This weekend, I had to go shopping for a dress to wear to a wedding in September. Now I enjoy shopping just as much as any other girl, but it’s limited to a few things; housewares, underwear, and food. All of which have nothing in common. For example, you will never find me standing in my underwear, wielding a spatula, and baking a cake. Along those same lines, you will never find me shopping for a dress. But there is a first time for everything, right?
With my mother along, I started at Ann Taylor, because according to my mother-in-law, the record-holding National Champion of Retail Shopping, it would be a good place to find a nice, sexy petite-sized dress. I must have looked clueless, helpless, and hopeless because upon entering the store, a woman I assume was the retail fashion support specialist gave me a look once up and down before pressing the secret button alerting any available personnel to call FEMA as the store had just been hit with a 5 ‘ 2” fashion disaster. Before back-up arrived, she quickly offered her assistance. Soon after, she led me into the dressing room with an assortment of dresses I would never wear but would have to wear because this was one of those kitschy weddings in San Diego.
“How about this” she says while pointing to some cute, dainty little black lace top with a wispy black skirt. I immediately think it would be perfect if my name was Holly Go Lightly and I was having breakfast at Tiffany’s, but I realize it is probably better to at least pretend to be interested, cooperative, and excited in the most fashionably feminine of ways.
“It’s a bustier” she added, as if that terminology meant anything to me, as if someone without a bust would want to happily accentuate being bustless and bony. I quickly point out that I don’t have much to bust-ee-up in a bustier. “Oh, nonsense,” she says and convinces me to give it a try. And moments later, to her dismay, I confirmed that yes you do need a bust to wear a bustier.
On to a halter style dress. In a perfect world, where I have perfect 34 C’s and perfect tiny little shoulders, this dress would have looked good. But after 4500 yards in the pool earlier that morning, I look like Brett Favre in drag. The retail fashion support specialist looks at me and makes a giant leap of logic, “You must workout.” I wonder what gives her that idea. Perhaps the fact that a winter’s worth of swimming has left me with the super-sized shoulders and the veins of an addict after a long night of fixing. “Yeah, a little,” I lie and wonder if they have a special section for those of us that workout. It seems like they have a section or store for every other type of person out there but what I haven’t seen is the section for Ironman, for women who have eaten their body weight in food for the week and walk around in cycling shorts and jog bras because their shoulders are too big or waists are too small or thighs are too swollen to fit into any normal clothes.
Next up, a classic sexy little black dress with a slip-like halter top in size 0P. Not to be confused with the cool clothing line from the 80’s (OP), a size 0P stands for zero petite. In other words, you are so small that you almost mean nothing to us but we had to make a size for you anyways so we figured we’d call you a zero to rub in the fact that you are too small to shop in an adult store or wear big girl pants so you best take your business Baby Gap. Despite feeling like a zero, a nada, a nothing, I take a few spins around and I’m quite pleased – it doesn’t make me look like I have the shoulders of a linebacker, or inverted breasts, or the arms a gorilla. Curious, and considering a purchase, I look at the pricetag. $158. Wait a minute, does it do something else? Is there an added feature that I’m missing? Was it not costly enough for me to stand in this dressing room surrounded by what feels like carnival funhouse mirrors under excessive and unflattering lighting as I tried on five dresses that reminded of the fact that I am too small in some places, too big in others, and in general too short for everything. File this one under “N” for nada or NO.
Disgruntled, I try to abruptly take the dress off while cursing Ann Taylor, whoever she is, and her over-priced outfits and somehow in trying to get out of the dress, it spins an impenetrable web around me. This type of superpower must be why it costs $158, I thought. Trapped in its sticky hold, I make a forceful effort to wiggle my way out but the silky layers of the dress shuffle around me leaving my arms, head, and shoulders entwined with the tiny black straps for hanging, the halter straps, and the zipper.
“Liz? Where are you?” my mom calls out from the dressing room area.
“I’m in here,” I mumble in a voice muffled under layers of sheer black fabric.
Standing there, trapped and blinded with the dress half over my head, I think to myself someone PLEASE HELP because right now I am a fly trapped in a sticky, silky web scared by the thought that a spider might crawl out of these funhouse mirrors and eat me alive and even more scared that if I can’t get out of this dress I might just have to buy it at full retail price.
In effort to get my mom’s attention, I wave one foot out from under the dressing room to signal where I am trapped in this black hole of a dress. Reluctantly, she enters the dressing room probably with her eyes half covered because how forbidden if she saw me half dressed, it’s not like I passed through her vagina 31 years ago or anything, and she unzips, unravels, and dewebs me, as I stand flustered, red-faced, and hot from trying to detangle myself free.
She shakes her head and tells me to try on the next dress. I put it on and instantly I am transported back to my childhood, standing in my grandmother’s house, looking out the window. And that’s when I realize I am wearing grandma’s curtains or tablecloths or any other over-flowered, thick, tacky linen with sweeping, swirling shapes in some horribly rustic and outdated color.
“Hey mom,” I call from the dressing room.
“What,” she says with waning enthusiasm.
“When Donna Reed realized she wasn’t tall enough to hang her draperies, she decided to wear them instead,” I say modeling the latest in fine curtain-inspired apparel.
Indeed, this was going to be a very long day. And this was not nearly as fun as shopping for spatulas.
Next I find myself in Cache, one of those cool stores that you never have a reason to go into but now that I am on this mission to look sexy and oh so stunning I had a reason to go into this type of upscale, overpriced, looks are everything store. We search through the racks of strappy, sultry dresses only to find one that might possibly fit me, if the stars and heavens have aligned in the past hour. Never mind the $188 price tag, or the fact that the dress was way too long. The crux of the problem with this dress was that it was the color of soft poo. You know, the kind of poo you get after you’ve been running for 20 miles on nothing but gels and Gatorade on a hot day. But at least I liked the style.
My mom takes a look after I step out of the dressing room. “What is that for?” she says pointing to the oversized pockets of fabric centered near my chest.
“Well, I suppose that’s where breasts would go if you had them,” I explained.
She thinks out loud, “No, I think that’s the style of the dress. It’s one of those dresses where you wouldn’t need to wear a bra.”
No bra? No way. Years of running have left the twins running in completely different directions and at this point you could pave a four lane highway between my breasts and I wouldn’t know the difference because there is so much space between them. And at the very least, I would hope they put an I-Pass along that highway because it would be nice to make some extra pocket change to put into my coffee fund.
“Let’s keep looking,” I suggest.
My feet are growing weary and my head is starting to hurt, but I am determined to cross the finish line today with a dress in hand. We push on to the petite section of Nordstrom’s to find another a fine selection of dresses suitable for the small wonders like me. I grab a few dresses, not even regarding the style, color, or size, and bring them into the dressing room. I try the first one on.
“How does it look?” my mother asks with a growing and impatient curiosity.
I step out to reveal a dress that can only be described as It’s Not Easy Being Green in color and gypsy-like in style. It looks quite nice, except for the obvious color catastrophe.
“What do you even call this?” I wonder. I find the tag and notice the dress color is called ‘pesto’. “Mom, I am wearing pesto,” I say, and we both erupt in giggles. Being Italian, pesto is something you find on your dinner plate and not on your dress.
Wondering if the dress comes in another color, we approach the clerk at the counter. She informs us that it comes in a rainbow of colors, including peacock, eggplant, passionfruit, storm, and, how boring – black. I wonder if we are talking about fancy martini flavors, the latest line of Crayola crayons, or if she has confused my inquiry with a game of things you might find your pantry. Dressless and definitely not settling for wearing pesto to a wedding, we leave the store.
As a last resort, we head to Nieman Marcus – a store filled with nothing you need but everything that rich people must want. In other words, it’s mostly empty with a few exorbitantly priced items that are totally unnecessary, useless, and not even that nice. Perusing the dress section, my mom finds a black dress, “This one is nice,” she says. I agree, it is nice, it is black and small and it might be an option but right then and there I am tackled by the price tag which just jumped out and shouted $788. In my mind, I wonder why (or how) someone would pay that much for a dress when you could have 3 aero helmets, 4 new pairs of Rudy Projects, or a new front wheel from Zipp. In fact, you could race Kona and still have money left over for a new pair of Shimano carbon cycling shoes. Or you could wear this dress. I suppose it’s a choice that most women do not have to make. And with that, we made the choice to walk out.
Three hours have gone by and I feel like I’ve pushed out 300 watts uphill into the wind, with my mom on my back. I need a gel, I need a sports drink, I need a break. I am baffled how women can do this for hours each and every Saturday. Put me on a bike and point me west for 100 miles any day – as long as it’s no where near the mall. Humbled and defeated, I walk back to the car without a dress. I begin to wonder if shopping is like working out. Will my muscles have memory? Will it get easier next time? Have I built up the endurance to handle a few more hours next week? Let’s hope so, because there’s only so many more sun-dried tomato and kalamata olive colored dresses that I can try. And besides, with all of this Ironman training, I’m likely to eat a dress called pesto if you leave it in front of me for too long.