Dress Code

When your mother-in-law invites you to a holiday symphony and the dress code is fancy-fancy-fancy but the days have been so long lately and you’re having trouble mustering the strength for pantyhose?

You improvise.

You dig for your favorite, most comfortable, most breathable summer dress and you decide that tomorrow night, you’ll break the rules. Tomorrow night, your Labor Day white will be named Winter White, and with a quilted blazer, statement boots and a rosemary braid, you’ll strive for simplicity in a sea of sequins.

You’ll meet for merlot and filets and smile to yourself at your unrestricted get-up as you say Yes, thank you, I’d love some dessert, please. I’ll take the beignet. Your maxi dress will hang softly as it expands to make room, grateful to you for forgoing the unforgiving pantyhose.

After dinner, you’ll follow brake lights to the parking garage, heel-toe to the brick building, the neon sign, the lights. You’ll dig for your ticket and share a revolving glass door, and once inside, you’ll peer past the velvet-curtained room to see furs, diamonds, patent leather heels. There will be minks and pearls and silky tulle skirts and for a moment, you’ll blush. Your boots will feel ill-fitting on your feet, ill-fitting in this theater.

You’ll find your seats. You’ll thank your mother-in-law for the gift of experience, of quality time, of a night out on the town.

You’ll make small talk and big talk, thumb through the program, silence your phone. The lights dim. A violin will begin. You’ll lose your thoughts in the music and your boots will no longer feel ill-fitting as they make room for toe-tapping, your heart making space for delight.

I’ve read that it’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed, and to that note, I will say this: It is better to lose yourself regardless.

Lose yourself at the corporate office party, whether you’re wearing joggers and ankle boots or a lacy black dress.

Lose yourself at your neighbor’s brunch, whether you’re in boyfriend jeans and Converse or that vegan leather blazer you spotted last week on the glossy magazine cover.

Lose yourself at a symphony in rags, at a playground in riches, wherever your skin might find you detached from its decor.

I sometimes wonder if a greater goal in life is perhaps to lose yourself entirely. Lose yourself in service, in acceptance, in a string of moments bigger than your own four walls, your coffee order, the steering wheel, the dress code.

I once heard a story of an 80-year-old woman who threw on a red bikini every morning for her daily beach visit. She liked to feel the sun on her wrinkled belly, she’d say, and she didn’t care about the sideways glances. Honey, she’d say. I’m not getting any younger over here; this is as good as I’m gonna look. And doggone it, I want to feel the sun.

When the last violin is played, when the applause breaks out, when the curtains close, you’ll rise from your seat and file to the car. You’ll take in the wintery air, the starry sky, and you’ll wonder why you don’t do this more often – the symphony, the boots, the losing of yourself.

You’ll turn on your headlights. It’s dark, past 10pm at least, but a funny thing will happen as you drive into the night.

It won’t make sense, and you won’t understand, but as you pass the gas station on the right, the market on the left, you’ll feel something on your shoulders.

And if you think about it, if you squint hard enough, if you close your eyes entirely, you’d swear it feels just like the sun.

p.s. This is an essay for Schoola, where this dress (50% off!) was donated by Modcloth to benefit the Malala fund, an organization that’s working so, so hard to provide education for girls around the world. Get involved by donating your gently used clothing right here,  or shop the entire Modcloth for Malala collection here!

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