If you ever find yourself wondering: where does confidence live? then let me tell you about the power of trying on dresses you can’t afford. This does not, I’ll grant you, sound very much like the sort of thing to restore cheer. After all, it can be just as crazy-making to realize that you can’t even buy the things in a place that are on sale. But yesterday, after I’d spent the better part of the morning lashing out at everybody who tried to talk to me and then more or less the entire afternoon sulking, I put together a formula: two full meals + an hour spent in Anthropologie trying on everything I want regardless of how expensive it is, twirling in front of the big mirrors in the dressing room despite the fact that someone might be watching + the purchase of an absurdly colorful new coat + time spent wandering the aisles of a bookshop = restored faith.
It isn’t always as easy as all that. But it should be. And sometimes, with the help of people who care, it is.
One dress, a silk patterned with reddish flowers and a lovely brown ribbon round the waist, caught my particular fancy. Even the woman sitting on the couch waiting for her daughter to emerge from a fitting room said it suited me. I didn’t buy it (in a classic case of relative-poverty-of-youth, I couldn’t afford both it and my new coat, but I’m about to embark on an expensive trans-atlantic adventure with my shiny new macbook) but I did feel infinitely better about myself in it.
Then I twirled around in a garishly red little dress, admiring it and its slouchy pockets. “It’s lovely, but I don’t think we live far enough into the country for that to work,” Xander finally told me. “I mean if we lived somewhere where you could go running around barefoot. But we don’t, we live on Hurst Street.” I pictured myself flouncing around East Oxford with no shoes, or perhaps in green wellington boots up to my knees, and was inclined to agree with him. I am unfailingly charmed by “the country” (as evidenced by today, when I chose not to go in to town but to stay wrapped up in cashmere sweaters and wool blankets typing and watching the wilderness outside try to decide if it is going to be wet and cold, or merely damp and cold) but do not, at present, live in it.
And this has been at the crux of my fashion struggle for some years now: balancing one’s lifestyle with one’s fancies. I fancy the red country dress, but as Xander wisely pointed out, it does not fit my present lifestyle. I am too inclined to acquiesce to desires, and to ignore entirely the circumstances under which I get dressed every morning. My fervent hope is that as I get older (and wiser, so they say) I shall also learn better to balance these things, and so look less foolish when I step out the door. In the meantime I have my “eeyore has fond his tail” coat—blue, with bright flowers stitched on and shell-like buttons—to remind me not to get so insufferably teenagy whenever I feel the cloud of a bad mood settling over me.