It was my mother who introduced me to the first article of clothing that would break my heart.
We were hours into one of our marathon adventures in acquisition therapy, and I’d spent the past several trying on versions of the same inky black cocktail dress. True to my finicky reputation, I hated every one. I like to think I had very definitive taste for a teenager. More than likely, I was just a sixteen-year-old with an attitude problem.
After I’d dismissed yet another seemingly inoffensive candidate, my mother snatched a swingy, outlying contender from the waiting heap.
“But it’s purple!” I protested. I meditated momentarily on my largely monochromatic wardrobe. “It won’t match a single thing I own.”
“Who cares? It’s festive! Besides,” she said, invoking one of my paternal grandmother’s oft-repeated mottos: “Change is good.”
Dutifully, I slipped the fluid material over my head. Rendered in heavy satin, the dress looked like it had been designed to suit the tastes of a woman more glamorous than I could ever hope to be. A pleated collar and severe, black cuffs heightened its Czarist appeal. Had humble fabric ever commanded such gravitas? I thought not! That the walls of our fluorescent-lit dressing room dissolved in the dress’s ethereal presence is, perhaps, a slight exaggeration; that no garment had ever before so perfectly complemented my fledgling frame is simple fact.
“This is the kind of dress that never goes out of style,” my mother declared. I nodded in firm agreement as I appraised my own reflection. I needed to own it. Anyway, it was 2008. Hadn’t Marc Jacobs assured us that purple was the new neutral?
Given that I was an ostensibly “growing girl,” the dress saw me through an impressive number of blustery winter seasons. At first, I wore it only to celebrate the most special occasions. But soon I found myself more frequently succumbing to its evergreen charms. The following year, I wore it to two holiday gatherings, at least one piano recital, and my grandfather’s birthday party. After that, I wore it to a high-school classmate’s engagement party and then again to attend my cousin’s wedding. Having long before earned its status as a proper noun, the Purple Dress became my most dependable “plus one.” Where warm-blooded boys could be sloppy and slow and absent, the Purple Dress was exceptional. To this day it remains the only date ever to have successfully made my legs look longer. For that, I am eternally grateful.
On some level, I must have known that not even a superlative relationship could last forever. After all, I’d seen The Notebook. The dress would inevitably decline, if only of old age. Its zipper would break or a seam would irreparably rip, and I had to imagine I might one day outgrow it. Still, while our cruel parting was preordained, I could never have anticipated it would happen as it ultimately did.
I returned home from college last month to make an appearance at a family fete. Nearly five years after our auspicious meeting, I donned what I’d come to privately consider my sartorial soul mate.
The moment I pulled its purple fabric over my head I was immediately aware that something had gone terribly wrong.
The dress’s once impeccable proportions fell shapelessly across my shoulders. Its sleeves that previously billowed gracefully now threatened the laws of gravity. I tugged and manipulated its newly dowdy hemline in vain. No amount of readjusting could alter such sobering reality: what had once approximated a Tolstoyan opera gown now more closely resembled a very fancy dishrag.
There is a unique horror in facing a former flame only to discover that the burning spark you once shared has been extinguished. I, for one, am all too familiar with it. And yet not even the experience of that human heartbreak could have prepared me for this brand of apparel-induced anguish.
“I don’t even know you anymore!” I wanted to cry to the lifeless silk. “I thought we were meant to be!”
I never expected to fall out of love with my adult-size clothing. Honestly, the reason I’ve spent days and dollars investing in it because some small part of me believes that the acquisition of “grown-up” garb is a necessary qualification of maturity. Jury duty, taxes, an important wardrobe — these seemed the apparent marks of adulthood. Of course, I’ve since realized my naiveté. Personal style is not a dress measurement or shoe size. It doesn’t stabilize at age sixteen or twenty-one or fifty-five just because we’d like it to. Spoiler alert: we never stop growing.
I don’t regret the years the Purple Dress and I enjoyed together. The truth is it wasn’t really either of our faults. We changed. Or at least: prevailing styles did.
Luckily, I haven’t become entirely unromantic. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, I believe I’ll find the One. For better and for worse. In sickness and in health. As long as we both shall live.
Still, I’m in no hurry to settle down with some timeless trench coat or quilted carryall. I’m young and indecisive. I spill red wine far too often to seriously commit to the Dry-Clean-Only dresses of this world. So for now, change is good.