I wanted the dresses to work, these fancy pin-up ultra bombshell retro dresses that celebrate a woman’s curves.
The sales woman had spent the better part of an hour helping me try things on, running around her boutique selecting pretty frilly dresses for me that I would never choose in a thousand years.
“You won’t know unless you try it on,” she encouraged. “Try something new. You just might see how fabulous it looks on you.”
I love small businesses. She was so attentive and warm-hearted. I could not resist her enthusiasm and soon found myself at the register spending more on two dresses and the requisite accessories then what I normally spend in an entire year on clothing. I am not one of those women with an overfull closet. I am a t-shirt and jeans kind of woman, but being newly divorced and in my own home inspired me to venture out in the world of fashion and attempt to up my game, as it were.
“You’re worth it,” she gushed as my face betrayed dismay at the cash register tally. “It’s a new you and a new life, and you deserve it.”
Damn right it’s a new me and I deserve it, I mantra’ed back at her. Ignoring the trepidation of spending so much (and on dresses of all things!) I ponied up my credit card and threw caution to the Northwest summer wind that was gusting up outside.
Later at home I unpacked the frilly clothing and carefully dressed myself, struggling with the back zipper as the front of dress number one crushed against my curvy bosom. But I did it, nearly pulled a muscle contorting my arm, but I did it and felt strangely proud of myself for this ordinary feat, of putting on a garment with a back zipper all on by myself. For nearly thirty years I had a life partner to help zip me up. It was the little daily things like this that caused my confidence as an independent single woman to soar.
I could zip myself up, thankyouverymuch.
I sauntered to the full-length mirror to admire myself in my new dress, but instead of encountering the new me I stared at the reflection of someone I did not know.
What the fuck?
This looked so much better on me at the store. Did she have trick mirrors ?
I swirled and twirled and tried to make nice with the reflection staring back at me.
I looked like a cupcake. A weird, fluffy cupcake of a woman with a puffed-up dress that exploded like an ill-fitting junior high prom dress. I felt all out of whack. This is not who I am, I finally whispered to the reflection. Not by a long shot. This is not who I am.
Less than a week later I was back at the boutique to return every single item. I knew the shopkeeper would take it hard as she was a small business owner and having talked to her before I knew that sales had been in a slump. My codependent tendencies meant that I could become overly concerned with her feelings instead of paying attention to my own. I took a deep breath as I entered her shop.
She was professional about it, though I could feel her tension simmering beneath the veneer of customer service. I explained ever-so-graciously for I was raised by a Southern woman and Southern women are experts at gracious explanations, that I had hoped so much that these dresses were right for me, but alas, they were not.
‘I need to be true to who I am,” I said in an attempt to win her as an ally in my commitment to personal integrity. These dresses were not just about fashion, but really about self-expression. As petty as it all seemed, at the end of the day I did need to be authentic to how I adorn my body, and these dresses felt completely out of step with who I was discovering my self to be.
“Well, you’re just not ready,” she said. “When you’re ready, you’ll be back.”
She smiled at me. I smiled back. Her tension still at a simmering point. My own tension was beginning to heat up as I realized just what she was saying.
It became a moment for me, you know, one of those moments where a decision is made whether or not to speak up for yourself or just let it go. Plenty of times wisdom dictates, Just let it go. But not this time. I could not just let this go. Her jab had gone after the heart of my womanliness. I wasn’t about to let that go.
“It has nothing to do with me being ready or not,” I said. “It is about me and who I am and how I express myself. These dresses are not right for me. That’s all….”
Of course, of course, she demurred back with false pretense that was so thick I could have buttered my toast with it.
“I’m no less feminine or less of a woman without these dresses,” I continued with a hint of preach in my voice. ‘I’ve got to be true to me.”
Yes, yes, she agreed. We made no eye contact.
Do you smoke? she suddenly asked as she sniffed one of the dresses.
No, I do not, is there an issue?
No, no… she said. I thought I smelled smoke, but it’s ok. It’s fine.
With everything returned and my account settled, I could not leave the shop quick enough.
I breathed a sigh of relief once sheltered behind the wheel of my car. It wasn’t just about getting a refund and returning wrong-for-me frocks that made me look and feel like a puffball amped up on steroids. I had to push back on the lie that I was Not Quite Comfortable Enough in my Femininity to wear one of these dresses. That I had to somehow get more in touch with my womanliness, that a sign of being comfortable in my curvy female body would mean being comfortable in her dressy dresses.
Not gonna drink that koolaid.
I shopped other places and found boutiques that offered eclectic style choices that were more my jam. I have never felt or radiated more womanliness in all my life as I have flourished in the womanly art of expressing my curvy-liscious Self as it pleases me. And I can do that without looking like a frosted vanilla cupcake.