The Dress: How a Magnificent Thrift Find Irreparably Altered the Course of My Development

— Sunday, September 18th, Uncategorized

Despite living (dare I say, surviving) through a battery of small closets and smallish wardrobes for the better part of my life, I have managed to accumulate a fair amount of clothes. A number of exquisite garments, in a varying array of utility and quality, have found their way into my sticky little paws.  There’s no denying that thrifting is my sport of choice – the thrill of the chase, the smell of the worn shoe leather. I found a Marc Jacobs dress for $5.99 once and I made damn sure everyone possible knew about it before I couldn’t wear it anymore. The damn thing was hideous. Still, I loved it.

But not as much as I have loved The Dress.

I’m sure everyone has something similar to The Dress in one way or another. It could be a literal dress, or a pair of shoes, or it could be any number of everyday items infused with a personal mysticism. The Dress is mine. The Dress was a thrifting find from my favourite thrift store on the planet, Urban Renewal (not to be confused with Urban Outfitters, the malevolent clothing and homewares chain) in Allston, MA. Urban Renewal is a “come as you are” type thrift experience, somewhere between the boutique consignment shops and sorting through the literal pit of loose clothing on the first floor of the Garment District. Items are grouped by type and color, inscrutable color tag sales are announced through a set of well worn speakers hidden in the ceiling, and all the jewelry is under strict lockdown. You hunt through garments and hope that whatever catches your eye will be a size somewhat approximating yours.

The Dress came into my life just as I was shedding the last of my teenage years and really entering young adulthood, like a meteor striking earth and plunging the planet into a forbidding ice age.

The Dress was a crowd pleaser. It certainly turned heads, what with its effort to Use Every Color, but it was also so modest and down to earth, especially when paired with my ever present cardigan and signature chunky belt (big fan of the chunky belt circa 2009). The Dress is the sort of garment you can’t wear anywhere, which of course paradoxically makes it into something you could wear anywhere – an attitude I have tried to entertain in my sartorial life since my journey with this garment began. When I first bought The Dress, it was on the verge of being “too loud” for me. See, sometimes you become the thing you want to be without ever realizing that it was what you wanted all along. You just organically become the new facet of yourself with ease and grace. I’ve heard it happens. For the rest of us, if you like something? You should just wear it. Just take the plunge. If it doesn’t make sense at first, maybe it will later. 

The Dress is a roughly above-the-knee ½ cotton, ½ polyester blend shirtdress that is somehow also backless, although I never wore it that way. It has an elastic waist and a pocket on the left breast, and while the shirt collar of the dress is complete, the seams on the back separates to create a deep V along the backline that I almost always covered with a cardigan because I don’t enjoy going braless. The Dress of course has pockets, like any legendary dress will. The Dress initially presents as a gregarious tropical pattern strewn against a hideous flamingo pink background, but upon further inspection, the pattern is partially abstracted – large white flowers free of detail save the sternum and a few seeds appear next to the more highly detailed plant life, giving this garment a sort of vintage science fiction, Franck R. Paul feel. That might be reading too far into it, but this is The Dress after all.



Gallery of Frank R. Paul’s science fiction artwork

The tag in the back reads “J. Ellis”, which, as far as I can tell from Pinterest and Etsy, was a clothing manufacturer from the 80s that made a bunch of dope stuff in a variety of hideous prints that I would absolutely wear in a heartbeat. Behind that is a printed tag with laundry instructions. The Dress claims it is a size 8, but it’s at least a 10. Bless you, sweet Dress.


It was my early 20’s, so I have to admit, I mostly wore the dress to and from locations where I would consume mass amounts of alcohol. When I turned 25 I stopped being able to be casually hung over, which applied the breaks to my fun time drinking habits pretty abruptly. I am holding a drink or have just come from drinking in a number of these photos, which is funny to me now that my idea of a good time night consists of a single glass of wine and 8 episodes of Penny Dreadful. I just love that Josh Hartnett you guys, so sue me!!!


I wore The Dress (and others approximating its excellence) to Our House, the dive bar across the street from my apartment that all of Allston Rat City is still woefully mourning. I wore it to The Silhouette, to dance parties in people’s basements, to weird dorm room soirees where I was forced to drunkenly interact with people I didn’t know. I wore it to work, occasionally. Here’s an image of me from the first and only time I did stand up. I wasn’t about to attempt something so potentially life ruining without first donning the swarthiest of my battle armor.


My brief brush with the limelight. The thrill was not worth the anxiety, but you could tell, The Dress was lucky. I don’t just mean good things happened to me in it, although they did – whether by fate or by engineered good timing – but rather the presence of The Dress was a gift unto itself. Like fashion reiki, it’s energy in close proximity to my person could produce good feelings, promote healing, and inspire the consumption of alcohol. Those claiming The Dress of being somehow magical would not be accused of madness.



This is the best picture of me wearing The Dress. I have replaced my friend’s head with a picture of my cat, in case said friend did not want to be featured in this blog post, but I think these were some of the hottest pictures of me ever taken. God, I look so tan. My hair is in a brief state of purpose, as well – looking back through pictures of myself, I have been in various states of growing out my hair for a good 10 years now. You’d think I’d learn and stop cutting it, but if I’m going to learn A Thing, there are several other lessons in line before that one, I’m afraid. I am not wearing a stitch of make up in this. I think I’m 23 years old.
The Dress made me feel powerful when I wore it, like I could go anywhere and be anyone. It make me feel more social, more capable of carrying on intriguing conversations and brewing witty reparte. It was during this time of my life where I learned that if you wear an interesting enough outfit, you don’t have to actually say much for the rest of the evening. I also learned that clothes can also be conversation pieces, and provide and easy in for talking to people you’ve never met before. Makeup is also an incredible leveler, if you have any interest in it. This is possibly what sporty folk see in the pursuit of sports knowledge – you can walk up to any person in any place under…well, almost any circumstances, and if they’re wearing an intriguing lipstick, you’re off to the races. Brands, fit, store locations, taste – here you have at least 20 minutes of idle chatter in front of you, fanned out like prompt cards. It’s not quite small talk because it’s interesting, but it’s a few notches away from “so tell me about your childhood”. Plus, an offensive print like The Dress has lets people know you’re inscrutable, you love to have fun, and your tether to this reality is rice paper thin at its very thickest.


As far as I can remember, this is the last time I was able to wear The Dress. This was taken after my birthday brunch three years ago. There may have been one or two times after this, but you can tell that the button across the bust is starting to strain as I begin a process of weight gain that will continue to pupate over the intervening years. The truth about The Dress is that I was only able to fit in it during a period of disordered eating that I went through in my early 20s, and as I have moved from my early, to mid, to late 20s, I have gained a number of pounds due to extenuating circumstances (ie, happiness and general well being).


Now, at the ripe age of 28, my body is quite different than it was in these photos. It’s bigger, sure, but it’s also experienced an overall change. Flesh is distributed differently, and I doubt I will ever be able to wear The Dress again. If I had talked about this a year ago, I would have been overcome with sorrow and guilt at the prospect of never fitting into this magnificent garment again. The fact of it does still inspire a twinge of woe inside me, but much like the Velveteen Rabbit, it does somewhat feel like the magic bestowed upon me via this thrift find has served its noble purpose. Hidden inside this floral print frock has been night after day after night of beautiful and memorable experiences, and I consider myself lucky to have participated in its witchery at all. I may never be able to wedge this ass in this piece of clothing again, but that’s ok. These days, just looking at it is enough to me smile.