How much money do you think is reasonable to spend on one dress? I sew, I shop Goodwills, I don’t buy expensive clothes. But I do like to try them on. There’s no harm in trying on an expensive dress, is there, I ask in all innocence?
When Barbara and I went into a shop called Nimbus the other day, the only dresses I looked at were by the same artist – hand-made from a soft, slithery fabric; hand-painted in a swirling, floral print; carefully molded and crinkled by a "rigorous pleating process." I especially liked one with a dark purple pattern of large roses with twitches and twinkles of silver, mint green, and teal blue. Three-quarter length lace sleeves, similarly painted, lace on the top of the bodice, and lace inserts in the hem gave the dress a pert little flair. When I put it on, it settled around my body so well it gave me curves where I had thought curves no longer existed. It snuggled in without tightening. Its flowers blossomed over my bosom and my hips. The silver put sparkles in my eyes. That the artist had named the design Floral Borealis, evocative of midnight suns and poetic dark flowers, was the tipping point of desire.
“It’s the perfect dress for you to wear to the opera in Italy next week!” Barbara cried when she saw me in it. The saleswoman, of course, told me it was stunning.
Then I looked at the price tag and hurriedly took the dress off. When the saleswoman suggested that a 48-hour hold would give me time to think about it, Barbara said, with a smile, "There’s no harm in that.”
Barbara went through all the ways I could afford the dress. I had saved $8 by buying a book used instead of at full price. I had $100 left over when my ticket to Virginia for Thanksgiving was cheaper than the original price. And what about the money I got last week from selling my old wood-burning stove? When I objected that I had put that money away for another use, Barbara brushed aside my argument by pointing out that the payment was more than I had expected.
I was startled when other friends also encouraged me to buy the dress. Was this capitalism at its most voracious? A conspiracy for nudging me into the pit of over-consumption? Or friends who thought a special occasion called for a new dress? My New Zealand friend said I would be “contributing to the aestheticisation of the environment.” The guys who had bought the stove were delighted to be a part of my trip to Italy. At the end of the day, still struggling with my conscience, I decided I would justify the expense by pledging to give the same amount to my son and daughter-in-law’s upcoming Kickstarter campaign for their performance piece about AIDS among teen-agers. I realized I was doubling the price of the dress, but, I thought, if I can afford the dress, I can afford to give to charity. Otherwise, I have no business indulging in whimsical desires.
Before the 48 hours were up, Barbara returned with me to the store (I think to make sure I didn’t back out). When the saleswoman handed me the bag with the dress, now my dress, in it, she said, “Have fun at the opera. Take pictures wherever you wear the dress and bring them to show me when you get back.” I walked out giddy with my purchase.
But Barbara hadn’t finished. She took me to another store and bought me a mint-green bead necklace to match the green in my dress. Later she also gave me a pashmina the color of the plum-purple roses in the dress so I wouldn’t get cold at the opera in the open-air Roman arena.
I leave tomorrow to fly to Sweden. A few days later my friend Lasse and I will fly to Italy. The next day I will put on my Floral Borealis dress and the mint-green bead necklace and pick up my dark purple pashmina. Lasse and I will go to dinner and then to the ancient amphitheater to see Aïda. I will gaze at all the fine women in their fine clothes and know that I am one of them. They probably give to charity, too.