Formalwear and Claire have a long history of adversity despite her appreciation of fashion. Claire prefers looking at fashion to wearing it for the most part. She still remembers that red Narciso Rodriguez dress that Julianna Margulies wore to the Golden Globes some years ago that she liked so much she thought it would make a great wedding dress... if she ever decides to get married and in a dress. If she does marry, it's just as possible she'd request everyone be in pajamas for the ceremony.
For Claire, it's always been about what's comfortable, mostly from a physical standpoint, but there's also this element of self-consciousness that creeps in and shapes how comfort is defined. She'll say it's superficial to judge people based on appearances, that she doesn't want to be judged on her looks, but her clothing choices serve more to deflect attention than to promote some sartorial egalitarianism.
Sometimes, however, she chooses to defy her comfortable inclinations. Just as a reminder to herself and the people around her that she's capable of being completely different, or at least seeming to be. These almost alter ego shifts are typically last minute whims which compound the stress of shopping.
Claire's prom dress ordeal took place the Monday before the dance and was the first time she encountered the baffling idea of dyeing shoes to match.
The day of her grad school graduation, Claire roved through Macy's, her parents floating around her in slow orbits, not seeing anything to wear except one dress on the wall that kept catching her eye. It took her a few passes to work up the nerve to try it on because she wasn't even looking for a dress, and it wasn't something her parents would expect her to like. There's nothing like an ill-timed, "Oh my god, Claire's wearing a dress" to fuck with her alter ego, but thankfully, her parents didn't comment other than to say that they liked it.
The dress was a long, narrow, silk, navy slip with a purple lace, sleeveless, kinda tight shell that went over it. When her alter ego started losing its hold, Claire bought a grey silk jacket to go over it which she wore most, but not all, of the night. Though her pair of navy canvas scuffs were not in the least formal, they would serve and save her the agony of shoe shopping (which she didn't have time for anyway). Unfortunately, when she got home, none of her brassieres worked under the dress. Ultimately she went without which wasn't really noticeable but made her even more glad for the jacket.
Several years later, Claire's alter ego kicked in again when she was invited to a friend's wedding. She would've hauled out the grad school dress to see if it still fit, but lamentably, it was in storage thousands of miles away at the time. Shopping would be required. Two days before she had to fly out for the wedding, she walked down to the massive Nordstrom's on Market in San Francisco to start looking for a dress.
Though the pianist on the baby grand did calm her at first, reaching the floor of women's formalwear made her breathing shallow. Nothing caught her eye this time and without any idea of what she wanted, all the clothes became a blur. The best thing about that floor was the lounge section of the restroom where she went to quietly freak out in a comfy chair. She was leaving in less than 48 hours and had no idea where to begin, not even her size.
She knew her hip clothes shopping lovin' bud Chala was busy with work that afternoon south of the city, but she was two minutes shy of a panic attack. She pulled out her cell. The lounge had cell reception; things were looking a little brighter.
"Hey, what's up?" Chala answered.
"Where are you?"
Claire took a breath and tried to sound less crazy, "I'm in the women's lounge on the 4th floor of Nordstrom's."
"What are you doing there? It's so expensive."
"I know, I just thought... I don't know," she leaned forward and rested her chin on her hand. It had seemed like a good idea at the time to Claire. In a voice so resigned she felt she would burst into tears in the next moment she concluded, "I told you I didn't know what I was doing."
"All right. Meet me at the Rack in an hour."
The cusp of breakdown metamorphosed into elation. "Thank you so much! I really appreciate this."
"Is that the one in the complex with Trader Joe's on 9th?"
"Yeah, it's down on the other end."
"Ok, I'll see you in an hour."
Claire has rarely had the patience to successfully shop in discount stores like TJ Maxx, Marshall's, or Nordstrom's Rack, but she had complete faith in Chala since she'd seen her in action before.
Chala burst through the door, snagged a cart, knew right where the dresses would be and started piling them in. When she tossed a 70s retro brown plaid skirt suit onto the pile, Claire scoffed, "I'm not gonna wear that to a wedding."
"Oh, I know. I just want to see how it looks on you."
Claire had been down this live dress-up doll road before; she protested, "I don't even like brown."
Chala continued, "Trust me, it'll look good on you."
Claire rolled her eyes but left it in the cart because Chala was doing her such a huge favor.
"Let's get you set up in a dressing room," Chala said, pulling an armful of dresses out of the cart.
Once they entered the dressing area, Claire stopped and eyed Chala suspiciously. There were only two individual dressing rooms and they were both occupied; the rest was one large open expanse of benches and women changing. Chala smirked and said, "I figured you wouldn't be happy about this, so I didn't mention it. One of 'em might open up, but the mirrors are better down at this end anyway. C'mon."
Claire growled under her breath and followed.
Chala hung the dresses along the wall, selecting one for Claire to try first and sat down. This section of the dressing room bowed out like the end of a dumbbell so it wasn't quite as exposed as the area by the entrance. Only one other woman was changing in this area against the opposite wall. Claire took a deep breath, started unlacing her shoes while calculating what order to remove her other garments in so as to be least exposed. Jacket, shirt, put the dress overhead, and then pants she decided.
Claire looked at herself in the mirror, pleased with meeting her wave of self-consciousness head on when Chala said, "Dude, you have to take that off." She was looking at the stretchy tank top Claire was wearing instead of a bra that was oh so conspicuous above the top of the dress.
Channeling her inner teen, Claire tilted her head, crossed her arms, slumped her shoulders, and sighed petulantly. "Really?"
Chala nodded, "Yeah."
Enlisting Chala's help meant playing by her rules. As Claire yanked at the zipper, Chala laughed and interjected, "Whoa, take it easy." She was right: these were not the hardy pants' zippers that Claire was accustomed to. She continued unzipping it gingerly, but her fingers were vibrating with restrained energy. Facing the wall, Claire wrestled the dress off, ripped the tank top off, and then put the dress back on as quickly as possible. Her cheeks were burning, but at least she'd faced the worst of it.
After several dresses, including the plaid skirt suit just for Chala's amusement, they had it narrowed down to two dresses: one simple black dress and one long shiny and slightly fuzzy mottled green dress. The black would require shoes and accessories; the green was definitely cooler, but it was also 3-4 times as expensive, pricey even at its discounted rate.
Claire was ready to go with the black when Chala noticed a puncture near the hem through the back of the dress.
"If it was just a tear, I could fix it," Chala explained, "But there's nothing you can really do about a hole like this."
"Did you notice if they had another in this size?" Claire asked hopefully.
"I don't think so, but I'll look. Just stay here."
Claire tried on the green dress again. It was a bit too long even for someone her height. She put on her black Skechers; the lug soles gave her enough height to keep the dress off the floor but still left the shoes out of view. That would solve the shoe problem, and she could always excuse them because the wedding was taking place in a cave.
A few minutes later, Chala returned empty-handed.
"What do you think of this one?" Claire asked, gesturing to the green number she was still wearing.
"I think it's an awesome dress. I'd buy it if I had the money."
"It is comfy."
"Totally. If you get it, I'm gonna borrow it."
Claire smiled, looked in the mirror one last time, and said, "Ok, I'm gonna get it."
One year ago at TTaT: Mulling
tags: formal wear, clothes shopping, dresses, self consciousness