Since I was a little girl, I have always swooned over dresses. Probably the first was the sweepingly glamorous satin gown Deborah Kerr wore in The King and I. It draped off her shoulders, hugged her waist and as she danced to Shall We Dance, the enormous skirt swirled and flounced in the most heavenly way. I would have killed for that dress. Living in Iowa, it was purely a dream that I would ever have an occasion to wear such a gown. But it fueled my fantasies.
My Mother fed my interest in dresses as she made almost all of them. We would go downtown to the fabric shop and peruse the Butterick, Simplicity, McCalls and eventually Vogue patterns and I would choose the style I wanted. Then we would consider and finger various fabrics until I chose the ones I liked best. This twice yearly design exercise, that I so looked forward to, ignited my interest in fashion in general and dresses in particular.
I never possessed a remarkable figure. In fact, I developed late and eventually settled into a small but adequate bust, small waist, curving hips and butt when what I really wanted was an athletic body. I constantly bemoaned my hips and tush never dreaming that such body parts would be made desirable by JLo, Beyonce and coveted by others. A padded seat was light years away. But thanks to Mom and a lot of experimentation, I learned to dress to enhance my body’s quirks.
For me, fashion is creative, an expression of mood, style and personality. And the right dress for the right occasion never fails to fill me with confidence and pleasure. Certain dresses have left their mark for what they said about my mental state and confidence level at the time.
My first wedding dress was bought off the rack at Foley’s Houston in 1971. White tucked fabric, with a low square neck, a bit off the shoulder, and straight to the floor, it was caught under the bust with a yellow satin ribbon. I wore flowers in my long half up, half down, pre-blow dryer hair. I was 23 years old and the heaviest I’ve ever been in my life and it hid a multitude of sins. Guess I wasn’t yet goal oriented!
Fast forward to 2004. I had just gotten divorced after 32 years of marriage, and after signing a simple document, I was Suddenly Single. I wandered the plaza in Santa Fe in a daze not knowing how to start a new life. Something caught my eye in the window of Santa Fe Dry Goods, the town’s toniest store, and I strolled in, looking for inspiration and succor. And then I saw it: a black dress by Danish designer, Ivan Grundahl, so avant-grade and a departure from anything I owned. It had a simple sleeveless bodice attached to a billowing, asymmetrical skirt, all constructed from a crinkly fabric. It neatly captured the new outside-the-grid me. I dubbed it the Divorce Dress and still wear it, never failing to provoke positive comments.
By 2008, I was engaged and scheduled to be bride again, albeit at the age of 60. What was appropriate? More importantly, what would make me feel AbFab on my wedding day? My fiance was fairly fashion conscious and wanted to participate in my choice. After schlepping through South Coast Plaza and nearly giving up, we spied THE DRESS on a manikin in front of St. John. It had a deeply scooped neck with black lace cap sleeves. The gown was one long, narrow, body conscious column to the floor. But the back was what made the dress: dipping almost to the waist in back, a lace train being the final flourish. Did I mention that it was all black? It was love at first sight for both of us. But the dress was unforgiving so my immediate goal was to be lean and mean by the all important day. I started working with a trainer for the first time with a very real goal and carved- in -cement deadline. I worked hard, met my goal and danced blithely in my gown at my wedding. Deborah Kerr would have been proud.
With the fourth noteworthy frock, the goal preceded the actual dress. I had long lusted after the iconic bandage dresses of Herve Leger. All I needed was the money and the body! By 2012 I felt svelte enough to attempt it and had a husband only too happy to buy me such a dress for my anniversary. We had a Pretty Woman- worthy afternoon in Bergdorf, trying dress after dress. One stood out for its gorgeous colors, vibrant shades of blue, teal and turquoise. It made me feel glamorous and powerful. I’ve had the opportunity to wear it several times, my plan being to amortize the exorbitant cost over as many wearings as possible. Each time it reminds me that confidence is both powerful and transformative.
Take the time to find something that captures your style and spirit. Enlist help from an honest friend, if you need to, about what makes you sparkle. Whenever you wear it, own it, and you will exude confidence and, especially beyond 50, nothing is more beautiful.