Surviving a party-dressing worst-case scenario.
The perils and pitfalls of not dressing the part.
there’s nothing like a last-minute invite to a hotticket holiday party to get your heart racing—and that’s just thinking about what to wear. What do you have that will wow friends and strangers, still fits and shows no (okay, hardly any) traces of Chardonnay and shrimp sauce? You don’t want to be in the situation I was in a few years ago when my friend Grace called me one late-fall afternoon. Did I have plans that night? (Other than watching TV?) Would I like to go with her to a work event—a high-profile holiday dinner at a luxury retail store?
“Pick you up at six,” she said as I scanned my closet: one LBD crumpled in a bag ready for the cleaners and a satin skirt needing a top. That’s all, folks! “I have nothing to wear! And that’s not an overused cliché,” I complained. Why hadn’t I learned from my mother, whose wardrobe of partyready silk cocktail dresses and shiny evening skirts could outfit the entire fashion show I produced in Grade 5—the first, and likely only, time 11-year-old kids paraded in eveningwear across the stage of June Avenue Public School.
“Nonsense!” said Grace, suggesting my expensive designer pantsuit, a pinstriped charcoal wool number I hauled out for business meetings when I wanted people to think I was far more qualified and successful than I was. She offered some makeup advice—“Put on red lipstick, and wear mascara and eyeliner for a change!”—and hung up.
Grace works in fashion and has incredible style, so when she picked me up I was surprised to see her quite casually dressed in luxury sportswear: a cream cashmere turtleneck and cream ribbed jeans. She had to wear something from the designer brand she worked for, she explained, and they didn’t do eveningwear. I’d been relying on her to be the dressed-up half of our dinner-date duo, but she looked ready for après-ski—albeit at a ritzy resort. “What’s the dress code?” I stammered.
“They’ll be wearing everything! It’ll be fine!” she said, stepping on the gas with her cream suede bootie.
As we walked toward the store entrance, it was clear that it would not be fine. Hello, TV hosts in smart designer tuxes. Hey there, elegant It girls in jewels and “just had a blowout” hair. And then—what’s that column of dazzling light by the door? A fashion insider in a floor-length sequined gown! Why didn’t I at least wear earrings? “This is black tie,” I gasped. “Just keep walking,” hissed Grace, smiling with pursed lips. “And act confident.”
“But I’m dressed for a shareholders meeting—and you’re wearing a sweater and cords!”
“It’s two-ply cashmere,” she said, grabbing my arm and pulling me toward my doom. “This outfit costs as much as anything here, maybe more.”
There’s a lot to be said for confidence—but, alas, not in this story. In a small room with only 40 or so guests, there was no place to hide; we stood in a corner as if we’d been bad. And we had—we were partners in fashion crime, serving a three-hour sentence over a five-course meal.
“At least they can just barely see us from the waist up,” I noted as we sat down to dinner—thankfully, a candlelit affair. “Don’t drink any more water!” warned Grace, her lips stuck in a perma-pursed-lip smile, her confidence clearly faltering, as I fought the urge to get up and go—to the loo. Resigned to our fate, we could only hope they didn’t dally with the dessert. Hmm. Does visualization really work? Let’s see! I look amazing in a Lanvin dress, Louboutin pumps and a vintage jewelled bracelet with a—
“Excuse me,” said the woman sitting to my right. “I think you dropped this.” She placed a napkin on my lap, glancing down at my scratchy wool pants. “Er, thanks—a lot! Grace! Sit down! We can’t leave first...or can we?”
Lesson learned. These days, you can find me in my closet playing dress-up with my always-clean LBD, satin skirt (with blouse), slouchy evening pants (with jacket) and glam pumps. Call me...I’m ready for anything anytime. And don’t you love my vintage jewelled bracelet? n