003: The Perfect Dress
A few days ago I was walking down Church Street in a favorite dress of mine, "(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction" by The Rolling Stones melting out of my headphones. The city was uncharacteristically quiet for that time of day, as it has been for some time now. If your glass is half-empty, this can make you feel like you are at the wrong place at the wrong time; if your glass is always full, the city's stillness can serve as the perfect stage for your personal playground. Any evidence of the previous hour's summer storm had vanished.
Turning the corner onto Walker, it dawned on me that I felt great. A good dress has that effect on me – it can make a sub-par day much better, a balm for a bad mood. And the dress in question, the dress I was wearing was a really good one: a red and white horizontal-striped (this is very important) dress from Loretta Caponi, flecked with yellow and green ditsy flowers, part chaos and sheer elegance with slightly puckered too-long sleeves and a smocked bib, ruffles rising up and along the neckline, the first three buttons undone and worn without the matching belt. Princess Diana probably would've worn it as she was unfurling herself from Charles; Wee-Willy Winkie most certainly would've run through the town in it were he Princess Diana. A dress that walks the fine line between bizarre and brilliant.
The dress falls freely but narrows subtly around the calves, steps are measured, the pace becomes slower. While this might sound impractical to wear in such a fast-paced city as New York, where one must always be on the go, this dress encourages the opposite: go slow, make time for yourself, tune into sounds and smells and sights of the city we all too often allow to pass us by. The myth of this city, of New York, is that you must constantly be running, slow down and you'll get left behind or worse, forgotten, cultivating an unsustainable lifestyle for its disciples who run until they are burnt out and alienated from themselves. This dress, however, insists that the time for slowing down isn't later but rather right now, and a reminder of how valuable it is to make space for being present in the everyday, how life can actually be so full of color if we borrowed a moment to look. An insistence for ease, I think, makes for a good dress.
Some time later, as I descended the stairs into Canal Street station and walked through the steamy passage lined with posters, I realized that all day I'd been moving slowly, slower than I normally ever would and was taking in everything I passed by, noticing this or that for the first time, committing things to memory. I had begun to allow myself the ease we are denied and tend to deny ourselves. For the first time in a very, very long time, I was in love with the city again.
When I think about what makes a good dress, it's not the aesthetics of it that make it so but instead the romance, the confidence and energetic beauty it imbues us with. The intent of the dress is to heighten all the sensations of life for the wearer, not for the wearer's audience. It necessitates the wearer's full presence and deep reserves of the belief of self-worth. Look afraid or unsure of it and it will unravel; even the most conventionally beautiful dresses are transformed into shrouds in the absence of assuredness.
The perfect dress is not for the faint of heart. What makes it good is not how others view it but how it makes you feel, regardless of how wild, tight, long, short, simple, loud, too much, too little it may be. Dress for validation and you will never experience beauty. Over the years I have learned that your worst enemy is listening to and making space for all the thoughts of how you will be perceived. This is true of getting dressed and of living life. Although this can be a difficult layer to shed, more so if you've internalized a lifetime of viewing yourself as others would or being told that you must, nothing limits the experience of living your life quite like this. Self-security begets self-acceptance, and that is how you actually give the perfect dress its form.
Later in the day, when I was returning home, a little boy and his father got on the elevator with me. The little boy, no older than five or six, stood close to me, looked up and declared, "I like your dress. I like the colors." I told him that I liked the blue of his t-shirt, to which he exclaimed, "I just got back from camp! Can you believe it!" As I described this scene to my therapist that evening, she suggested that perhaps the dress reminded him of a candy-cane, the red and white stripes, and this made me nostalgic for my childhood. A good dress, a perfect dress, lastly, demands not only that we are present in both body and spirit but also unlocks within us the wonder, certitude and lightness of a child.
And on the subject of dresses, if these feel even half as good as they look:
The recipe for this Maison Rabih Kayrouz dress is: threadbare sandals, Zohra Rahman plankton earrings, and just your wallet. You're doing groceries in this dress.
I have a version of this Maria de la Orden dress from a previous collection. Also cleverly tapered through the lower half, it makes me feel like I'm floating when I wear it (if I'm with my husband I'm also usually yelling at him to slow down because he doesn't understand the fine art of floating through air).
A balm for a bad day, Maija Isola's "Albatrossi" for Marimekko.
I love everything going on here: the 80's international woman of mystery, her green lipstick, the tax-yellow plane, the fruits. It's like a scene from my ideal life.
I imagine this dress to be the origin story for this Prada collection. A young Miuccia Prada clad in YSL Rive Gauche spies a comrade in this dress at a communist rally and makes a mental note of it.
This fuchsia Geoffrey Beene dress circa 1966 should only be worn with these feather sandals.
There's just not enough glamor in the everyday. Wear this with Onitsuka sneakers to do banking or for your annual dental visit.
The Loretta dress I will not shut up about. My favorite way to wear it has been with these teeth earrings and Marni jeweled sandals. I like to wear it to the beach as well with Madrid Birkenstocks and a Ruslan Baginsky straw cloche, hair down.
Until next time.
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