I am sick. Sick with shopping. Those of you who are similarly afflicted understand. Those of you aren’t, well, maybe you can relate in some other way. Perhaps drugs or alcohol is your particular thing. My particular thing is clothes. My mother is ill, as was her mother before her. My aunt is unwell, too. All of us, sick.
I tell you this because last night on my way home from work, I decided to swing by Century 21 downtown. It’s unfortunate/fortunate that I’ve learned that there is 7 o’clock parking right there (and that everyone who works in the Financial District gets the hell out of Dodge as soon as work lets out), so there are plus de spots for the taking. (It is also worth noting that it could not have been colder last night, and there is no windier place in New York City than the Financial District. This sickness, it knows no bounds.)
In the warmth of Century 21, bustling with European tourists even at this late hour, I browsed and browsed and tried in vain to find something, anything, to scratch that itch, to calm that voice in my head urging, “Buy something, anything.” Only $17,000 Lanvin coats marked down to $6,000 and shop-worn Ports 1961 sweaters that I could perhaps talk myself into liking remained. And then.
It beckoned to me as I made my way toward the down elevator, resigned to go home, heat up a sweet potato, bid adieu to Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy forever and call it a night. A shimmering Galliano dress. It makes sense that it had escaped my attention on the first lap. I was so used to bypassing the Galliano rack, my (big Jewish) nose perched high in the air, an “I don’t fucking think so” floating above me in an invisible thought bubble.
The forgiveness had come only recently. I’m typically an up-with-anger grudge-holder; I come from a family that would never buy a German car, and I was trained by 8 to understand that Nestle was responsible for the death of poor, defenseless Indian babies. But in my old age, I believe in forgiveness, that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that they can change. I think Galliano’s shown a bit of contrition and humility in ways that other people who have been publicly awful haven’t (cough, Chris Brown, cough) and so, okay. I decided I would look at his dress. (YOU’RE WELCOME, JOHN GALLIANO.)
This dress. It was so beautiful. (You can’t tell from the photo, but it is the prettiest thing on the planet that has ever existed ever.) It was the only one, and it was my size. So I tried it on. And it fit. But. It was a little short. And could have been a little looser. There were lots of little things it could have been. (AND there was a small tear in the lace by the neck.) But I loved it. I lovedlovedloved it. And in the comfort of my tiny dressing room, beneath the glaring fluorescent lights, I was able to tell myself that I looked pretty in it. That the sleeves were cut so as to accentuate my muscular arms. And that the black lace tiers were a high-fashion take on the frocks I used to wear to bat mitzvahs in the ’90s. But then there were the bad angles. And the realization that there would be people outside the comfort of my dressing room, people who might look at me. Ultimately, of course, there was the price. Originally, the dress was A MILLION DOLLARS. (Not really, but close.) Suffice it to say, it had been marked down a great deal, but it was still more than I felt comfortable paying. (I’m pretty sure I heard my wallet groan when I plucked it off the rack.) And so I left it. (Well, I rushed out of the fitting room and thrust it at the attendant before I could reconsider.) I was proud of myself. But I was also sad.
I’ve never been a drug addict or an alcoholic, but I am quite sure that whatever pleasure centers light up when a junkie gets a fix are the same ones that light up for me when I buy something new. It’s always the same: I get excited about whatever I’ve found. I buy it. My excitement fades. Then I buy something else. And so on and so forth.
And so in leaving the dress I was reacting to that awareness of my pattern, that knowledge of my repetitions and the comfort that this too would pass (the same way last weekend’s obsession with this amazing Rebecca Taylor gown that is sold out everywhere but for the token size 4’s has faded). I put it out of my mind. I was being financially responsible. I was being a grown-up.
Or, I tried to be one. Here’s the thing. The dress did not look perfect on me. Few things do. But I love clothes. And somehow by the grace of god I am able to overlook my flaws and wear things that might not flatter my weird body but that for better or worse I love and have the confidence to wear. And I am fucking GRATEFUL for that. So this Galliano dress meant my midriff, but for a sheer panel of lace, would be naked. It meant I’d be wearing a shorter skirt than I am typically comfortable with. It meant that the person taking home this dress would probably not be the person Signor Galliano had had in mind when he was draping it on a mannequin. All I know is that when I sucked in my cheeks and struck a pose in the dressing room, I felt like fucking Madonna circa 1987, which is pretty much the pinnacle of everything and meant I simply could not not have it.
And so after work on Friday night, when my only plan was to come home, order sushi and drink enough wine that I could spectacularly pass out after Dateline, I found myself back at Century 21. There was my dress, hanging on the rack, waiting for me. And there I was in the fitting room, reasoning that I could wear it to my dear friends Maura and Roy’s wedding this year, where many of the Indian women in attendance would have their bellies fully exposed, not even covered by a sheer strip of Italian lace. And there I was at the cashier, persuading the manager to give me 10% off for the tear. (She did, though not before telling me in a tone I felt accusatory that I could not return it, not to this location, not to any of the others, as if I had ripped the dress myself and was now trying to eke out some small discount. “Why are you talking to me like that?” I snapped at her. “Like I’m trying to pull a fast one.” Oh my god, PULL A FAST ONE. I become one of the Three Stooges when faced with fashion adversity, apparently.)
Anyway. I bought the dress. Ta-da! And it makes me so happy. I believe fashion is the kind of art I can get down with and I thank my lucky stars that despite what could easily devolve for me into a kind of self-hatred at not living up to the very difficult standards set by the fashion world I adore and the as-difficult standards set by my city, which I adore even more, I have never once considered relegating myself to a life of baggy sweats and nondescript tees. I can’t even imagine it. (But so help me, if I hear one Hitler peep out of John Galliano, this dress will find its way to Butter consignment—or better yet, the trash—faster than you can say something clever that I can’t think of right now because it’s been a really long week and I’m tired and have had some wine.
So yeah. I bought a dress. And I love it. And I hope you all go out and buy yourself a dress (or a book or a microbrew or a ticket to a show or whatever it is that makes you giddy and gleeful), too.