The dress was unignorable. I knew from the start that it was a mistake. Like everyone else, I am trying to avoid impulse purchases and buyer's remorse. But somehow, I got carried away:
First of all, any kind of vintage clothing show weakens your defenses. In fact, I normally avoid them for just this reason: too much stuff, too many choices, and after a lifetime of thrifting the embarrassment of riches feels, well, embarrassing. And so I wandered the aisles, clutching a blue mohair turban, surrounded by eccentrics, and wishing I'd chosen to spend my Saturday a different way.
A ratty parasol caught my eye and I wandered over to inspect it. That's when she pounced.
"Oh my God," she said. "You have to try this dress. Will you try this dress? Look, David, she can totally fit into the dress. We've been waiting someone to try this dress."
She held up the dress. It was indescribable, although if I were to give it a shot, I'd have to say a 50's formal made in the image of a slutty shepherdess costume. With a corset. In gingham. I did not want to try it on. But I understood their dilemma; it was made for a short woman and if nothing else, I am short. Even so, I eyed it uneasily. "You don't have a dressing room," I said.
"You can put it on behind this," she said. Indicating a kimono hanging nearby. The kimono did not provide adequate cover, although given the population of the assemblage this was less of a concern than it might have been otherwise. I wrestled myself into the dress. It was tight; I had to suck in hard while the woman pulled the zipper and wrenched the corset strings cruelly tight. I stepped out and looked at myself.
The result was shocking. There I was, in a miniscule 50's formal slutty-shepherdess costume. Ruffles covered the bust. The skirt parted to reveal more ruffles, Marie Antoinette-style. Either some mid-century tramp had worn this for a theme dance or Mildred Baker, "Newberry Street" (sic), Boston, had let her creativity run wild on this one. I was speechless, appalled.
The booth's proprietors were also speechless, but apparently with awe. "It's perfect," breathed the woman - who, I should perhaps add, was wearing a men's sailor suit. "It was made for you," said her selling partner with conviction. "All you need are some hot boots." I did not find this reassuring. Then another woman came up. "Oh. My. God." She said. "That is amazing. You have to get it. You're getting it, right? Karen, come here. You have to see this." Karen approached. She was wearing a top hat. She, too, gasped in admiration. "If I could, I would wear that every day," she said.
I gave myself another look. Maybe it did look pretty good! "Well," I said uncertainly, "I don't have a Halloween costume..."
"Halloween!" gasped the first woman, as if I'd uttered a blasphemy. "You wouldn't waste that on Halloween! You could wear that anywhere!"
"It is unique..." I said.
"Oh, you won't find another one like that," said the proprietor confidently. "It was waiting for you."
"You could wear that to the clubs," said the "hot boots" guy. Never mind that I'd never been to "the clubs."
"It was made for you," repeated the owner. "I could do -" and she mentioned a figure I wouldn't normally have paid for something I liked, let alone this monstrosity. And yet, I felt my resolve weakening. Normally I am impervious to the hard sell, and my time in retail has given me nerve and cunning of my own. But they were so excited! Maybe it was the bright lights, the exhaustion, the row of letterman's sweaters and charm bracelets, but somehow I was starting to feel that I needed the dress.
"If you don't buy it," said one of the random women dramatically, "I will be devastated." She reached out and adjusted my breasts in the corset, then stepped back critically to survey her work. "Yes," she declared. "You need it."
"I should see what my friend thinks..." I said. I found my phone and tried her. She didn't pick up.
"We take credit cards," said the owner. She knocked off another five dollars.
"I'm just not sure it's me..." I tried.
"Are you kidding?" said one of them. "You are owning that! That could be from a fabulous designer with vintage edge." Her friend nodded enthusiastically. "A couturier," she added.
"Okay," I said defeated, with the feeling of making a mistake but buoyed by their evident excitement. "I'll do it. I'll do it." There was a collective cheer. My heart sank further as they ran the card and bundled the dress into a paper bag. "I am so glad," said one of the women, who was walking on. I gave her a wan smile. I was starting to feel the sick, unwholesome sensation on having spent too much, and not feeling good about it.
I hid the dress from my friend, whom I found examining a rack of scarves. Every time I felt the rustle of its crinoline my heart sank. Later I denied myself a delicious-looking piece of cake and a pair of kid gloves because I'd spent so much on the horrible slutty milkmaid dress.
When my boyfriend came home that night he found me staring blankly at Mother Angelica and clutching the dress in my hands.
"What's that?" he said carefully.
"Some old eccentrics pressured me into it," I said glumly, and held it up for his inspection. There was a long silence.
"Can you return it?" he said.
"No!" I wailed. "The show's over and they've gone back to Ohio! And I'd wear it for Halloween but I can't tell what it is! The only thing I can think of is how in Georgette Heyer novels there are always lots of trampy shepherdesses at masquerades, so maybe...I can be a 19th-Century demi-mondaine at a masquerade?"
He agreed this was a viable plan, but I could see he was being kind and anyway, knew that I'd been planning to dress as Norma Desmond.
I went to sleep, disconsolate. When I woke up, it was a new day - then I saw the dress hanging on the closet door, even worse than I remembered. But in the night, I had had a revelation. I would, I decided, do a high-concept costume. I would go as Folly. Because I would stand as a walking reminder to all who saw me. You really have to see it on - but you're not going to!