LET'S SAY YOU ARE a 40-something, somewhat pudgy, suburban-dwelling working mother of three. And your husband has scored tickets to a casino night event in DC, for which the requested dress code is "cocktail attire." And that your current, seasonal leaving-the-zip-code wardrobe consists of boring but comfortable, conservative dark neutral pants (always pants, never skirts), with which you most often pair with a cotton twinset and Sensible Shoes, and that your current, seasonal not-leaving-the-zip-code wardrobe consists entirely of cotton capris and T-shirts, none of which you ever bother to tuck in, and flip flops. Because they don't hurt your hammertoe. And let's say that your fashion sense tends more towards Frumpy Conservative than Fashionable Cocktail.
Let's say the event in question is scheduled for this Friday Night – as in THREE NIGHTS FROM NOW. This does not give you nearly enough time to lose the 40 25 pounds it would take in order to fit into anything you already own that could remotely be considered "cocktail attire." And it barely gives you time to do anything other than Emergency Shopping, the kind you wedge into your schedule during the 25 minutes between the when you get off the commuter train and you have to shuttle one of your kids to taekwondo. But, shop you must!
Let us further say that – forget the current state of your body – you have longstanding issues with dressing appropriately. That you are still, amazingly, dragging around BAGGAGE from 7th or 8th grade, from that one time when you begged your dad to take you to a sports award banquet, because hey, you played junior high girls' basketball, where "played" equals "wore a uniform like all the other girls", and doesn't that make you an athlete?, and that in selecting attire for said banquet, your logic was, these are athletes, no one will be wearing dresses, only when you arrived – late – you weren't and THEY ALL WERE (the girls were, anyway) and you immediately, tearfully, asked your dad to take you home where you could bury your mortified head in your pillow and figure out how you were going to show your pathetic, underdressed, preteen face at school the next day.
Let's just say that's you. What do you do, given this set of circumstances?
Naturally, you turn to Facebook! You ask your friends if they were you, where would you shop for sassy, stylish cocktail attire that is age-appropriate and flattering, yet won't break the bank, owing to your recent cash outlay for a new refrigerator and near-future ones for some electrical work, repairs to a vehicle, and the possible replacement of two of your stove burners (since buying a new stove is financially out of the question right now)?
Your friends, bless 'em, will provide all kinds of helpful suggestions. Dress Barn. (Why is it still called a "Barn"?) Lord & Taylor. Chico's. (Chicos??) Coldwater Creek. Go the off-price route – Marshall's, TJ Maxx, Ross. Or try Ann Taylor or Talbott's. This is helpful stuff! And you live in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area, so you have access to all of these stores! The only thing you barely have enough of – besides money – is time.
Some of your fabulous Facebook friends will make style suggestions, too. They'll say, why don't you dress up a sexy blouse with some chunky costume jewelry and wear it with your favorite black skirt or dressy pants and fabulous shoes? Which sounds like a good approach, until you remember that your bunions and hammertoe preclude fabulous shoes and mandate comfortable ones.
And while you are considering The Shoe Dilemma, another quirky hang-up rears its ugly head: Whenever you wear chunky costume jewelry, you feel like Wilma Fintstone:
Or Marge Simpson.
Clothing and accessories are only part of this equation. We haven't even discussed the fact that your hairdresser is out of town for another three weeks. When she told you in March about her trip, you decided it would be a good time to let your hair grow out, but now it just seems like you'll resign yourself to arranging your shaggy in-between quasi-bangs into something resembling a Style, because there are only so many hours until this shindig and you will have time for either a manicure OR a pedicure, only one of which can be crammed into the 50-minute time slot when Seth is at therapy on Thursday afternoon. There's no time for a haircut. Besides, it's risky at this juncture. Hairdressers can smell desperation.
By now, your darling husband is gnashing his teeth and wondering why he even bothers. All he was trying to do was to provide a night on the town, a chance to dress up and get tipsy on fancy cocktails and fake-gamble and bid on silent auction items (maybe they'll have a salon package I can snag?). He is thinking, you always say you want us to go out more? Well here it is, on a silver platter, and now you're all stressed out and splattering over a thousand words (!) onto the Internet and unearthing long-buried hang-ups that he wasn't entirely aware existed.
But you will reassure him that, really, this is the stuff that normally goes on in your head. And he'll be all "Really?" And you'll say "Yes, really. Trust me."
…at which point, he will go to his closet and pull out his nice suit – the dark one – and a crisp, new white dress shirt, select a tie, quick-shine his shoes, and BAM, he is ready to go and looks like a million bucks, and what is taking you so long??
Men have it so easy.
You will have to further reassure yourself that while you *have* gained some weight (and yes, losing some would open up new wardrobe possibilites AND be good for your overall well-being), you really are quite content with who you are. Extra flab and all. Life's too short to sweat the last 40 25 ten pounds, right? Ninety percent of the time, you don't care. It's only when you try to buy fancy clothes, or a bathing suit, that it ever becomes an issue.
So, you will determine that Wednesday evening will be when you bravely drink to excess venture out to buy two burners for your old stove some fabulous Cocktail Attire and Flintstone-esque costume jewelry. And you will wear your new clothes on Friday night, but you will also don your winning smile and your sparkling sense of humor. And you and your handsome, suit-wearin' husband will charm the bejeezus out of the other partygoers because seriously, the two of you together? You're a lot of fun to be around.
People like you. They don't like your clothes – they like YOU.
Party dress codes are important to observe. If you were to show up in your not-leaving-the-zip-code duds, you run the risk of well-dressed people looking askance at you as if to say, hey, the suburbs called, they want you to come back now. Or, you could be denied admittance to the event and cited for failure to comply with the stated dress code. But when it comes right down to it, that isn't the stuff that really matters. It's who you are that speaks louder than any extra 25 40 pounds or fake-bling can.