I’ve known about my husband’s office holiday party since early November. It’s at a swanky downtown hotel. The invitation specifies semiformal dress.
I translates this as “suit and tie” for him and “cocktail attire” for me.
I’m going to throw up.
Me: Short, postmenopausal round with chubby retail feet and roadmaps for legs. My hair is streaked gray. I’m starting to jowl.
Wardrobe: Work uniform, jeans, t-shirts in the summer and long-sleeved t-shirts or turtlenecks in the winter, hoodies, sneakers. I usually pull my hair back with a clippie. I always wear fake gold hoop earrings because I tend to lose anything that’s real.
A few years ago, at my husband’s urging, I splurged on two “just in case” outfits – two tweed jackets, two matching tops, two pairs of matching pants, two pairs of matching shoes. I haven’t worn any of them in over a year, maybe two.
Clothing makes me anxious. Oh, I can window shop and say that X is cute or that’s a really nice cut/design/color, but you have no idea how anxious it makes me. I can’t afford nor can wear most off-the-rack clothing with any kind of panache. Younger overweight me’s vomit-inducting body anxiety eventually exchanged itself for full-blown panic attacks in the middle of our local mall or refusing to attend whatever-it-was because I needed this particular item and I didn’t want to spend the money or admit that I was THAT size.
I’m nowhere near as overweight now but the anxiety still clings. Nowadays I treat clothes shopping as a military mission. Browsing makes me anxious because what’s the use of browsing if most clothing, nice clothing, doesn’t fit you, especially if you have a disappearing waistline?
Jeans, t-shirts, sneakers. It’s easy and I don’t have to think about it.
So back to this holiday party. One day my husband and our housemate tag with me to Expensive Department Store With The Widest Selection Of Evening Wear.
I’m automatically drawn to the sleek uncluttered dresses made for six-foot stringbeans crooning standards in a Las Vegas nightclub.
They steer me toward the separates. “You’re smaller on top than the bottom,” my husband whispers.
“The trouble with tops,” says our housemate, “is that they’ll fit her at the waist but the shoulders will be too big, or vice versa.” She picks out several spangled tops and sends me into the dressing room.
This makes me feel like a sausage. Hate the color. Too low cut. I’d need a strapless bra (ack, MONEY) to wear this, Spanx (SPANX? ME?!?) to wear that. Too tight, too short-waisted, I’m swimming in this, too tight…
I feel queasy and sit down.
An hour later I’m staring at the floor trying not to cry, piles of shiny sequined bedazzled fabric at my feet.
They eventually find a top while I stare at the floor: It’s an explosion of rich red lace with beribboned roses sprinkled with small red sequins here and there. My husband knocks on the dressing room door and hands it to me.
Oh god no, it looks like something my GRANDMA would wear! No…wait a minute, it’s got some give. Oh, OK, it’s not THAT low cut. Three-quarter sleeves, narrow black ribbon makes it sort of peplum which means it’d give me waist, maybe? Hmm.
I slide it on and peek at myself in the mirror.
Ohhh, I LOVE this color! It’s not too low cut. It’s…holy crap, I HAVE A WAIST! OK, the shoulders are a little big, but maybe…if I pull it down like this maybe?
I keep gazing at my reflection as I turn one way, then the other. I don’t hear our housemate knocking at the door. She exclaims in delight and leads me out so my husband can see. He beams.
Suddenly my mouth feels very dry because OMG, I actually own a bona-fide evening-type fancy top…|ME?!?!?
Then there’s the tale of the skirt for this top, but I’ll save that for another time.
Kathi Bourke is a guest contributor on Parentwin.