Not long ago, someone gave me a memoir of some woman's life as told through her clothes. It wasn't very good, and the clothes which she used as markers in her life were kind of strange too - lots of silk cigarette pants were involved. Even so, the idea hit home. Some clothes are magical. Although I've had a lot of things in my life, a few have stood out - not necessarily the most beautiful or even the most flattering; just pieces that, for one reason or another, at that moment in my life, were invested with magic, had the power to transform every time I put them on. I'm not talking about 'lucky' things; these items have everything to do with how you feel rather than some arbitrary power. There have, in my adult life, been three main ones.
The first was from Urban Outfitters. I bought it the August before my freshman year of college: a synthetic black party dress with a vaguely '70s cut, sweetheart neck and an attached Lycra underdress. The moment I put The Dress on, I saw in the mirror the college woman I wanted to be: not the nerdy, frowsy frump who'd been ignored by a high school crush and shopped for clothes with my mom at the local Salvation Army, but a sophisticated woman of the world with a vaguely curvaceous figure. I first wore The Dress to a New York event for entering students, and as I donned it I donned too the new persona: confident and assured. I wore The Dress every chance I got. I am convinced The Dress netted me a boyfriend. I wore it to parties and lectures, in New York and Chicago, whenever I needed to feel pretty or adult or confident. Being cheap, the dress quickly showed the effects of this wear and before long its sleek lines were marred by the lumpy proof of my inexpert repairs. But its magic remained undimmed. Then, one day when I was 21, I lost the dress. I don't know how, or where, except that it was somewhere in London. But The Dress's work was done, and it had disappeared, never to be seen again.
It was three years before I found The Dress's heir apparent. Dress2 was a more sophisticated affair altogether; in fact, it was the most expensive single piece of clothing I'd ever owned. It was brown wool, severely tailored, with a tulip skirt that clung and then flared, and a high neckline saved from dowdiness by a keyhole and a series of gold buttons at neck and wrist. I coveted Dress2 for months before saving up enough to buy it on sale. Dress2 entered my life around the time I took an office job, and it seemed to me the perfect uniform for an efficient and asexual Girl Friday. Dress2 became my trademark around the office, and lent itself to the slightly arcane wisecracking patois I favored at that period. My boyfriend was out of the country that year, and I liked that the dress signaled that I was independent and unavailable. Dress2 made me feel like a million bucks. Then one day my boss showed up at work. "I have a new dress," she said casually, and removed her coat to reveal - Dress2. Albeit on a taller and altogether more stunning frame. I was dumbfounded and hurt. I retired Dress2 and got another job. In due course, Dress2 also disappeared. In a move, perhaps? I combed my apartment for weeks hoping it might turn up, but its work, too, was done.
Dress3 came into my life at an especially low point. For the past few months I'd been nursing a badly broken heart. I was scrawny and ill-groomed. For my birthday, the owner of the clothing shop where I worked gave me Dress3. I'd been coveting it for months, but broke from getting my own place, I'd been unable to do more than gaze at it longingly. When I opened the box and saw Dress3 staring up at me, tears came to my eyes. It was the beginning of a new era. Dress3 is the most utilitarian of the three. It's a denim shirtwaist dress with a faint primary-colored check and a sash. Dress3 is a sleeper: you don't notice it, just the woman beneath. When I first got it, I wore it everywhere, at least three days a week. When I started dating, I wore it for dates. I was wearing it when I ran into my ex and his new girlfriend. I was wearing it when I had my first kiss with the guy to whom I'm now engaged. And when I met his family. It's getting worn around the edges now, but I still reach for it whenever I need to feel confident or need an outfit that expresses just who I am, right now. I fear that one day soon Dress3 is going to disappear, which is part of the reason I've done the unprecedented and taken its picture for posterity. (It is pictured above.) That said, I'm keeping a close eye on it.