 am #

    My perfect dress is black too! My sister gave it to me when she didn’t want it anymore, it’s stretchy jersey material which clings in all the right places, scoop neck and has 3/4 length sleeves. I call it my “go anywhere” dress because I could wear it to a swanky party with tons of accessories or just to the pub. I feel stylish, grown up and comfortable in it :D

    I LOVE your dress though, especially with that belt/boot combo. Looks amazing!

  31. Deedee responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 8:45 am #

    Of course that dress looks great on you but there is something about having your kitty in the photo that makes it more endearing. I can’t put my finger on it but there is something magical about this picture. It’s whimsical…

  32. T.K. responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 11:33 am #

    That dress is amazing! I want to run out and buy it but it feels kind of wrong since I already ran out and bought the rabbit dress after reading this very blog not too long ago. I’m sorry, but I must have it. I do, however, solemnly swear that if our paths shall ever cross ( and i certainly hope they do some day :) ) I will bow my head respectively and recognize you as the true omnipotent lordess of The Dark Dress.

    P.S. Yesterday I walked into a jewelry store that sells cool 1920-1940 -like jewelry, hats, and hair pieces and they had manequins. Anyhow, these manequins were all wearing amazing slip dresses with jacket tops and the stores’ accessories and I had never seen any combination that felt more like “me”. So I asked the sales people where they bought their dresses ( because i already have all the fabulous vintage accessories) and she said “Korea.” SO I guess my perfect dress is on the other side of the world.

  33. Anne responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    That dress makes you look positively statuesque! And very long legged (which I know is something you worry about). Congrats on the find!

  34. Kate responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 3:19 pm #

    @Anne
    I love how everyone knows all of my body insecurities :-) When I read this I was like, “She’s right! I DO worry about that! But how’d she guess?” And then I remembered. Oh, right. I write a blog about body image.

  35. Lisa F. responded on 08 Mar 2012 at 7:20 pm #

    Kate! You look smokin’ in that dress! And I love that you wore black and brown together – I love doing that! I learned to love dresses relatively late in my life (in my thirties!) and I really love A-line dresses with narrow waists and full skirts – they are so womanly and gorgeous. Ahhhhh….

  36. Myth responded on 12 Mar 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    As a seamstress, I’d like to point out that you don’t have to wait forever for the perfect dress. You can have someone make it for you, just the way you want. Everyone wearing off the rack clothing is really a pretty new thing.

  37. Kate responded on 12 Mar 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    @Myth
    You know, that never even occurred to me!

  38. Roxanne responded on 15 Mar 2012 at 12:30 am #

    I found mine in a little boutique. :) It’s a black and white striped dress that follows my shape beautifully and ends right in the middle of the back of my knees, which I adore. I love it, though it doesn’t quite fit me perfectly as yet. I’m going to get it altered so that it does. I tried it on with all the accessories I own, and bags, and imagined it with my hair up, and with my hair down, and wore bandeaus underneath it, then cardigans over it. *sigh* :)

  39. Lissa Matthews responded on 24 Mar 2012 at 2:31 pm #

    The dress is gorgeous, but it wouldn’t work on a size 18/20 frame because I DO have big thighs and DO have large hips, and a not flat belly and more than an inch of back fat. A shame really for me, but it looks so incredibly lovely on you.

  40. Kate responded on 24 Mar 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    @Lissa Matthews
    I don’t want this to come off as me saying, “I know better than you what you should wear” at all, but I have to say I saw a woman with the body type you’re describing (or something in the vicinity) wear a dress like this, and she ROCKED it. I thought it looked amazing with all those curves.

  41. Kate responded on 24 Mar 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    P.S. For some reason, the pictures don’t capture the sticking out of my belly or the shape of my hips very well. And seriously, this isn’t because I was trying to look thinner in them. I’m just bad at taking pictures of myself and was happy that these included the whole dress. But looking back, I hope I wasn’t defeating my entire point somehow.

  42. Melinda responded on 05 Apr 2012 at 9:35 am #

    Kate…can I just tell you how lovely you are? And seriously, the Asian girl you compared yourself to back in college? I’m sure she struggles with insecurities too.

    I’m trying to work up the nerve to start wearing pretty clothes again. Once I make some real money, I want to buy some dresses and take pictures of myself looking fierce. ;)

    You look so elegant in your black dress. It is a very romantic look and your earrings give it an artsy touch.

  43. Eat the Damn Cake » Little Victories: how am I not jealous right now? responded on 11 Apr 2012 at 10:24 am #

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