Strangers in the night

I just went shopping and now I am so traumatized. I planned to make a morning of it, and run fun errands afterward (like go to Soolip to get more thank-you cards), but instead I left Third Street with forty-one minutes on my meter and came home to blog and call Jackie, all because I am in shock at what happened at a store called Ethel.

Oh, the whole situation is so ridiculous. You may think I’m ridiculous, too, after you hear it, but I have to tell it.

I originally set out to check out the sample sale at Built by Wendy, but it turned out Built by Wendy isn’t really my aesthetic. So I kept going walking down the street, but most of the shops didn’t open till noon. I finally wound up in Ethel. It’s one of these posh shops where you have to ring a bell and they buzz you in, and they have sofas and armchairs and the whole place just feels pretty and chic before you’ve even looked at the clothes.

I had been there about five minutes when I saw it, hanging on a rack: The Perfect Dress. It was the perfect style, the perfect color. There were only two of them there. The first one was much too small, like everything else on that rack had been. Not daring to hope, I peeked at the second dress’ tag. I knew then that fate had meant us for each other, for it was my size. I almost didn’t bother to check the price tag before I went to the fitting room. After all, when the universe speaks, one must listen, and the universe had certainly spoken in this case. But habit won out and I did look. Four hundred twenty-eight dollars. I knew I couldn’t pay that much. But I also knew I had to try it on.

In the fitting room I drew off my clothing and carefully removed the dress from its hanger, first the sheer plum gauze overdress, then the grey silk underslip. Then I put it on, stepping into the slip, shaking the dress over my shoulders, then zipping the side zipper. The whole time, I was hoping it wouldn’t fit, so I wouldn’t have to make that decision whether to buy it. I wanted it to make me look fat, I wanted the fit to be wrong, the color to not suit me, but even as I hoped I knew it was in vain. It fit perfectly. I’ve never worn a dress that fit me so well. The neckline, the arms, the bust, the waist, even the length were just right. The color and cut were flattering. It was comfortable. And it was $428. I gazed at myself, then opened the fitting-room curtain and looked at myself some more in better light, then I went out to the main area and looked in the big mirror there. Alas, from every angle and in every light, it still looked perfect. It looked like it had been made for me.

I stood transfixed in front of the big mirror. I didn’t know what to do. In fact, the dress was on sale, but even at 40% off the price was too much. Last month Erik and I decided our budget and allotted me $250 a month for clothing. That amount would just about have covered the dress, but I just couldn’t justify it to myself. If it had been a perfect pair of shoes, a perfect handbag, a perfect jacket, jeans, anything, I would have bought it without hesitation. But this dress…

I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my whole month’s clothing budget on this dress. It was perfect, by itself and on me, but it would not be perfect for very many occasions. Too refined for a casual dinner out, too lightweight for a formal event, it would be tricky to know when to wear it. I tried to convince myself that if only I had a wedding or something coming up that I could wear it to, I could justify it, but in my heart of hearts I knew that wasn’t really true. It would still be a tough look to pull off. Moreover, while it didn’t actually make me look pregnant, the full length and the empire waist gave a sort of aura of pregnancy. The dress was too refined, and my lifestyle is not. I could just imagine us going out to dinner: Erik in his usual sort of clothes, and me in a sheer plum cotton gauze empire-waisted floor-length dress with beautiful detailing. It would just be wrong. It wasn’t really the actual price of the dress that was the problem, it was how little wear I would get out of it. So I handed it back to the shop girl and walked away, quickly, the several blocks back to my car, got in, and drove away.

Not buying the dress was the smart thing to do. I know it was. But I’m still traumatized. It’s a silly sort of comparison, but imagine: you meet the perfect man. He is tall, slender but muscular, he knows how to dress, he has beautiful hair, he smiles at you in a way that makes you melt. You start talking and within minutes you realize he is everything you have ever wanted in a man. But something happens; you learn something, one fact so completely irreconciliable that you know it will never work. Maybe he’s on his way to serve a life term in prison. Maybe he has just married your favorite aunt, and even though you know he doesn’t really love her, she is like a mother to you and you would kill yourself before you hurt her. Worse: maybe he has just married your favorite sister. Or maybe he is simply a Montague and you are a Capulet. Whatever the reason, the two of you can never be. So you turn away before you can schedule a date. You say goodbye before you even start.

I made a smart decision, a decision from my brain and not my heart… since my heart still wants that dress with all its might. It was so perfect for me, but the circumstances were just wrong. So, I am traumatized and I have had it with shopping for today and I don’t know what I will do with myself for the rest of the afternoon.

I need some lunch.

Because I know you’ll want to see what it looks like, and I didn’t have a camera on me and I can’t find a photo online, here is my quick sketch of it. Of course I don’t look like that, and the dress doesn’t quite look like that either — the color isn’t right and the silhouette isn’t exactly right, and I’ve never known how to render sheer things in drawings — but now you get some sense of it. Imagine a lightweight sheer cotton in a beautiful plum color with textured detailing, and imagine it wrapped around my body, and you’ll get the idea.

 [I’m scandalized, but the original image is gone and I can’t find it saved anywhere!]

Possibly, when Erik gets back in town on Saturday, we will go look at it together… ? So I can get a second opinion.

[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at]