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Last September one of my best friends and I went to a department store because she needed to buy a dress for a formal occasion.  It just so happened I would not be attending that particular function due to an out-of-town trip, but it was one of the few I missed in the last several years.  Consequently, I’ve amassed a pretty good collection of formal dresses.

I’m a girlie-girl-rhinestone-loving-bling-freak, so I love these dress-up military-ball-type occasions.  However, for this shopping excursion, I only went for moral support.  I was my friend Liz’s wingwoman.  We both agreed that trying on eveningwear and swimsuits should NEVER be done alone.  Always take someone with you who will tell you the cold, hard truth.  Another friend once said you need someone who will tell you that the bikini with the itty-bitty flowers isn’t a good choice because “the tiny periwinkles elongated into full-bloom hibiscus when stretched across your backside.”  Now that is a good wingwoman!

Liz and I picked out some dresses for her to try-on and we were on our way to the dressing room with our arms full.  Since I wasn’t there to buy anything, helping her was like playing dress-up.  Shopping for formalwear is always fun when you’re not under the gun to find a dress.

And then I saw it.

It.

The dress of my dreams.  My soul-dress.  I was drawn to its magnificence like magnet to steal.

“Where are you going?” Liz asked as I took a sharp right turn instead of walking straight into the dressing rooms.  I continued onward as though pulled by a trajectory beam.

Liz followed me.  “Are you okay?”

I might’ve drooled just a bit.

“Is…is…look.”  I couldn’t speak coherently so I whimpered and pointed before continuing to where the gown hung against the wall displaying all its glorious fabulousness.  I touched its sensual, deep-purple satin.  I ran my fingertips across the tiny sequins on the collar.  The ebony rhinestones around the edges dazzled my eyes.

Only one word came out of my mouth at that moment. “Mine.”

Liz laughed.  “You’re right.  That totally looks like you.”

And then, she said the words.

“You should try that on.”

I shivered.  “No, I can’t.  I don’t need another dress.  I’m not going to this ball, so I can’t.”  My eyes gazed longingly at the dress.  I couldn’t turn away.  The gown sparkled like a forbidden treasure gleaming under the pot-lights of the formalwear department in Dillards.  “No.  I better not.  I’m not looking for a dress.  I don’t need another one.”  I clutched the hanger to my chest, curled the long, soft hem over my arm and started walking toward the dressing room.  “No.  I shouldn’t.  I’m just here to help you find something to wear.  I’ll just sit in a chair and wait for you.  I can’t try anything on.”

I closed the dressing room door behind me.  “I really don’t have an excuse to buy a new dress.  I shouldn’t even look at it. Yeah, I’m going to put it back.”  I undressed.  The gown slid over my head and conformed to my body like a glove.  “Oh, Liz!  The fabric is so soft!  You should feel it!  Ohhhh!”

“Come out.  Let me see.”

“No.  I really shouldn’t.  Where would I wear it?”

“The Robert Burns dinner!”

Harps played, cherubs sang, a rainbow led me out of the dressing room stall.  She was right!

I stood in front of a three-way mirror surrounded by racks of never-going-to-be-as-good-as-the-thing-I-have-on-dresses. Fairy-dust cascaded around in multicolored showers, a spot-light warmed me from above.  Bluebirds flew overhead.

My beautiful gown purred with satisfaction as its purple silk curves gave me a gentle hug.  “I have found you at last.  We belong together,” the dress whispered in my ear.

Both Liz and the sales lady stood behind me making noises which drive women to buy things they don’t need.  “Ohh.” “Ahhh.”

“It fits you perfectly,” my friend said as cute woodland creatures surrounded her; a dove landed on her shoulder and cooed softly.

“Like it was made for you,” the saleslady added.  The forest animals’ eyes widened with wonder at the dress.

“I am.  I am made for you, Kristine.  Only you,” the dress whispered.

My eyes watered; heart pounded.  We loved each other, this dress and I.  “Yes, but I don’t have anywhere to wear you.  You’d hang in my closet and be so sad.”

“No, no, I would never be sad as long as we have each other.  Buy me.  Take me away from here before someone else buys me.  Do not abandon me to someone else’s closet.  You and I…we must be together.”

Did I mention my dress had a sexy French accent?  And a male voice?

The jeweled collar winked at me provocatively.  “Buy me.  You must.  Turn around.  See!  I make your butt look good.  How many other dresses can say that?  None, but me.  I am a magic dress.”

A stranger pushing a stroller did a double-take.  “Looks great on you.”  A random customer said, “Gorgeous.”

That’s all I needed.  Some unknown shopper pushed me past the point-of-no-return.  And because there is a no-return policy on evening gowns, it really was the point-of-no-return.  If I took the dress home and accidentally removed the tag, the dress was un-returnable!  In other words…mine, forever!

“I really shouldn’t…”

I took my prize home and hung it in my closet with a heavy sigh.  “I’ll see you again in March,” I said as I zipped up the garment bag.  “Only six months and we’ll be reunited.”  I pushed the plastic bag to the back of my closet.

Six months was forever.  It was like waiting for Christmas!

March finally arrived and I wore my soul-dress to the formal Robert Burns Day dinner.  The timing couldn’t be better for a writer to wear a magic butt-enhancing dress since Burns was a poet-extraordinaire and a huge womanizer.  I’m sure he would’ve written ‘Ode to Kristine’s Dress’ if he were still alive.

Taking off the dress made me sad.  I held off as long as I could, but eventually zipped it back into its protective covering.  “Goodbye, Dress.”

My husband stood behind me.  “Don’t worry, Berg, you’ll wear it again.”

“When?”

“Maybe next September at the Air Force Ball.”

I smiled.  “Yes, of course!  We’ll be at a different base by then and no one will have seen it.  You’re right!  My dress will be like new!”  I took off all the accessories and carefully stored them away.  Only six more months until me and my soul-dress could be reunited in all our purple, silky glory.

So, now it is September.  Time for The Air Force Ball.  The Biggie.  The most formal event of the year.  All new people.  A brand new base.  It’s Texas, so the pressure to bling-it-up is high.  Oh, sweet joy!  I can put on my enchanted dress and feel like a princess, a princess with a good butt…

Except–

For reasons I won’t go into here…my beloved garment is hidden away in some mysterious military storage facility under lock and key. (Along with everything else I own.)  No purple loveliness, no amethyst earrings, no rhinestone bracelet, no silver shoes with the little bit of bling on the strap.  No purple velvet clutch bag with the rhinestone clasp.  All of it.  Far from the safety of my closet, my dress lays in captivity within a cardboard ‘wardrobe box’ marked unceremoniously ‘Master Bedroom’ within a wooden crate, within a storage room, within a giant storage facility…somewhere, not here.

***

I set the invitation to the Air Force Ball down on the kitchen table and sighed.  I shrugged into a seat across from my husband and crossed my arms.  He read the invitation and placed the card back down on the placemat.  No expression.

“I thought we’d be in our house by now.  All my formals are in storage.”

“You didn’t pack a formal?”

I stared at him, mouth agape.  “What?”

“Didn’t you bring a formal dress with you?”

“How shortsighted of me.  I’ll remember to pack one from now on every time we move…just in case.  Never mind how we’ve moved fifteen times and I’ve never once needed a ball gown.  Fear not!  From now on, formalwear will be on my essentials list.”

“You brought a thousand dresses.  Won’t any of those do?”

My breath hitched.  It unnerved me when he knew I was about to have a meltdown and he stayed so annoyingly calm.  My cheeks turned warm, but I controlled myself.  “Umm…dearest…I brought sundresses and church dresses, things to wear to ‘official’ daytime functions.  Why on earth would I bring a formal gown?  I packed for this move in mid-May.”

“So?”

I clenched my jaw, gritted my teeth.  “There are no formals in May, June, July or August!  Why would I even think to bring one?”

“To be on the safe side?”

“Tell me you are joking! There’s a safe-side to packing a ball gown in May because I might need it at the end of September?”

His eyes narrowed as he tried to figure out why my voice was getting all pitchy and why his simple question set me on edge.  “So, what you’re saying is none of those dresses in your closet will work?”

“No! No! No!  Those are not formal dresses.  There’s a difference.  A formal dress is like my purple dress, the Robert Burns dress!”

He nodded, sat back in his chair and picked up his coffee cup.  “Ahh, I get it now.  This is about you not having your favorite dress.”

“No!…well, yes…but, no.  The fact is still the same.  I have nothing to wear.”

I uttered the phrase.  The one phrase which will make my husband’s eyes roll back in his head so fast it looks like he’s having a seizure.  I admit it’s one of those easy-to-push buttons a wife learns not to push unless her husband is sitting across from her analyzing her panic and assuming it’s over a favorite dress and she’s so angry because he’s right, it is over not having her favorite dress and therefore, he’s so wrong to point that out to her.

“I have nothing to wear,” I repeated.

So, yeah.  I brought out the nukes.  I leaned back and sipped my coffee waiting for his inevitable combustion.  I counted down in my mind and waited for his eyes to come back from the back of his skull.  10, 9, 8,…

“You have a whole closet full of dresses!  How can you possibly have nothing to wear?  You packed the car with 200 pounds of clothes!  You have more dresses than any woman on the planet!”

Now it was my turn to sit back, stay calm and watch his reaction.  “Now how would you know that?  Have you met every woman on the planet and peeked into her closet?”  I smiled, remaining perfectly logical in the midst of his hyperbole storm.

He knew he’d been played.  He shook his head.  And then his Kennedy called my Khrushchev’s bluff.  He grinned his crooked grin at me.  “Whatever.  If you need a dress, go buy one.”

“I don’t have shoes either.”  Okay, I admit it.  I launched a mean ‘I-don’t-have-any-shoes’ grenade during peace negotiations, but sometimes a girl just can’t help herself in heat of the battle and she doesn’t have her purple dress.

My strategy didn’t work.  Obviously, I’ve never taught Military Strategy or held seminars on Critical Thinking.  Playing mind-chess with my husband is unfair.  He has a slight advantage over me.  I rather play checkers.

A smile lit up his face.  “I’m not going to take your bait…”  He peered into my eyes.  “…about the shoe situation.”

I hate his logic and resent his clear thinking when I’m trying to make a point.

“Will you go with me this weekend?”  Surprise Attack!

“What?”

“To buy a dress?  Pleeease.”

And this is how I know my husband loves me example #1:  He said, “Sure.  I’ll take you to buy a dress.”  He did not say, “Have you lost your mind?  I despise shopping.  No way.”

“You will go with me?”

They sell those at Target, right?”  I did not take the bait.

***

Things I Learned While Shopping for a Formal with my Husband:

There are four types of formal dresses.  They are as follows:

1        This dress says:   I’m a beauty queen going to prom with my quarterback boyfriend.  I love pink!  I love baby blue!  I love lace and ruffles and shiny things.  Big, huge crinolines are back!  Hurray!

2        This dress says:  I’m young, vibrant!  I’m a confident woman.  I like my cleavage.  I like 24-inch slits on the side of my skirt like Angelina Jolie.  I can wear eight inch stilettos with ease.  And any color goes great with my tan, fit body.  Everything is just perky and tight.  What are foundation garments for anyway?

3        This dress says:  I must attract some attention.  Some male attention!  I love tight spandex and glitter from shoulder to hem.  Hot pink, geometric print, sequins and straps with buckles.  The shorter the better–as long as it covers most of my lumps, it’s all good.

4       This dress says:  I am the Mother of the Bride.  I want to be covered from head to toe in mauve or gray or perhaps navy or black.  I love bolero jackets with rhinestone closures.  I have no cleavage anymore.  I want no attention drawn to my butt.  In fact, I don’t want anyone to know I have one.  I must have long sleeves—long, shiny sleeves, perhaps with ruffled cuffs.

So where does that leave me?  And most of my friends?  In the black hole of we’re-not-going-to-the-prom, but not-ready-for-the-rocker, either.  A fashion abyss.  One is lucky to find a magical dress under such conditions.  Very lucky.

***

My husband and I walked into the first dress shop.  I began sliding dresses across the rack to see if I might find anything suitable.  Hubby did the unthinkable.  He started looking through the dresses, with me.

“What about this one?”  My wonderful, ever-helpful husband held his large Chik-fil-A lemonade in one hand and a very unique dress in the other.  Clearly, the garment was in the #3 category.

“Um…”  How shall I say this without hurting his feelings?  “I’m really not liking the whole feathers-and-animal-print-together-in-one-dress-thing.  It’s like there was a weird hook up at the zoo between the cheetah and the ostrich and you’re holding the pelt of their offspring.”  My subtly needs work.

He took a long sip of lemonade and shrugged his shoulders before he hung up the leopard-chicken hybrid dress.

I pushed another reject past me on the bar.  “There is no way any woman could wear spanx under that with all those cutouts.”

“What’s Spanx?”

I shook my head.  “That dress is…um…not right.”

I slid a few more dresses down the rack as he watched over my shoulder.  He stopped my hand mid-swipe, clutched the hanger and pulled out a puffy dress.  “What about this?”

He’d found one from the #1 category.  I didn’t want to crush his indomitable spirit.  He was actually trying to help me.  Bless that man.

“Well, it is pretty, but I think I may be a bit…too…old for it.”

“You’re not old!”  Example #2 of why I love this man.  He didn’t say, “Yeah. Okay.”

“Thanks, Berg. But, what I mean is, well, it’s…a bit…‘young’ for me.  It’s for a high school girl.”

He checked the label.  “There’s ages on these things?”  He hung up the prom princess gown.

“I like this one.”  I held a navy blue dress against me.  “What do you think?”

“Um…well…”

“You don’t like it?”

“I like it okay.”

That means he hates it.

I hung the reject back on the rack.  A few minutes, later he pulled out a dusty-rose dress with a square neck, three quarter sleeves and a lace collar straight out of group #4.  “This is nice.”

“Uh huh.  Years from now, if you are looking to bury me in something horrific to get even with me for dragging you shopping on a holiday weekend, remember that one.”

“It’s too old lady?”

“Yep.  Now you understand.”

Next, he pulled out an elegant royal blue dress.  I was very impressed.

“This is a good one, right?” he asked.

“It is.”

He smiled, quite pleased with himself.  Until I burst his bubble.  “But, it’s a cocktail dress.”

“Isn’t that what we’re looking for?”  He held the dress at arm’s length and then checked the tag as if it might be marked, “Cocktail, ages 30-50.”

“I need a long dress.  Not a short cocktail dress.”

“Are you kidding?”

He hung the dress back on the rack.  “All right.  You pick one.  You’ve never worn a dress I don’t like.  You don’t need my help.  Just try something on and I’ll give you my opinion.”  Reason #3 for loving this man.  He didn’t say, “Are we ever going to get out of here?  Pick something already!”

Several stores later, I realized I was drawn to every single purple dress I saw.  It wasn’t very hard to figure out why.  I wasn’t going to find anything that compared.  I’m very loyal.  Now that I had found my soul-dress, everything else would always be  just a substitute.

I pulled a ‘uniform’ from the rack.  You know, the dress everyone either has or has seen or will buy one day. It’s a black chiffon sheath dress with spaghetti straps.  Nothing wrong with it.  It’s a formal. It’s long. It’s black.

“Oh, that’s sexy.”  I heard from behind me.  Reason #4 for loving that man.  He didn’t say, “I’m tired.  Let’s go.”  A few seconds later he said, “And you’re going to be the best looking one there anyway.  Who cares what you wear?”

With those sweet words, I quit torturing him with my doomed shopping trip.  He’d earned his stripes.  Or his eagles.  But, what’d I do to earn him?  I’ll never know.

“You think it’s sexy?  Really?”  I held it against my body.

“Sure.  It looks like a sexy, black nightgown.”

Ugh.  Back to not having a dress.

P.S. I’ll be adding pictures later.

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