The Day of the Dress

I am looking in the mirror and wishing I knew how to dress myself up a bit—you know, put on some makeup, do something different with my hair, add a little flair. The grey hair, the bags under my eyes (compliments of my father’s genes), and sag under my chin (compliments of my mother’s genes) are making me look a bit worn. Problem is I never learned to apply makeup or hair products. I grew up in the natural woman era and subsequently never bothered to learn about these more traditional embellishments. And that worked for decades. Now I’m dealing with the reality of aging.

When I got my first job out of college, in a county planning office, I didn’t have much money to spend on a work wardrobe. My meager salary went to rent, utilities, transportation, and, oh yeah, food. Two other young women who were hired at the same time seemed to have more financial assets, and both dressed very well. One of them, Brett, and I became good work friends. Brett knew all about clothes and makeup. With her long blond hair, gold jewelry, well-made clothes, mascara and blue eyeshadow, she always turned the heads of our mostly male, mostly middle-age department. Brett could have taught me about makeup, but she always said that with my dark features I didn’t need any, unlike her with her “disappearing” blond lashes and blue eyes.

The thing that amazed me most about Brett was how charming she could be to everyone and how that gift illuminated her path wherever she went. Then, when we were alone, she would relish belittling everyone in the office and sharing her most intense dislikes. For me, who still struggles with keeping my emotions from expressing themselves clearly on my face, this was simultaneously fascinating and disturbing.

I cycled through my office clothes pretty much every week, recombining which blouse I wore with which dress pants or skirt. One day I finally took out a dress I’d bought some years earlier but rarely wore, an Indian print cotton. I’ve always been modest, and the deep-V neckline of the dress was a bit too revealing. I got out a safety pin, closed the V up as high as I could, and went off to work.

Well, even with a safety pin the empire waist dress and V neck accentuated my ample bosom. Suddenly I had attention I had not known, nor desired, from my coworkers. Perhaps I had been dressing like a slouch. There was an abundance of good mornings, and suddenly my officemates had something to say to me. The day was surreal—I was the same person but, apparently, the rest of my office didn’t see me in the same light.

The next year I found another job with the county—in the water quality analysis lab. There I wore my scrungiest clothes under my white lab jacket because small splatters of acid were always a hazard.

Brett and I didn’t stay in touch very long. Ours was a work friendship, and I had an intuitive inkling of the path she was leading me down. Anyway, she had become rather occupied with luring away her mother’s boyfriend.

Looking in the mirror, I put some moisturizer on my face, clip up my hair in its perpetual twist, and shrug at myself. In my youth I endeavored to be seen for my mind, not my appearance. Likely, it is too late to change.

                                            Photo credits: Beth Alderman, Leland Ott


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8 Responses to The Day of the Dress

  1. lmussehl says:

    You are truly beautiful, inside and out. Don’t change a thing!

  2. Thank you Linda. As I told Jim the other night, sometimes I’m not nice, but I’m not evil. 🙂

  3. preid16 says:

    I have always felt it is very courageous of you to be yourself, just yourself, unadorned by outer accoutrements, and now to question that, and affirm that, this is you, all you, simply you, and hopefully you know that you are simply beautiful, now as then.

  4. Thank you, Pam. This dress incident has stuck out in my mind–it was only recently that it reconnected with “Brett” and my own appearance.

  5. The underlying theme here–that makeup and fashion connote dishonesty and a sort of false sexuality–was a fairly common idea among post-hippie idealists back in the 1970s. I remember that time period well.

  6. So Mike, I don’t know if I am being told I’ve been trite or cliche or I am a post-hippie idealist. 🙂 I do think dishonesty, or disingenuousness, arises from the individual, not the accoutrements.

  7. George C Rhys says:

    It’s so sad how concern with appearance has been implanted into the feminine psyche, sad because it is so common for attractive young women to overrate their value, and so common for women to fear “losing their looks.” An unattractive Brett would never have been so successfully two-faced. And I know how impossible it is for you to just drop your concerns over aging; I too have issues that I can’t talk myself out of, and it annoys me when friends insist I should.
    As for breasts, please remember that men are built to love them. We mean no offense and the best of us try to pretend we don’t care, but we love them and can’t help it. Desmond Morris in his book The Naked Ape (if I remember right) gives as good an explanation as any I’ve come across. I wish we could all be honest about such feelings; it would uncomplicate things.
    By the way, most attractive feature for me by far: a kind and open smile, and I am not alone in this. Thank you for yours!

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