Saturday, January 30, 2010

On black dresses, alterations and the alteration in me.

A couple of weeks ago, I spent an afternoon shopping with a good friend, who promised to be my very own Clinton and Stacy, a combination fashion coordinator/cheerleader/honest evaluator as I searched for the perfect outfit. The plan was to buy a dress, possibly shoes.

Cindy earned her title that day. Her energy never flagged and she was kind and truthful throughout it all. I think I tried on something like twenty-five dresses (maybe more) in a few different departments in two stores. Granted, some of these garments were on my body, or partly on it depending how you looked at it, for about three seconds before we ruled them out but still: that’s a lot of dresses. Almost all of them were black and it was hard to believe there could be that many variations on black dresses but there appeared to be an endless supply.

But it had to be black, right? You don't want to buy a dress for an event, love it in the dressing room and feel daring and one-of-a-kind, and then be the woman wearing the lime green dress all night.

It won’t surprise you to know that the dress I liked best, the one both of us decided was “the one,” was the most expensive dress of the day. It felt fabulous. It was fitted but not too fitted. I didn’t have to worry about back fat or cleavage. The fabric was elegant but not flashy. Even modeling it while wearing my socks, it felt right. Except for one thing: the armholes.

It was sleeveless. For someone like me who feels cold every single day of the year, with the possible exception of two afternoons on the beach in August, even considering a sleeveless dress, especially for a January evening, is significant. But this shopping trip was partly based on doing the unexpected. Serious shopping for this kind of outfit is something I do maybe once a decade.

Back to the dress. From one angle, Cindy had a moment where she could see my bra. It wasn't a horrible gap but it wasn’t great and it was a lot of money to spend to have my bra showing, even if it was just from one or two angles. No matter, the helpful saleswoman called on the seamstress to evaluate the extent of the “fix” that would have to take place to make this perfect for me.

The woman doing the alterations was a genius from Ukraine. (Her accent reminded me of my lovely sister-in-law, who is also from Ukraine.) With a couple of pins, she made the difference in the dress and it looked better.

Me (looking in the mirror): What do you think?

Cindy and saleswoman and seamstress: Great…looks very nice…(general consensus that this was the best of the day.)

Me (still looking in the mirror): What about my arms? Do they look horrible? Do they look like people will say, “What made her think she could get away with that dress with those arms?”

Cindy and saleswoman: (similar versions of something like) They look fine!

Seamstress (looking dismayed and kind of scornful): What is wrong with women? What would make you think there’s something wrong with your….there’s nothing wrong with…(her voice trails off as she basically shakes her head at the entire female population of this country.)

We pressed her on it and she said women in America have problems with every single thing about themselves and she sees a lot of women. Everyday. In all kinds of sizes wearing all kinds of clothing. I’m guessing at least a couple of them have mentioned their arms, or their tummies, or their legs, or their necks, their shoulders, their waists or their hips to the seamstress. According to her, every single one of them is horrified at her image.

Wind up of the story is I had the dress altered, and bought some astoundingly beautiful black heels and felt good about every bit of it.

The lesson here? God knows. Maybe it’s that you can’t try on too many black dresses before you find the right one. Maybe it’s that no one thinks about your arms a sixteenth as much as you do. Maybe it’s that having a Ukrainian woman look you in the eye and basically tell you to get over yourself and stop being such a neurotic lunatic about something like the shape of your arms is a good thing.

I may need to give her a call her once in a while for a reminder.


Pookie said...

I can attest that it was, and is, the most beautiful little black dress I ever saw, that the heels are spectacular and that your arms looked great. It's a great reminder that we should spend less time fretting over the small stuff and more time enjoying the view. Good reminder because, in fact, swimsuit buying season is just around the corner.

renee said...

Well, I need a lot more Eastern European therapy to shop for a bathing suit.

But thanks, honey. The fact is: I couldn't have done it without you.

You're right of course about the rest of it. We are our harshest critics in all ways. From our bodies to our children to our jobs and marriages.

When are we going to quit that?

Anonymous said...

Ah, the arms.

Michelle's are probably better.


renee said...

You're not kidding! Don't think that didn't occur to me as I looked in the mirror.

I'm sure M.O. has a small moment of annoyance at the media from time to time for somehow elevating her arms to some kind of iconic standard of female beauty. And probably at the rest of us for listening.

This seems to have died down a bit, thank god. Just in time for me to buy that dress as it turns out.

Thanks for your comment.