Sunday, June 04, 2006

Those Girls Are Such a Bad Influence, Part II

I am not a label whore.

In fact, I'm pretty close to exactly the opposite. I am the least brand-loyal person I know. I don't stick to the same toothpaste (unimaginable for Hulio!)-- I buy whatever's on sale and/or I have a coupon for. Over the years I've learned to avoid certain labels and brands because of previous bad experiences, and there are certain brands that I will keep an eye out for because I've had good experiences, but for the most part, I buy things that I like because they look good or smell good or taste good or whatever.

This goes double for clothing. Maybe triple. I buy almost everything I own from second hand shops or off the end-of-season clearance racks. And over the years I've gotten very, very good at finding things. Things that no one would believe came from the Salvation Army. Name brand clothing, sometimes brand new with the tags still attached, can be found if you can take two hours to carefully comb the racks at Goodwill. And if you pick up a handful of mending techniques, the AmVets world is your oyster.

The habit was born partly from thrift and partly from personal convictions about consumerism. I like nice things, but I don't like the way that we, as a culture, tend to place far too much importance on material belongings, creating unrealistic expectations as to what we "should" have or be, so that millions of people are dissatisfied with what they have, always searching for something more, maybe even to the detriment of their long term financial health. I know because I've fallen prey to it myself on more than one occasion, and because I have friends and acquaintances who have dug themselves holes that they will never get out of, financially. Me, I mortgaged my future on education, but that doesn't make my insane debt level somehow better, or make me any wiser, because who knows what path I might have taken had I not started accumulating student loans at an alarming rate? I mean, we are talking about someone who had no qualms whatsoever about putting a study abroad program on her credit card, on the theory that she'd rather have a lifetime of memories and a boatload of debt than a zero balance on the credit card and a lifetime of regret for not taking an opportunity that most likely will not come along again. Powers of rationalization that sharp could just as easily be used for evil. And really, once your student debt flirts with six digits, you're really gambling on your future, not investing in it. Will I be able to make the payments? Will I be able to eat and pay rent if I do? Will I spend the rest of my life worried about my finances? OH, THE SUSPENSE!

So we come to the Ann Taylor dress.

I had a wedding to attend this weekend. After my family took off on Monday, I pulled my dresses out of the closet. Since starting law school, my body shape has changed somewhat drastically. I was a size 8 when I started, raced up to a size 12 or so by the end of my 1L year, thanks to the many hours sitting on my butt studying and the many large meals cooked for me by my ex-boyfriend, then promptly dropped over 40 lbs. in grief last summer, then started running four or five days a week to get over the anger and frustration, hitting a size 2 for a short while, and now that I am happy, eating too much, and running about three times a week, plus sitting on my butt for lots of bar study, I've stabilized out around a size 4 or 6, depending on the cut of the clothes. This is important because, while I've got plenty of jeans and cute tops and even a handful of skirts in the proper sizes, my dressier wardrobe is nearly all from the pre-weight loss era. My complete inventory of dresses?

1. Black clingy dress. Very low cut. I had to put a little stich in it to keep from flashing random people. It is delicious, but a bit much for a wedding, if you ask me. Plus, I feel weird about wearing black to a wedding.

2. Sparkly blue shift dress with spaghetti straps. It's not sequined or anything, but it has an overlay of flowers that are small and glittery. It was, however, far too tight in the breast area, having been bought when I was a lithe 24 year old who waitressed her way to an insanely low BMI. "The Girls" were in pain and kept trying to escape their prison.

3. The Perfect Black Dress. It's very simple, with very clean lines and a scoopy neckline. Along the top of the dress there are three silver rosebuds. It is beautiful. It is also very, very short. I was excited that it fits again, because it is so very versatile. BUT. It is so very short. I could get away with that when I was 22 (which is when I bought that dress), but I felt plenty silly wearing it at 30. I have not been able to put it into the Goodwill box yet, but that's only because I am still coming to terms with losing the Perfect Black Dress.

4. Long sleeved wrap dress. It has a lovely black, red, and white pattern, and is cut in a very flattering and forgiving pattern fashioned from a very flattering and forviving fabric. I was able to wear this dress when I was a size 12, and now I can wear it by rewrapping it and pulling the ties tighter. I love this dress, and had this wedding been in November or March, the dress dilemma would be over. However, it is far too warm to contemplate wearing long sleeves.

Obviously, I had a problem.

In addition to not being a label whore, I am also not a trendy kind of gal. I like clean, classic lines with small touches added here and there in a nod to the current trends. I also do not have a lot of money to spend on something that I will only wear once or twice. So when it comes to things like dressy dresses, I tend to spend a little more money, but in exchange for that, I want something that I can wear for several years-- as demonstrated by the fact that I have dresses in my closet that are eight years old and still being worn, however seldom the occasion arises. So my criteria were:

1. Pretty. (I thought Hulio was going to punch me when I said this out loud to her.)

2. Not trendy in cut or color. Because it is going to be part of my wardrobe for the next several years, I expect.

3. Not white or black-- although the right combination of these colors would have been acceptable.

4. Not terribly expensive since I have no income and am in debt so far over my eyeballs it makes me a little sick to think about it, so why compound it by adding consumer debt to the mix?

Ideally, it should also match some pair of shoes that I already own, but since I had a gift certificate to DSW, I wasn't terribly worried about that part. I hit the mall with Hulio on Thursday evening, the first time all week I had time to shop. We pawed through rack after rack, finding nothing, NOTHING that was right. In JC Penney, of all places, I found a great dress, but it only came in a size 8, and I tried it on anyway, in hopes that it might run really small, but no such luck. I even had the girl behind the counter check to see if there were any in stock in a smaller size at another location in the area, but no dice. At 8:00, with only an hour of shopping time remaining, I decided to peek in at Ann Taylor, because I love the look of the line, even though it is completely out of my price range at this point in my life.

There it was.

The perfect dress.

It was the perfect length, the perfect style, and the perfect color. It was not the perfect price. In fact, it was at least double what I thought was the high end of my budget. But it was at least twice its price in gorgeous, especially once I tried it on. I felt so freaking beautiful in that dress.

So I bought it.

And then the regret began. Because I do not have $138 to spend on a dress. I don't even have $138 to spend on a suit, and I'm far more likely to get wear out of a suit than that dress. Though, as gorgeous as I felt in that dress, I think I'd invent excuses to wear it, so maybe I'm wrong about that. Hulio tried to help me rationalize it. "You just graduated from law school, you deserve it!" Yes! I do! And my parents gave me money for graduation.

Of course, I should really use that money to pay down my study abroad debt. Or save it toward something like a vacation or a down payment on a house (HA! It wasn't that much money. More like "a down payment on a new mattress set"-- which, now that we're talking about it, I could really use.) I shouldn't blow it on things like this dress.

But then again, why shouldn't I? Isn't that the whole point of giving someone money for a gift? To let them pick out something nice for themselves?

But then again, if my parents really wanted to give me a present-present, they could have picked something off of my Amazon wish list. They know how tight my budget is, so maybe they thought that buying me a little breathing room was a good graduation gift.

What to do? What to do?

On Friday, I headed back to the mall, with the idea that I'd try to find the lovely dress from Penney's in my size, and also look for something else suitable in the other stores. Ideally, I hoped to find a dress so lovely and perfect that it made the Ann Taylor dress pale in comparison. That way, I could return it without feeling like crying over the loss of the beautiful thing.

No luck at Penney's. But I found a sweet dress in Macy's. It's three quarter length, with a scooping sleeveless neckline. It tucks at the waist and flares ever so slightly at the thighs, creating curves where a dame ought to have them. The fabric is a satiny coppery brown color that goes ever so well with my coloring. AND. It. Was. On. Clearance. AND. I had a Macy's gift certificate left over from two Christmases ago. And it was only available in one size: mine.

I took that to be a sign from the gods of dress shopping and bought the dress.

Further confirmation of how it was simply meant to be? At DSW, I found the most gorgeous pair of strappy shoes* and they matched it perfectly. In fact, I could have easily bought the dress for the express purpose of matching the shoes. You know, if I were the kind of girl who would do such a thing as pick her clothes to match her shoes. Ahem.

But it's NOT the perfect dress. And even though I feel all warmly elegant wearing it, I don't feel like every eye in the room is, or at least should be, on me. So I'm still sad about returning the dress. But I just can't rationalize keeping an item of clothing so expensive when I have no income, no prospect for income any time soon, and a gigantic mountain of debt waiting for me.

However, what I do have is internet access and an account on eBay. And hot diggety dog! The dress is on there! For between $35 and $50! Not, unfortunately, in my size. But maybe, just maybe, another one will be listed and I can swoop in and get my eager mitts on it. Then I will be forced to go back to DSW and find a perfect pair of shoes to wear with it so that I can put the dress on for every vaguely dressy occasion between now and whenever the weather gets too cold for such things.

What on Earth has happened to me? I have become obsessed with finding dresses and handbags on eBay. When did I turn into such a girly girl? Next thing you know, I'll be getting all excited because they're opening a Sephora nearby.

Oh, wait. I am ready to pee myself with excitement because a new store that I can't afford to shop in will be opening soon. Sheesh.

* I have really got to stop googling for images of these things because I just fell in love with an $85 pair of gold sandals.


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