I’m on a mission. Now, for some of you this may be very familiar territory- you have an event/party/special evening and you want a new and fun dress to wear. You love it and you live for it and you use phrases like “shop ‘til you drop” or “chaaaarge” or “retail therapy” with familiarity and ease. I have to be honest: I did not embrace shopping or even wearing nice clothes until just a few years ago, and the fact that I now want a stunning Mother-of-the-Bride dress that will look good with my pale coloring, fit my body, not look too young or too frumpy, have the right amount of special details and not offend the color of the rest of the bridal party’s dresses, I’m in a bit of a tizzy.
Until relatively recently, clothes were just not a priority for me. Growing up in the 70’s, it was all about patched or hole-y jeans, over-sized men’s shirts or tank tops, feathered earrings and sneakers. When I went away to college, I continued that trend because I was used to it. There was also no money for buying duds, and my friends were not that into it either, so no problem. Even as a teacher, I did not have a clue what professional dress meant, and I am embarrassed to look back at photographs of those years. I always felt that I wanted to be appreciated for my brains and not my looks, and I did not understand things like social protocol and the issue of first impressions. It was not until my twin girls became teenagers, and would ask me if I was “really going to leave the house looking like that,” that I began to pay more attention to styles and fashion. And in the last few years, I will also admit, I have come to love my clothes and shoes, and although I buy everything on sale, I am proud that you might not know that to look at me.
Still, in spite of my growing skills, when I have a major event to dress for (and my daughter’s wedding is as major as it gets) I feel out of my element. Part of my problem is that I have no one to go with me to help me judge what I try on. My kids live far away and the friends I would trust to give helpful advice either live too far away or are too busy . So I am on my own, at the mercy of saleswomen who, in my experience, tend to agree with everything you say, even if you flip flop drastically on your opinions (Me: “I love this!” Saleswoman: “Oh, it’s perfect.” Me: “Wait, I don’t think I like it after all.” Saleswoman: “Yes, I see your point.”). No help at all…
For the last couple of weeks, I have been searching online for the perfect dress; or at least for an idea about the perfect dress. I do not usually like shopping for clothes online. I need to try things on and see how they live on me. I have a friend who takes online shopping to unimaginable heights; it’s almost like a religion to her. She buys a million things, has them delivered, tries everything on in the comfort of her own home, and then returns all the rejects directly to the store. This has several advantages: she receives reward points that she gets to keep even if she returns the items and, as anyone who shops in Bloomies or Nordstrom or Macy’s knows, points are AWESOME. She receives discounts and coupons for all the shopping she does, and sometimes she is able to use these to the point where really expensive items are practically free. I think of her the way I think of those “extreme coupon” people: it’s a part-time job with occasionally huge payoffs. Not sure how it comes out in the end as far as cost-benefit, but it makes her feel good. My mother, who lives within walking distance from Macy’s in New York City, is such a loyal customer that they pretty much pay her to shop there. The woman can basically walk out of Macy’s with bags of great stuff for twenty-five dollars. Ask my son, a major beneficiary of grandma’s Macy’s habit. But as far as I am concerned, online shopping is just useful for narrowing down choices on which stores to visit. I am one of those bodies that must see what an outfit looks like on; things that look great on the hanger can actually look horrible on me; and things that look weird on the hanger can be the best fit and style ever.
So today I went to a small shop in a nearby town on the recommendation of a friend. I feel ambivalent about boutiques. Immediately I think: exclusive=expensive, and small=few choices. This is not only discriminatory on my part (I guess I have Big Box disease), but it is almost always wrong. Case in point is the place I went today. The shop owner has been at this place for over forty years; she has a ton of beautiful choices and many color swatches to choose from. She has a tailor that works for her for many years that can do fittings for a reasonable cost. I found a great dress at a really good price and a beautiful color. Since this is just my first actual try-on I cannot commit to it yet- serious dresses are like serious relationships; you should not get into one without checking out the competition first. It’s a big commitment because I want to shine as mother-of-the-bride; and because the photo albums will be there forever to document my choice. So it has to be just perfect. I emailed a photo to my daughters and my shopping-mania friend to get their thoughts. I will keep you posted!