Newport News dress
This dress (in poly/rayon, and a weird color, too) is $44 at Newport News.

I find Newport News frustrating. They often have vintagey, retro-styled clothing and even shoes, but done just a teensy bit too cheaply. Like: poly/rayon, or bad fake leather, or really, really bad buttons — and only the last of those is fixable by me.

Now, in black, this dress, even at $44 and even in poly/rayon, would be worth it. In the weird green — well, you really have to love weird greens. And not just as a friend.

I really wish they'd angled the bottom of the shawl collar in to follow the vee of the neckline, but I do like the cap sleeves, the shirred midriff band, and the nice drape and length of the skirt.

Perhaps this is not so much a "Inexpensive Dress Alert" as it is a "Yay or Nay?" voting opportunity …


Forever 21 rayon dress
That's how much this dress from Forever21 will set you back. (If you are actually over 21 yourself, there's no telling how much actually entering a Forever 21 will set you back emotionally — sensory overload much?)

For that price, you're getting a pretty good dress, as far as I can tell without touching it. It's rayon, not polyester. There's contrast trim on the midriff band, surplice neck, and sleeves. It's a nice print, too — I wish it were a bit more colorful, but baby steps, baby steps.

Maybe this week should be cheap dresses week here at A Dress A Day; what do you all think? If you've found something under $50 (at a retail outlet, not eBay) that you want me to feature, let me know …

Actually, lots of folks are sending me links lately, which I really appreciate (even if I don't have time to post them all!). If you send me a picture in an email, please send me the URL where you found it. If you want me to link to an eBay listing, please make sure it has at least a couple days to run (posting completed auctions feels like taunting to me!). Please note that I am unlikely to link to eBay auctions that have huge flashing animations, "buyer rules" longer than the text of the auction, random capitalizations, or that have misspelled words in the auction title. (Call it a point of personal privilege.) It's fine to send me links to your own auctions if you do so INFREQUENTLY, and if you don't use any of the deprecated techniques above.

People who add me to their mailing lists without confirming first (BEFORE subscribing me, not just by allowing me an opt-out) will be forced to wear parachute fabric purple jumpsuits with uncomfortably placed zippers and will be marched through the public square, going 'swish-swish' as they walk.

A Coup in a Banana Republic

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?

I keep meaning to do this.

The Carnivale of the Couture, I mean. This week's question (hosted by I am Fashion) is:

Suprise darling! You have just won the lottery! How will you, the super fabulous fashionable blogger, spend your US$10m winnings? Tell us all about your money-spending plan!!

Now, before I answer, I should warn you: I am BORING. Like, when you ask me what I'd take to a desert island, I say "A lifetime supply of flares and a flare gun, and the food replicator from Star Trek. 'Earl Grey, hot!'" All of my lottery daydreams up to now have involved fully-funding my retirement plan and buying real estate and more life insurance. In short: BORING.

Now, with $10M and strict instructions to spend it on fashion? That's easy. I would invest it all (I could get at least three percent return just from CDs, right?) and spend the $300K/year creating my own couture studio. I figure $300K/year would pay for two seamstresses (or a seamstress and a couple of assistants), a small space, equipment, fabric, and spare pins and whatnot. I'd saunter in once a week, describe what I wanted made, and work on some prototypes (just to keep my hand in. I'm sure the staff would unpick all my seams after I left). When I was satisfied, I'd have mine made, and maybe do some tweaking. Then I would post the design online and take limited orders from other people. Of course, I wouldn't really have to make too much money, because I would have the $10M pouring interest into the project. And I would always have *exactly* what I wanted to wear!

If I managed to turn a small profit (or earned more interest on the original $10M) I would start becoming even more obsessive, and get a textiles designer to make me prints, and a shoemaker/leatherworker for shoes and bags.

I forgot to buy a lottery ticket this week (um, pretty much like I forget every week) but I am always ready to entertain offers from angel investors.

No, It's Not This One, Either.

Folkwear Afghani Nomad Dress
A helpful commenter left a cryptic lead on the Duro dress a few days ago. "There's a Folkways pattern that's a dead ringer for the Duro." Well, you don't need to hang around the alley getting your trenchcoat dirty with ME; I was off with the intel like a shot. To be immediately frustrated by the lovely, deco Folkwear pattern illustrations that give ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA of the lines of the dress. Yes, yes, I understand that my life will become infinitely more beautiful and exotic and world-music-y in clothes made from these patterns, but, for the love of Vreeland, could you just give me a goddamn clue as to what the bodice looks like?

Anyway, applying my rationale of "when in doubt, apply Google, rinse, repeat" I found this, which is the Folkwear Afghani Nomad dress. Or, in this case, the Folkwear Proven├žal Nomad Dress, which is I suppose much the same thing. AND: there was a line drawing!

Folkwear Afghani Nomad DressA line drawing that is the death of hope, but a line drawing nonetheless. This is not the Duro dress, although in the taxonomy of dresses it is surely related. (Which taxonomy I am slowly developing; so slowly, in fact, that one day I will be the subject of one of those newspaper features the gist of which is "Crazed and Crabbed Local Elderly Person Finishes Useless and Pointless Lifelong Project" and will include the line "Even though the omniscient quantum robots from Alpha Centauri gave us all possible knowledge in 2036, Ms. Dressaday (as she prefers to be called) refused to stop. "You can't tell me some clanking tub of bolts knows anything about dresses! And yes, I know quantum machinery has no moving parts. Sheesh. Did they bring any knowledge of rhetorical devices? Go away now, my stories are coming on.""

Anyway, close but no cigar, sadly. I am still thinking that the best course of action is to modify a blouse pattern to fit the skirt pattern I already like. The question is whether to start with one that is closer to the right neckline, or closer to the sleeve I want. I'm thinking sleeve, as sleeves are a bitch; I can find the sleeve and trace the neckline from something else. Or I could just keep whining here about it until Mr. Olowu takes pity on me and signs up with Vogue Patterns. Maybe if I mention his name enough he'll come across me while ego-surfing!

Save This Dress! Or not.

Oh, jeebus. Have you ever passed by a stray cat, missing one eye and bereft of most of its fur, and thought "Oh, you poor thing!" and taken it home? Or seen a perfectly run-of-the-mill jerk and thought "Gee, he seems interestingly broken, my love will HEAL HIM!" and done the same? Or decided that a total teardown is your "fixer-upper"? Well, that's the way I feel about this dress.

I can't even begin even a half-hearted apologia for the collar, so let's pass over it in silence. Nor for the sleeves, which seem to be fashioned expressly to let your upper-arm bingo wings run free and frolic. The skirt looks like they drew it up from a 1940s fabric-rationing guidebook–this much and not one inch more! But even if I took off the collar, narrowed the sleeves, and fattened up the skirt, it would still look like something that would get you mistaken for one of the housekeeping staff in a nicer hotel.

I'm sure my feelings for this dress are all about the pockets, with additional subliminal influence from the shoes in the illustration, which I covet fiercely. And a little bit because the women wearing these things look like they are just one sneering look from passers-by away from becoming a girl gang, on the model of Charlie's Angels. Obviously. I mean, they have the brainy brunette (ringleader and commandant, as she is central), the ditsy blonde (you can tell, because she's looking in the wrong direction AND wearing blue gingham) and the exotic and feisty person of color (who despite being EXOTIC! and OF COLOR! has unthreateningly Caucausian features). Notice how the brunette has to hold her back, lest she open up her can of whoop-ass prematurely.

Luckily, I very rarely give in to the "it's-broken-I-must-fix-it" impulse nowadays. If you want to offer this pattern comfort, click on the image and pay your $4 on eBay. I think I will just go watch some buttkicking women on TV (Buffy, Alias, old Doris Day movies–what? she does metaphorical buttkicking, and has better clothes!) and look for two-tone platform oxfords online.

The Kindness of Strangers

Simplicity 1076
A regular reader of A Dress A Day, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent me half-a-dozen vintage patterns she found when she was clearing out her garage. This is yet more evidence for pronoia, the idea that the world is constantly and secretly rearranging itself to make you (well, in this case, ME) happy.

Because wouldn't this dress make you happy? And all those around you? I especially like the binding/ribbons on the neckline of the polka-dot version. In fact, from personal experience I can say that wearing excessive polka dots can bring plenty of joy. (I have one short full skirt, white with multicolor polka dots five inches in diameter, that never fails to 1) make folks smile and 2) make me look like an honors graduate of Ringling Clown College.)

If what you're wearing today isn't making you happy, why the hell not? Life's too short for boring miserable stopgap clothing. Don't wait until you lose weight, or until you get married, or until you get that next job. Do it now. Grab every opportunity for joy that life affords you. A dress like this would be a good place to start.