On Finding the Perfect Dress

Last week you asked how you would know that you’ve found the perfect dress, and when that was going to happen. I have given this a great deal of thought would like to share my experience with you.

The first dress I ever tried on was at my eighteenth birthday party. It was the worst dress you could imagine. I thought I liked the dress, but in the end, the zipper ripped wide open and, after trying to fix it back up, I ended up spending the rest of the party with the back of it caught in my pantyhose, feeling exposed, confused, and humiliated.

Most women, I think, would never want to wear a dress again after that. Understandably.

But I went out and tried on every dress I could, looking for the perfect dress, one so perfect that it would make up for that first disaster of a wardrobe failure. Most had one or two obvious flaws the moment I pulled them on. Some dresses were a decent fit. Some were even a little fun to wear. (A couple I never should have even thought about, you know, way too short and low cut, but exciting and liberating, but not ones you’d wear in front of your mother, if you know what I mean.) I remember two that were pretty good fits. I wore each of them for quite a while before I grew up a little, and they just didn’t suit me anymore. Nothing really wrong with the dresses. They just weren’t my style anymore.

Finally I started thinking that I was getting tired of shopping. I was tired of trying on any old dress and hoping for the best. I wanted one dress that I could wear for the rest of my life. One that wouldn’t go out of style and would stretch or shrink to fit and as my body would change over the years. One that I could wear anywhere! One that everyone loved. One that I never had to worry about losing or damaging.

That’s a lot to ask of one dress. But I decided I wasn’t going to settle for just any old dress. In fact, I decided to change the way I shopped. I stopped rifling through racks of dresses on sale. I made a list – and stopped wasting my time trying on dresses that didn’t match it. I would choose a dress, examine it closely, and, at the first sign that it didn’t meet the requirements on my list, I got rid of it.

The list was the key. I actually wrote down all of details I wanted in the perfect dress. It had to be just the right length, exactly to my knee, no longer or shorter. The sleeves had to feel just right, snug, but not too tight, bending easily with my arms, but sliding back into place when I straightened up. The neckline had to scoop ever so slightly, covering me properly, but allowing a little cleavage if I bent forward just the right way. It had to make me look good. I wanted to feel comfortable, pretty, sexy, confident, powerful, compassionate, uplifted, and invincible in this dress. It had to have exactly three gold buttons on the bodice, and the waist had to be cinched exactly right, with elastic so I could wear it to a big turkey dinner. I wanted a dress that I could wear to church and to a nightclub, one that I could wear big, white, cotton panties or a tiny, black, lace thong under – and feel just as great either way.

Most of all, my friends and family had to fall in love with this dress. I decided that would be my test. If the people I loved, who I knew loved me, didn’t love the dress, then I would trust their judgment and listen to them. After all, they could see how the dress looked from all sides. I could look in the mirror, but that would still be a backwards view. And they could see the dress when I wasn’t paying attention to it, when I wasn’t looking. And if they thought it made me look too hippy, then I would value their caring, loving concern more than a beautiful dress with a big snag in the fabric.

Every dress I chose after that had to measure up against my list. For years, no dress lasted longer than a few weeks. As soon as it failed my list test, I got rid of it. I was much choosier about the dresses I looked at, and, I’ll admit, I did try on a couple just for fun.

But mostly, I took a lot of time to go through the wardrobe I already had. I found a pair of old comfortable jeans that I hadn’t worn in ages in the back of a closet and learned to love them again. I learned that the clothes I already had were in good shape. There were some that I had bought for work, some for play, a bathing suit I had taken on a trip south. I found some work out clothes and started using them again. I found a twenty-dollar bill in the pocket of a winter coat. The stuff in my closet was good stuff. It was my stuff. I took the time to go through it, clean it all, rearrange it all, and enjoy it all again. I had ignored all of my favourite clothes while I hunted for the perfect dress. I learned that I could feel good in jeans and a sweater. I could conquer the world in my pajamas. I even got to the point where I was proud of myself buck-naked!

That’s when it happened. Just like that. There it was – the perfect dress.

It wasn’t a new dress. It wasn’t a new style. It was a dress that I had seen and not bothered with over and over again through the years; I had never thought of it as one that I would like. But suddenly, the dress looked different. Actually, I was looking at the dress differently. Suddenly, I could see the buttons I hadn’t noticed before. It didn’t look like any dress I had ever tried on before, but now, the look appealed to me. I watched the dress in the window for a long time. I went into the store over and over again, checking it out, wondering why I never really looked at this one before. It was a long time before I actually tried it on. I had never bothered to really consider a dress before trying it on before that, but suddenly it mattered to me that if I were going to even try this one on, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to split a seam, or catch the zipper in my hair. This dress really mattered to me.

The day I decided that this was the dress I was going to buy, was only two weeks after I first laid new eyes on it. It took six months to save up the money, but when I bought the dress, I knew I would never buy another one. I showed it to my friends and family. They loved it instantly and knew it was perfect for me. This dress matched every detail on my list.

I have worn that dress for almost seventeen years now. I have admired other dresses; some are just pretty to look at. But the thought of ever trying on another one has never crossed my mind. This dress makes me a better person. There are perks to wearing this dress that I never even thought of. I didn’t know that it had some extra elastic through the middle to help support me when I’m tired. I didn’t know that it would keep me warm. I didn’t know there was extra padding in the shoulders to absorb the odd tear. I didn’t know that it would make me look taller.

The dress does have a couple of problems. The zipper snags a little once in a while. And the tag can drive me crazy. I didn’t put that on my list: that the tag can’t scratch. If I had to make a list again, I might add that.

But all in all, I have never regretted choosing this dress. It has a couple of stains I can’t get out, and the elbows are a little worn. And even though I could wear this dress anywhere, every once in a while it’s okay to just throw on an old pair of jeans and go for a walk by myself. When I get back, it’s always good to put my favourite dress back on.

I told you last week that if anything ever happened to my dress, I wouldn’t likely ever buy another one. Don’t get me wrong; I love my dress and I’m thankful every day for finding it. It’s just that I can’t imagine ever finding another one that fits so perfectly. No dress will ever be able to compare to this one.

Happy shopping.

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