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The Sparkliest Dress in the World

Yesterday I did this tremendously girly thing. I went shopping for an evening gown! No, not just for the hell of it. Ashley's company Christmas party in Cambridge is being called "formal," so I assume that means long dresses and tuxedos?

God, I hope I'm not the only one there in an evening gown. They'll be all, "Stupid American! What did she think, it was the Oscars or something?"

On the advice of my dominatrix friend, with whom I had just finished a photo shoot Monday night, I headed down to Nordstrom where she assured me there were evening gowns aplenty at reasonable prices. She says when she's feeling down, she goes there and swishes about in one ball gown after another. Now you know what a dominatrix does when she's depressed.

Anyway. All I knew was that I wanted something interesting but flattering, in a dark color or red, with a bare back and arms. I was disappointed with the tiny "Special Occasions" department, whose dresses looked for the most part like dogged samples tried on far too many times, with torn hems and stretched-out shoulder straps. I was hoping they were just for trying on and you get a nice, new one out of a box when you buy it; but that wasn't the case. What is actually the case is that if the dress requires alteration or repair, they get to charge you extra.

I brought four dresses into the dressing room with its giant multifaceted mirror. The first gown was strapless and red, made of a clingy rayon knit. It clung mercilessly to my rear end (the only bit of my anatomy which refuses to respond to any amount of working out); and when I raised my arms in the air and inhaled, "Whump!" The whole thing hit the floor. Turns out straps are useful. Uh, next.

The good news is that the fashion industry has responded to women's frustrated cries about unrealistic sizing. The bad news is that suddenly I'm not my size anymore and everything was too big. That's flattering for about a second; then you just want to find the right damn dress which actually fits.

As I've mentioned before, sparky things make me stupid with joy. I tried on a deep blue backless beaded gown, with an asymmetrical neckline resulting in one normal thin shoulder strap and one triangular shoulder panel jagging over to a shoulder strap which only matched the other from behind. It was interesting, but it was too large and really just hung on me.

There had been another beaded gown in olive green silk with a dazzling swirly pattern of darkly opalescent beads which was simple and attractive, but was a size "XS." The saleswoman assured me it would never fit me (bitch!), and so I was resigned to the fact that I'd have to do without it.

The next gown was velvet, whose hem tapered to a slight train in back. The color was awesome: a vertical gradation from olive green to spring green, right to left. (I've found that dark green looks pretty good with my deep red hair, and have been seeking out more and more things in colors like "olive" and "loden" and "lichen".) But it was a bias-cut, which means it draped loosely on my little bosom and claimed manic fascination with my relatively womanly hips. Oh, no. Thanks.

In desperation, my final attempt was a very conventional black gown which gathered at the waist on one side and had a low-cut front and back. Yep, looked fabulous. Showed off my better bits, hid my worse bits. But I just couldn't succumb to its lack of character; I knew Ashley would expect more of me than some standard black rag like this.

Off I headed to the trendy Juniors section, which had about five long dresses. The only one that was interesting to me was fuchsia, which I was pretty sure would look very gross with my hair. Gathering my courage, and with a firm grip on my little purse, I walked next door to "Couture." I was actually scared, walking in there.

Fortunately, this time of year is sale-time; so the Couture department was nearly all 40% off (except for the beaded Badgley Mischka gowns lining the wall, of course, the best-looking dresses in the room). Digging through the sale rack I was thrilled and delighted to find a dark olive green gown in the softest suede. Suede! Now *that's* interesting. It had a single strap around the neck and was backless to the base of the spine except for long, thin criss-crossing ties which ended with gold beaded tassels. It was my size, a 6 -- and, it was huge on me. I don't need the thrill of wearing a size "O", goddammit! I need a friggin' dress that fits!

Then it all turned into a circus. I found a Donna Karan dress that looked okay on the hanger: a clingy knit black tankdress completely encrusted in tiny black beads and sequins. I found a saleswoman, who showed me to my giant, furnished dressing room, asked my name, and offered me Perrier. Weird. I accepted a glass of plain water and shut the door to try on the gown.

I didn't like it on, and thus began the bizarre and unfamiliar ritual of shopping for thousand-dollar gowns.

"Susan," she kept saying through the door. "How are you doing? Great. I've brought you a few more to try."

Presto, I had a personal shopper. Are you supposed to tip? Whatever.

She brought me pretty much everything but Princess Di's wedding dress. They just kept coming. There was one cool Calvin Klein in plain black silk, strapless but with a chunky, inch-wide band of leather around the top which fastened on a hidden button around the side. Interesting, but maybe.... too interesting, know what I mean? This is Cambridge we're shopping for. Conservative college town. The red dreadlocks would certainly be weird enough.

I did get kind of excited about one dress. It was a very long black velvet Armani with criss-crossing back straps, a plunging neckline, and an eleven-hundred-dollar pricetag. I had planned to spend about three hundred, but if I really love a piece of clothing I'll splurge... but this was outrageous. Here's the cool thing, though: it was a size 2, and it fit fine -- which made me think that maybe I was wrong to think that the olive green beaded gown from the "Special Occasions" department would have been too small.

I left the little lady with about twelve thousand dollars' worth of gowns crumpled in piles, and an empty glass.

Back in "Special Occasions," the saleswoman looked dubiously at me with the XS olive green beaded gown in my hand. I was feeling cheeky, having just come from being treated like a duchess in Couture; I brushed her aside and strode confidently into the dressing room, shutting her protests out with the slatted door.

It didn't just fit, it was friggin' made for me! Thin shoulder straps disappeared into utter backlessness, down to the small of my back where it clasped itself neatly and perfectly around my hips. Every curve was lovingly embraced; every flaw discreetly concealed. It even had a little bit of built-in boobage which was impossible to detect as anything but my own. Best of all, it was the Sparkliest Dress in the World. And it was under $300.

When she saw it on me, the nice saleswoman said, "Yeah... they're making dresses a lot bigger these days."

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