April 27, 2001
Dress Casual


We were halfway to work this morning when I realized something amazing.

"Everything I'm wearing today," I said to David in wonder, "is new." Or relatively new, anyway: it had all been purchased in the last couple of months or so. New red blouse. New "Dress Casual" denim slacks. New sandals. Even my underwear and my jewelry and my knee-hi pantyhose are recent purchases. In fact, the 'oldest' thing I'm wearing today is my engagement ring. That dates all the way back to December.

Furthermore, everything I'm wearing today -- with the exception of the engagement ring -- was purchased by me, FOR me, brand-new ... right off the rack/right out of the catalog/fresh from my grocer's hoisery shelf. 

No ugly gift sweaters, worn out of a sense of obligation. No thrift-store pantsuits, crawling with the DNA of previous owners.

Everything new. I can't remember this ever happening before.

Of course this means that along with pride of ownership  --  and the credit card bills  --  I also *own* responsiblity for how I look today. And since today is the very first time I've ever worn jeans to the Totem Pole Company, 'how I look today' is making me a teeny-tiny bit more anxious than usual. I'm not really a Dress Casual Friday kinda gal anymore. I'm one of those people who subscribes to the theory that it's better to dress at a level slightly above your current position  --  as snooty as that may sound  --  even on Fridays.  Dress for the job you want, they say, not the job you're in now. And for me this means suits, suits and more suits. Suits are no-brainers. They're just hanging there in your closet, ready to go. What could be easier?  (It's sort of like my approach to dieting: the less I have to think about it, the better.) Once in a while I bust out of my rut and wear something a little more daring  --  I leave the jacket at home, for instance, and wear a sweater over my suit skirt  --  but otherwise I pretty much stick to a fairly formal wardrobe routine.

Even on Fridays.

This hasn't always been the case. Five or six years ago, when I was working for the little phone company in TicTac, every day was Dress Casual Day. Jeans and sweaters were my office "uniform." Once in a while  --  if the cute 3M guys were flying in from Minneapolis, for instance  --  I would toss a blazer over the whole mess and call it a "suit." Otherwise I never bothered with pumps or pantyhose or "coordinated" anything. Why should I? I was the lone female working in a tiny office full of telephone technicians. Most of the time the techs were on the road, handling service calls, and I was left sitting in the office alone all day, transcribing my high school journals to floppy disk and photocopying my hands. Why should I bother dressing up for that?

Besides: I was always broke in those days. I couldn't afford new stuff.  (At least, that's what I told myself. Interestingly, I could always seem to "afford" that Saturday night jug of cheap chablis ... but not the occasional new blouse for work.)

Things changed when I went to work at my next two jobs: first, at the doomed TicTac newspaper, and then later at The Knife Factory in Oregon. Both were essentially front desk positions, and I was required to dress the part. This meant skirts and jackets and uncomfortable shoes and absurdly cheerful dresses with cabbage flowers on them. For the first time since seventh grade, the world saw my exposed legs on a semi-regular basis. I was hideously uncomfortable and self-conscious, at first ... but after a while I got the hang of teetering around in high heels. And after a while I started to enjoy the way that dressing up a little bit for work every day made me feel. I was still "broke" most of the time  --  acquiring most of my work wardrobe from the thrift store, or from the "fat clothes" side of my mother's closet (which she couldn't wear anymore) -- but it still felt like a big improvement from my telephone company days.

By the time I landed here in the Bay Area  ...  newly sober, newly employed at the Totem Pole Company, newly *self-actualized* ...  not to mention newly solvent  ... I wanted my outside to match the groovy new way I felt inside. This was especially true once they yanked me off the reception desk and booted me to the top of the Totem Pole to work for Franz. All of a sudden it was very important to me that the way I look the way I feel: successful, healthy, comfortable, happy with my life, happy with myself ... and appropriately dressed, for a change.

And it's sort of been that way ever since.

It's so ironic.

Here I spent all day Tuesday, my unscheduled (and unpublicized) day-off from work, writing about Scary Bridal Shop Lady, and how I still believed that my perfect wedding dress was out there somewhere, just waiting for me to find it, and how I would *know* my special dress, the moment I set eyes on it ...

... and that every same evening: I found it.

It didn't happen exactly the way I predicted. I wasn't in a department store looking for bicycle shorts. I wasn't surfing on the Internet looking for Fast Lane Tea. In fact, I was sitting on the bed, idly flipping through the same stack of bridal magazines I've been flipping through for three months now ... searching, this time, for wedding hairstyle/hairpiece ideas. Up? Or down? Flowers, or small wispy veil, or tasteful pearl headband? (Or can I just wear my Miss Fire Prevention crown?)

And all of a sudden  ... BOOM. There was my dress, right there on Pg. 162 of Brides With Asparagus Magazine.

How the hell had I overlooked it before??

It was perfect. My heart practically stopped beating for a minute, it was so perfect. It met practically all of my most important criteria: it was long, lacy, feminine, romantic ... semi-comfortable-looking ... bridal, but not too bridal ... plus it's available in ivory, which is lots more appropriate than white. It even met criteria I didn't know I had until that moment: i.e., it didn't look like every other wedding dress I've looked at lately. It's a mix of Victorian and country ... sort of Stevie-Nicks-meets-Dale-Rogers.

As if that wasn't enough, they purposely designed the ad to look like a Maxfield Parrish painting: all blues and plums and golds and lissome Victorian women in faux-classical settings. I would probably buy Spandex bicycle shorts if they were advertised this way.

I ripped the page out of the magazine and ran to the kitchen, so excited I was literally jumping up and down. I was dying to show it to David, but first I wanted to try and find more information about the dress on the Internet. I couldn't find prices listed anywhere in the ad, but there was a URL to the designer's website -- martinmccrea.com -- at the bottom of the page. I figured I'd better know exactly how much cheddar we were going to be spreading out here before I showed David the dress.

But both David AND the computer were tied up, working on a Very Important Homework Project. He was wearing that look that says "Please feel free to talk to me about anything! (Even though I won't actually process a word you say for the next forty-five minutes.")  I had to wait patiently while he finished typing the project ... then while he painstakingly proofread it and made corrections ... then while he printed it on the world's slowest Epson printer. When he was finished, finally, I flew to the computer and logged on to the designer's website as fast as my little fingers could type.

The dress wasn't there.

There were lots of other Martin McCrea dresses featured on the site -- all of them very nice, very lovely, very Country Victorian -- but the dress I wanted wasn't there. I figured, OK. It must be part of their spring/summer line, and they just haven't gotten around to updating their website yet. But I still needed to get at least an idea of how much the dress might cost, if for no other reason than so I'd know which credit card to use when I place the order. (The "big" still-recovering-from-Christmas credit card, or the brand-new "baby" credit card?) So I searched the site and found what looked to my eye to be the closest match to *my* dress  --  similar style, similar fabric, similar design details  --  and I clicked on the link to the pricing information.

For the second time in twenty minutes, my heart practically stopped beating.

Eight hundred dollars.

They want eight hundred dollars for this dress. 

That's more than I paid for my first car. (Hell -- that's more than I paid for my LAST car.)  Even worse, that's practically my entire wedding wardrobe budget right there, including my dress, dresses for both of the girls, and some sort of inoffensive *suit configuration* for my fifteen-year-old son. If this *close facsimile* dress is eight hundred dollars, I can only imagine what the real thing  --  the latest version --  must run. If I were a first-time bride,  or if I had a rich Daddy bankrolling a Royal Wedding,  price wouldn't be an issue. But I'm not. I'm a middle-aged/second-time bride trying to make her child support payments every month.

"You had something you wanted to show me?" David said.

"Never mind," I replied. And I quietly bookmarked the site and logged off.

David seemed about as impressed with my "Look! Everything I'm wearing is NEW!" announcement this morning as one might expect from an adorable, useless sack of testosterone.

"That's nice," he said, fiddling with the radio dial. And then he added the automatic "How does that make you feel?" 

David is a big believer in expressing the way things make you "feel." I said that in this case, it made me feel pleased and happy and proud of myself to be wearing new clothes that *I* had purchased with my own money ... even if I was a little concerned about dressing more casually than normal today.

"Hey," he said, "once in a while it's OK to dress down."

He's right, of course. Once in a while it IS OK to dress down. (On days like today, for instance, when I'm going to be moving cardboard boxes from one end of the Totem Pole Company to the other all day long, and then heading directly to downtown San Francisco for a Giants game after work.) Once in a while it's OK to relax your standards and throw caution to the winds and pull the grubbies out of the back of the closet ... even if your "grubbies" still have the price tags dangling from the sleeve. And once in a while it's OK to wear something that might not have been your first choice for the occasion.

I just haven't decided whether or not our wedding should be one of those "once in a whiles."

Things are still a little dicey on the homefront ... at least as far as the wedding preparations go.

David knows how upset I was yesterday, I think. He called me once, in the middle of the day -- ostensibly just to say hello -- but I know that what he was really doing was testing the emotional waters. 

"Is everything alright?" he asked cautiously. 

I was pleasant ... calm ... not chilly, but not overly warm, either. "We have a lot of things we need to discuss," I said, and I left it at that.

OK, he said meekly.

This morning we talked a little bit as we were getting ready for work. Usually I know better than to try and initiate any sort of important dialogue with him in the morning -- especially before he's weighed himself and had his shower and uploaded at least three ounces of caffeine into his operating system -- but this is one of those situations that could easily spin out of control if we don't address it now. And I don't want to spend the next 87 days feeling as angry and unsupported in the wedding preparation process as I have the past couple of days.

Here are the things we still need to figure out, I said. And I rattled off the list. Rental car. Two nights' worth of pre-wedding hotel in TicTac. A suit for David. A dress for Terri. Tot clothes. License. Wedding rings. Photographer. Wedding mix tape. Etc. etc. etc. Plus, I said, we absolutely need to know who from his family is going to be attending. He sat there and listened to everything I had to say, and he nodded, and when I was done reciting the list he made some suggestions about how we can pay for some of this stuff  --  good, practical suggestions that made a lot of of sense  --  and he promised that he would talk to all of his key friends and family members this weekend and pin them down, once and for all. I went to work feeling more relaxed  --  and more optimistic, and more excited  --  about the wedding than I've felt in days.

There are still more questions than answers at this point, of course. But just talking about it was a step in the right direction.

Plus we still have decisions to make. And for me, one of the more critical decisions I'll have to muddle over, the next couple of weeks, is whether I should fork over four times my original budget on the wedding dress of my dreams.

Or whether I should just Dress Casual.

one year ago: tonsils my ass

throw a rock