A Coup in a Banana Republic

by Erin on February 19, 2006

Banana Republic DressI bought this dress the other day. For $17! Plus tax!

I don't usually go into Banana Republic — not because I don't like their clothes, I do! I just don't think of it; they're just not on my shopping radar. But I had a few minutes downtown after my dentist appointment the other day, and I ducked in to check out the sale racks.

Seriously, the only upside to the 28-day horror that is February is the omnipresent sale rack. Sure, they can be full of tired, raggedy, stained and shopworn items, but every once in a while you rescue something that was wrongfully overlooked.

I may not wear this dress as a dress — I'm not one for low-cut backs — but for $17 (plus tax) I can alter it into something that I have wanted for a while: a pleated dressy skirt. Pleating is enormously tedious; even worse than alteration. A new zipper (70), an hour or so of time, and I have a new fancy skirt. I'd wear it with a crisp white shirt (maybe one of the girls' white Peter-Pan collar uniform shirts I bought at Target — the only upside of the childhood obesity epidemic, in my heartless and self-centered opinion, is that the biggest girls' size is now a LOT bigger) and a fancy black cardigan, very Carolina Herrera, or maybe very simply with a black cashmere short-sleeve crewneck.

Of course, you may ask — do I NEED a new fancy skirt? Sadly, the answer would be a resounding NO. (Especially if you asked Mr. Dress A Day.) I have on hand, for sudden fancy parties (of which I go to very few; invitations may be sent to the email address on the right):

  • three ballgown-length fancy skirts: black silk (Lauren, $20 at Marshalls), pink taffeta (which I have only ever worn on Halloween, at the request of my son, who wanted me to be a fairy princess) and a curious green taffeta that goes with no color known to man (think Kryptonite, if there were a kind of Kryptonite that made Superman unable to accessorize), but which I cannot discard because it was $2 when the Esprit outlet store in San Francisco went out of business
  • tuxedo pants (silk-wool DKNY, $30 at Filene's, only ever worn to a drag-king show)
  • a turquoise silk 1960s hostess coat, made in Hong Kong (estate sale; I think it is terribly disappointed that I don't play mah-jongg)
  • a black heavy silk 1950s dress with velvet trim (eBay, I think, very cheap, in perfect condition with POCKETS)
  • a black, lightweight polished cotton, pintucked, full-skirted dress with a round collar and which fastens up the front with hooks and eyes finished with rhinestones (this is quite possibly my favorite dress in the world and feels fabulous on)
  • and a bronze satin and taffeta 1930s belted formal afternoon dress, with pockets and collar, and a TIE. The back of the skirt has a pleated insert, and it is astonishing. Not necessarily attractive — the whole effect is very "Young Margaret Dumont." I've worn it twice: once to give a talk (it was at the Smithsonian, I thought the dress would feel at home) and once to my brother's wedding in Boone, North Carolina (it was not so much at home there).

So. I didn't need it, certainly, but c'mon — $17? I do not have the strength of character needed to NOT buy it at that price. (In fact, once I realized I could blog about it with headline, I was sunk.) And after I grabbed mine, I told the two other women browsing the sale rack about it and had the gratification of seeing them BOTH grab one. If any of you get one too, let me know, okay?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

IA February 19, 2006 at 9:16 am

All right, let me amend yesterday’s request: Can we have a Dress A Day Addicts (DADA) shopping expedition AND BALL some time when you’re in NYC? Because I, too, have some dresses that are all dressed up with no place to go.

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Rose February 19, 2006 at 10:02 am

You are totally making me want to go to Banana Republic to check the sale rack. I could check the rack at Anthropologie as well, just down the street!

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Anonymous February 19, 2006 at 10:44 am

What you should do is join an orchestra or other classical music ensemble, then you have a zillion opportunities to wear formal wear as interesting/elaborate as you like (and can get away with given your conductor). Small caveat–it all has to be black. But sometimes a limitation can be inspiring: can I really layer this Victorian wool waistcoat with this Nordstrom blouse and vintage skirt?Anna

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shana February 19, 2006 at 11:07 am

I would totally attend a Dressaday shopping expedition and ball! Give me an excuse to wear all my fancy fun clothes which currently languish until the once-a-year company christmas party.

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Gidget Bananas February 19, 2006 at 2:18 pm

Why not view a low-cut back on a dress as an excuse to wear a vintage beaded sweater? That dress would be great with a beaded short-sleeve cardigan, worn buttoned so that no one but you knows it’s a dress and not a skirt. And it would save you some work.

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thingomatic February 19, 2006 at 4:18 pm

speaking from sydney (australia), i cannot believe how cheap and gorgeous that dress is. please don’t chop it up! you could wear a wrap with it to cover your back.wish we had banana republic, if that’s what you can buy there…i thought it was all cargo pants and safari wear. probably due to a bloom county comic from eons ago.

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Anonymous February 19, 2006 at 6:22 pm

I want one. Grey is my favorite color and usually the least available in terms of fancy stuff. Urge to impulse buy…rising.

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Stereoette February 19, 2006 at 9:13 pm

I agree with bbrug! why is it that we live in NYC, such a “fancy” city, and yet, there arent really *that* many fancy things to do? (or at least, fancy things that i can afford…)

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jenny February 19, 2006 at 10:36 pm

“CURSE YOU, ERIN!” Hearing about that sort of deal makes me absolutely irate with jealousy. What a gorgeous dress, and a fabulous color. Now I must leave here. I can’t dwell on it any more or I’m going to think some seriously unChristlike thoughts…

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diane dominice February 21, 2006 at 8:25 pm

I agree about the skirt, lovely. How would you do accordion pleating at home anyway? never tried it. but I tried on this dress, and i hated the bust. the seams are very unflattering esp for a flat chested lady…..

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Jen February 22, 2006 at 11:35 am

I wanted that dress from the second I saw it, but oh my lord, it fit HORRIBLY. I don’t even think the models look good with it on. But as a skirt? That sounds fabulous!!

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Heather May 10, 2007 at 6:27 pm

Ok– I fell victim to this DRESS too— I believe I bought it at around the same price. I thought, “WOW, who can pass up a dress this cheap!” Alas, it has taken up residence in the back of my closet for the past year or so. I pulled it out a few months ago… but it just seemed like the trend had past and it had become a too big for me. :( SO sad…. Next time, I see the sale rack. I will have to remember my fancy dress in the closet.

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Cecily January 15, 2008 at 6:56 pm

What a bargain, I can see why you couldn’t resist buying it. Good on you, its not every day that we can find a great outfit for little money.

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