It all started with a single invitation to a Bar Mitzvah.
For the uninitiated, a Bar Mitzvah is the Jewish celebration of a boy turning 13. He gets called to the Bimah (the Jewish version of the Christian altar) and reads from the Torah (the Jewish book of biblical stories and rules for living). But for those of us whose children are not being called to read from the Torah, it’s all about the “what to wear”. Well, for me, at least, it is.
Ah, what to wear, what to wear. It’s a nighttime event, but not black tie. This makes it soooo much harder. With a black tie event, the “what to wear” is blessedly simple and formulaic, again, at least for me: long and/or sparkly dress, strappy heels, updo, done. But with a non-black-tie event, well….what to wear? This is the point where I start fantasizing about having a stylist. Which leads to fantasizing about having my own personal assistant. And a sewing room. And a closet the size of my bedroom because then I might actually be able to see the clothes that I already have, which might actually resolve the whole “what to wear” thing…
Except for the fact that it wouldn’t. Because the truth is, somehow, somewhere along the line, I’ve been conditioned to expect that an invitation to a party is an invitation to shop, that the simple act of opening up a large, calligraphied envelope will, nay, must, lead to the acquisition of a new outfit. This knee-jerk compulsion may be intensified by the fact that my day-to-day lifestyle leaves me with hardly any chance to wear anything but yoga pants and a wrap-sweater. No matter how much I wish that I could pop home from yoga practice each morning, shimmy into a pair of skinny jeans paired with a pair of platform pumps (it’s New York City, so all you ever really see in the winter is the outerwear and the shoes) and pop out the door to walk my dog, run my errands, pick up my kids and walk them to wherever it is that they need to go that day, well, how realistic is that? Skinny jeans, okay. I can do that, and sometimes I do. But platform pumps? I remember a girl who used to walk around pushing her baby carriage in a pair of high-heeled pumps; whenever I saw her, she was wearing the pumps. Other moms in the neighborhood, including myself, took to calling her “Pumps”. When we learned that her name was Cheryl, she became “Cheryl Pumps”. I haven’t seen Cheryl Pumps in many years. I think she moved out of the city. My point is: I don’t want to be the second coming of Cheryl Pumps. I’m just not gonna be that girl.
But in theory, I really, really like to dress up. And I really, really like to be “fabulous” once in a while.
(Okay, before I continue, I think that I need to issue a warning: hard-core yogis who find it distasteful to witness unbridled vanity, please look away now.)
And, shhhhhhhhhh……sometimes, every once in a while, I really, really like to imagine, if only for one crazy, shameful moment, that I am not only fabulous, but the MOST fabulous woman in the room. This is especially true when we are talking about a room filled with friends whose knowledge of me dates back to the late 80’s, when I was younger and sillier and growing out a perm (think Molly Ringwald in Sixteen Candles). These are friends who were with me when I was learning to ski, wearing a pair of stretchy black stirrup pants and a shiny purple cropped jacket (picture Mariah Carey, circa this year). Friends who were with me on the “wedding circuit” circa thirteen years ago, when we all looked fabulous just because we were twenty-something, and who doesn’t look fabulous at twenty-something? Friends who were with me when when I was pregnant and as gigantic as a Volkswagen turned over on its side and friends who saw me at a party a month after I finished chemo and was twenty pounds heavier than everyone remembered and missing my eyebrows and most of my eyelashes.
It’s never been the men I’ve wanted to dress up for. It’s always been the friends. And most of my friends would say the same thing. We want to look good for each other and we want to tell each other how good we look, and then, the most important thing, we want to hear how good we look.
So, what to wear when you realize that your closet has become a museum of once-worshipped-now-abandoned apparel and that your actual wardrobe fits, by and large, into a single drawer in your dresser?
Back in the days of yore, a suit would have been an excellent call for any non-black-tie party. All throughout the 90’s, my non-work “uniform” was a pair of jeans or black slacks paired with a blazer. My blazers were, of course, pilfered from my work suits. As such, the only suits I would ever consider buying were fashionable enough so that I wouldn’t mind borrowing the jackets for my non-work “outfits”. For me, the first requirement for “fashionable enough” was that it had to be capable of standing alone. In other words, it had to be cut so that I didn’t need to wear a blouse underneath. Wearing a blouse under a button-down ANYTHING was and remains an absolute non-starter for me. I can’t stand the feeling of fabric bunching under fabric. (If I were a celeb, I assume that sooner or later, I too would be photographed without my panties.)
I still have a few suits hanging around in my closet from my days of having a day job. Whenever I see them hanging there, I feel kind of guilty, as if they’re lonely, waiting to be worn again, disappointed that they’re never chosen. Eventually, I couldn’t tolerate the longing looks coming from the poor neglected suits a moment longer. I wanted to free them to be worn by someone else. I wanted them to have a more loving home. And so, kept just three, and I chose those three only because I occasionally wore them or parts of them, and I occasionally wore them or parts of them only because I still considered them to be relatively edgy and cool.
There was the chocolate-brown, stretch nylon, form-fitting Cynthia Steffe belted skirt suit, the jacket deconstructed with burnt-orange thread outlining two front pockets at the hips. And there were the TeenFlos, two of them, each barely on the border of edgy even back in the day. But I kept them because TeenFlo is (or was) such an awesomely cool designer, and I was proud to even be able to FIT into TeenFlo, built as it is (or was – I have no idea if TeenFlo still exists) for the teen set. And the clincher: the jacket of each suit was incredibly, awesomely, exaggeratedly long. One of the TeenFlos – a stretch-nylon (see a pattern here?) black shift dress with a matching loooooong, almost militaristically buttoned up jacket – has gotten quite a bit of play in the post-lawyer years. But mainly it’s the jacket that gets the wear. The dress, not so much. The other – an ivory stretch-nylon skirt suit that actually DOES require at least a tank top (in the days of yore, a “shell”) under the jacket – has been relegated to, well, I guess I never really wear it anymore, and soon I should just face it and send it off to Dress For Success or some such charity (I knew I should never have relaxed my “stand alone” rule).
But I digress. The point is that these were very cool outfits….a very long time ago. Somewhere in the intervening years, the “suit” as anything but staid officewear has apparently disappeared from the fashion landscape. I know! It sounds like crazy talk. Or at least it does to me. But imagine my surprise when I checked out the online fashion and shopping websites that I occasionally peruse and found nary a suit in sight. Even my beloved Bluefly.com has removed “suits” from its categories, altogether. Which is to say that I no longer have any desire to wear the Cynthia Steffe or the TeenFlos. No matter how much I liked them in the past. Right now, they make me feel old and “out of it”. Apparently, I’ve been asleep for 15 years or so. Like Rip Van Winkle, I woke up and found myself clueless.
And so, with all of my justifications and rationalizations nailed down, I set out to find a cocktail dress for the Bar Mitzvah. And for me, that meant, not hitting the stores, but hitting the keys. Of my computer. Something that you probably don’t know about me unless you’ve known me in person over the years is that I actually despise in-person shopping. About 10 years ago, I discovered Bluefly, and I have been ordering my clothing online ever since. Why do I do this? Because it is much more satisfying for me to see a dress, a shirt or a pair of jeans on a model or a mannequin than it is to see it on a hanger. Perhaps I am simply lacking in imagination, but I can’t get excited about a piece of clothing that’s just hanging there. Although I have never attended a “trunk shows (the ready-to-wear version of a fashion show, where models parade about, showing you what the clothing looks like ON), I totally understand why some women go to. Why make yourself dizzy going through racks of clothing upon racks of clothing, in store upon store, when you can sit on your butt and watch the dresses modeled for you, albeit virtually, in my case.
And if you don’t like what you get? You pop it back in the box and send it back on its way. Sure, you pay for the shipping sometimes (depends on the online merchant), but if it weren’t the shipping, it would be the taxi, or the gasoline, or the parking ticket. It’s quite indulgent really, without actually indulging: with Bluefly, you can keep the clothes for 90 days while you decide if you’re on board with your purchase.
In this case, it took one try. I’m quite adept at knowing my size and what might look good on me. I chose a dress from Elie Tahari in a gorgeous wine-colored silk satin, with a wrapped front and a forgiving waistline:
Unfortunately, the beautiful little cranberry dress begged the question: what shoes? I must have somewhere in the vicinity of 60 pairs of shoes in my closet/dogpound of doomed clothing, the vast majority being black or brown, the vast majority of those being shoes I used to wear at the office when I worked as a lawyer, and the rest being big clunky shoes that I feel comfortable walking around the city in, in the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed. In other words, what shoes? Nothing that I owned quite “made sense” with the little dress. And I wasn’t about to return the dress.
And so I searched for the perfect pair of shoes. This particular search was not so easy. I didn’t want anything wine or cranberry or maroon: too bridesmaid-matchy-matchy. I wasn’t about to buy a pair of black shoes: to much of a letdown to buy another version of something I of which I aleady own so many versions. I wanted high heels, but I wanted to be able to walk around. In other words, no stilettos. I wanted something that matched the luxury of a silk, sleeveless dress. But I didn’t want something that brought the level up to anything approaching black tie.
My online search proved fruitless, although I was determined to keep trying. Nevertheless, I ended up finding the shoes in a neighborhood boutique. I was just walking by, and there they were in the window, designated “NEW! Resort 2007!”: metallic gold, peep toe sandals on a platform with a four-inch medium-thick heel. I tried them on, loved them, paid for them. I can’t even find a photo of them because they’re so new that even the designer doesn’t have a photo of them on his site. But they’re kind of like this (except they’ve got a sling back, and they’re a pale gold, as opposed to the bronze pictured here):
Now I find out that later the same month, I have a daytime Bar Mitzvah.
What does one wear to THAT?