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Only to Me

May 3, 2014

I bought a ticket to a conference, not realizing that the final event is a formal dinner. Formal. Crap. That means money.

What does “formal” signify to you? In my mind, the fertile springs of which flow from a 1950s mentality, that means black tie for men and a long gown for women.

Crap, I thought. I don’t want to buy a $300 dress. I went to the internet for help. I haunted for a few weeks, trying to select from sequined gowns, until I realized I didn’t want to spend even $80 renting a fabulous dress. I remain ever the cheapskate.

A few days before the conference, our pre-conference email reiterated the fact that the closing event is very, very important and that it is tradition to dress formally. Then, just to confuse me, they added (or semi-formal) in parentheses (wait, is parenthesis one parenth or two? Nevermind. Onward).

Formal. Semi-formal. At a Residence Inn. In Oxnard. What the hell. Now I was in a panic, not knowing if I would show up in the nice knee-length dress I had found in my closet and be embarrassed in a sea of Givenchy, or if I was going to look like a fool if I went all out and found everyone wearing leggings and Ugg boots.

I decided, being ever resourceful, to visit my favorite thrift store and see what I could find. And glory hallelujah, God meant me to dress formally, for my eyes beheld a whole giant rack of the most lovely fancy gowns.

Whaaaaat? Yes indeed. The thrift store is sponsored by an organization that also had an event where kids can “shop” for donated prom clothing and all the leftovers came there. Satin, sequins and lace spilled out in glorious, shiny profusion. And I love me some shiny. I set to work fishing size labels out to peer at. These were brand new dresses, and all were under $10 – and it was half-price day to boot!

In the sea of size 4s and 6s, I found about five dresses that I thought might go over my abnormally large rib cage (as well as the rest of me). Then things got complicated. My favorite thrift store has, you see, no changing room. At one time in the past, they had one, but had found all kinds of activity going on in there and shut it down. Macy’s, this isn’t.

I looked around and found a quiet corner and tried, with my shorts and t-shirt on, to enter the complex layers of a gorgeous cream and sage green satin dress. The fabric was thick and rich. The design was impeccable. It looked like it had cost a few hundred dollars. This thing was beautiful, Oscar-night-worthy, and the best part was that it looked like it was going to fit me perfectly. I was going to be formal and awesome.

Sorting through the layers, I finally got the skirt down around my waist , pulled the top over my shoulders and zipped the back up until…Until…No.

To my horror, the zipper pull broke at about my third rib height. It just popped clean off, the metal broken, unusable.

Surely, I thought, I can just scoot the zipper up with my finger. No, I could not. I also could not move the zipper DOWN with my finger. I was trapped in a large poofy dress, in the corner of a hot metal warehouse-like building over by the used George Foreman grills, praying like hell that no one saw my predicament.

Hm, I thought. Hm. I began to sweat a little.

I managed to turn the dress so the zipper was in front, but it still would not move up or down. I wiggled. I jiggled. I swore under my breath. Even that didn’t work – it wouldn’t budge. I had to admit defeat and dishonor and ask for  assistance.

The lady who works at the thrift store is really nice and I really should know her name by now, especially given that I have spent a lot of time in a virtual embrace with her as she worked on the zipper.

She got it to move up about half an inch, but never down. It seemed like we spent about 45 minutes there together, but it was probably 10, which is still a long time to spend 2 inches from a (former) stranger while you’re sweating profusely and wearing satin.

She wiggled. She jiggled.  She tried to jam a nail in the zipper to use as a pull. She swore under her breath. Nothing. Not a move.

She finally just said “I have to do this” and, with a sudden and dramatic gesture, ripped the dress down the side of the zipper. Goodbye, zipper. Goodbye, beautiful Cinderella gown. Goodbye.

I went back to my pile of dresses, wiping my sodden brow.

I finally found a nice, simple black gown. Subtle metallic silver accents. Machine washable. Age-appropriate. $6.95 (plus HALF-PRICE, so $3.48 total). I offered to pay for the Cinderella gown, but she told me not to worry about it.

I’m thankful I found a nice, cheap formal dress. I’m thankful for the kind lady’s help. But I’m really, really thankful that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life trapped in that satin dress.

photo (27)

 Come correct! (This doesn’t really show the dress, but the shawl I wore over it. Formal selfies are hard!)

  1. cindymaddera permalink
    May 5, 2014 11:27

    Before I read past the third paragraph I though “thrift store!”. You do realize you had a total Lucille Ball moment right? You look lovely in this picture so I’m positive the dress lucked equally stunning.

    • May 6, 2014 20:46

      Great minds and their thrift stores! I think I looked just fine, which is what I was aiming for. The crowd was a crazy California mix – only one lady in a truly fabulous gown, with her husband in a tux. Most men in suits. A few in shirtsleeves. Lots of ladies in dresses that looked like you’d wear to a wedding. A couple kids in t-shirts.

  2. May 6, 2014 07:04

    Love the story. I have very wide shoulders for the rest of me and have often been nearly stuck in very humiliating positions like that. I’m glad that the nice lady finally put you out of your misery!

    • May 6, 2014 20:44

      Me too! I usually just get stuck in sports bras!

  3. May 7, 2014 08:16

    And I thought I did well finding the dress I wore to Alex’s wedding for under $50 at The Rack! Also – sounds to me like you made a new friend. A close, personal friend that knows you intimately. Nothing wrong with that….

    • June 9, 2014 10:12

      That is the world’s best thrift store. Everyone who works there is a character and so friendly. I heard one of the sorter guys telling someone “I AM doing something good for the world. I work at the thrift store!”

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