A few weeks ago, I dropped a significant (for me) chunk of change on clothes.  I hadn’t bought new clothes in six months and I hadn’t done a full fashion overhaul at this size in 8 years.

I bought a lot of new dresses, so many that I bought 3 for Fall, and bought some and totally forgot about them.  I have a great basic wardrobe, a few signature dresses, lots of vintage-y looking things I can wear for years.

For tonight, I chose to wear my new favorite.  It’s impossibly chic, cleverly constructed, plays with form and fit and proportion, and for fashion folks, it’s a knock-out lbd.  The problem, however, is that it is comparatively unflattering.  It is intended to be wide across the hips — and you have to be very thin to wear it.  In a big city, among fashionistas, it’s, well, impossibly chic.

Here, in a cultural backwater, it’s too complicated, too much, and perhaps slightly unsettling.

Still, I love this dress.  I wear this dress.  I think I look fabulous in this dress.  Then I catch a sight of myself in the mirror and think, yeah, no one else gets this dress.  I look really big in it across the hips, but I love it.  It’s poufy in all the “wrong” areas and yet I feel like a million bucks when I wear it.

So tonight, among local fashion people at yet another fete, I wore my lbd.  As soon as I walked in, I knew it was the wrong dress.  I was a bit overdressed, but they just did not get it.  I could tell these were not my people.  Nothing (else) avant garde, nothing interesting.  Lots of short, flowing dresses, with plunging necklines.  Dresses intended to attract male attention.  My dress, intended to attract fashionista attention.  Sadly, it fell flat.

I just did not register on the room.

It’s not the fault of the dress.  It’s a statement dress, but in this room, on this night, the statement was more “huh.”

Still, I love the dress just the same.  I get it.  It reminds me of Regency dresses with an aggressive modesty, and it’s very New Look crossed with 60s Givenchy.  The stitching is exquisite, the fit is perfect, the fabric is good, but it’s unusual in its design.  It’s the kind of dress men hate.  Sort of sackish, but with the sack dropping from a high-high waist that’s not empire. It’s odd, but I love love love it.

But tonight, it was the wrong dress.

I would have been better off in a more casual dress or separates — in fact I saw a woman wearing an outfit I nearly wore — fitted, crisp white oxford out over a black patterned skirt with ridiculously high heels.  She opted for pinstripes and a pencil skirt, but I could tell the fabric on the skirt was cheap and the shirt was poorly tailored.   I am not being bitchy, but it is so important to pick right. She was beautiful and expensively made-up, bejeweled and coiffed, so she probably spent a lot of money on it, but those small details mean a lot to someone like me.

Years ago, I was attending a meeting out of town.  On a break, I went to Neiman’s to look for a new jacket or suit or something.  I was in my late 20s, looking at $1000 jackets, so I was not being taken seriously by the snooty sales staff . . . until I took off my jacket and handed it to the saleswoman.  She just felt the fabric.  That’s all she did.  I watched her feel the fabric on a black blazer and her eyes widened.  Then, asking “May I?” and not really waiting for an answer, she flipped it open to see the label.  She could not help but gush.  Yes, it was designer (from Filene’s basement), but the fabric was amazing.  It looked like a tropical weight wool, but it was the Best tropical weight wool.  Had she paid attention to the cut, the finishing, the stitching, she would have seen long before she held it that it was an extraordinary jacket.  It’s how I knew she had no idea what she was doing other than pushing what she had on the floor.

It doesn’t take a lot of money to dress well.  I bought my shirts for $10 at Ann Taylor.  They fit flawlessly.  I bought them on sale.  My dresses: at a clearance sale at the outlet for Neiman Marcus.  I paid $40, which was 75% off the outlet price, which was 75% off the original price.  My other statement dress that earned raves from from fashionistas last night: $70.  The dress I bought for the big fall gala: $40 down from $600.  Why these are good purchases, they have style but, with one or two exceptions, they do not hew close to any trend.

Tonight was a fashion fail, but I am okay with it.

After all, style is just believing you look great.  I dress to make myself happy and tonight I did.  Even in the wrong dress.

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