The Secret Lives of Dresses, Vol. 4

black dress
I knew what I was up for when she walked in the shop. I mean, it's not like I harbored any delusions about what I'd end up doing — I'm not exactly a dress for picnics or being rowed about in a boat or walking hand in hand through the park, am I? I mean, I'm never going to have a puppy in MY lap, that's for sure. But when I saw her, her face tight and set and wearing too much powder to try to hide (unsuccessfully) that she'd been crying, I knew. I'm the kind of dress that women wear to make other people feel sorry, and some poor bastard was going to get the brunt of it, and me.

When she tried me on she gave a little shudder, like someone just walked over her grave. She was quick, and she was prepared, even in the dressing room. She had the right underclothes, the right shoes, both new. Earrings. She was going to be 100% certain of the effect I would have. She wasn't taking any chances.

Mme Robillard tried to talk her into an alteration, as she always does, just a little adjustment to the back seam, but the woman didn't even answer her. She just handed over her money — a lot of small bills.

She took me back to her apartment. Fourth floor, walkup. It was like a waiting room in a train station. You got the idea that nobody spent much time there, and the time they did spend was spent thinking of someplace else. There were a couple of boxes half-packed, a suitcase on the floor. She sat there in a straight chair for a long time, not really looking at anything. Staring off into space. Finally, when the light had nearly died, she got up. I heard her in the shower. She didn't sing.

When she put me on, she was ready. Perfume — really nice perfume, nicer than anything Mme Robillard's customers ever wore. Those earrings. The shoes were teetery, with spindly heels, but she was surefooted in them, like a cat. Little clutch bag, satin, with a diamanté clasp. Her hair was a mass of soft curls, one hanging just so over her brow. Her lipstick was just a shade darker than blood.

A taxi took us to the restaurant. She walked right in — the matre d' gave her a nod as she went straight to a table in the back. There was a man there; big surprise. He was a big man, but drawn. His hands were a little too bony, and the collar of his shirt was loose around his neck. His tie pin had a green stone that was too big to be real. "Hey, baby, what took you so long?" he said, with a smile. He didn't stand up.

She slid into the banquette. "I had things. To do."

"Better things than me?" He looked piqued. This obviously wasn't the kind of answer she usually gave.

He ordered without consulting her. A showoffy meal, heavy on the oysters Rockefeller and the beef tenderloin. He never had to order a drink; the waiters watched his glass like some guys watch a horse race — and they kept 'em coming. She drank club soda. He talked. He was going to do this, he was going to do that; there was a guy coming into town and when they got together big things were going to happen. She listened quietly. He didn't seem to expect her to comment.

He wanted baked Alaska for dessert. She had a cup of coffee. Just when he had taken his first bite, she spoke.

"I won't be seeing you any more, Jimmy."

"What? Baby, whaddya mean, you 'won't be seeing me anymore'?"

"I'm going, Jimmy. I got a job in P–I got a job. It doesn't matter where. I'm not doing this anymore."

"Doing what? Havin' nice dinners with me?"

"I'm not waiting for you anymore, Jimmy. I'm not waiting until some guy comes to town, some guy who's never gonna meet with you anyway, unless you're driving his car. I'm tired of the excuses, I'm tired of the just-give-me-another-month. I'm tired of this. I'm tired of you."

"Baby, look, I know it's been hard, I know it's been a long time –"

"It's not going to get any longer, Jimmy. I thought you were someone — I thought you were somebody else. I loved that somebody else, Jimmy, and he never even existed. I thought you were him, but I was just talking myself into it. I finally figured it out, though. If you were the guy I thought you were — well, there wouldn't have been any waiting, any 'been a long time'. That guy — he wouldn't have kept me just hanging around. He would have wanted — he would have wanted to be sure of me."

"Baby — " he was pushing his plate away. He pushed his chair back. The hovering waiters didn't know what to do, so they just kept hovering. His glass was still full. She had her clutch in her hand and she was up and a step away while he sat there, his mouth slack and his hands still resting on the table.

"Sorry, Jimmy. It's not your fault that you're not what I thought you were. Not what I hoped you were, not what I tried to make you out to be. So — goodbye."

He didn't follow her out of the restaurant, though I could feel her listening for his step. He didn't even call out. She walked out of the restaurant, didn't even hail a taxi. Just kept walking, giving him that one last chance. When a taxi pulled up–any woman wearing the shoes she was wearing surely wanted a taxi–well, I thought for sure she'd cry then, but she never did. Not in the taxi, not when she was back in her apartment, packing up the boxes. Not in bed before she went to sleep. I don't know if she cried the next day, because when it got light, she was gone. I was left hanging in the closet.

0 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Dresses, Vol. 4

  1. Totally off-topic: Come give me some advice! (The cotton turned out quite stiff when washed and I’m not sure it’s usable.)I got the book. You are much too kind, and I don’t deserve it, but I shall treasure it.


  2. Found you blog this morning, read your story and I love it! I will link your blog, o.k.?Looking forward to the next story!Aud


  3. Great story–it makes me want to get all dolled up and go break someone’s heart.And I love the site. It’s been a timely find as I start thinking about sewing for spring and summer.


  4. Damn, I wish that dress were mine, but alas it is a smidge to small around the bosom, and I have no hearts to break at the moment.


  5. Could a link to Vol. 1 & 2 of the Secret Lives of Dresses be provided? I couldn’t find them w/Google, but I enjoyed vols. 3 & 4 eversomuch. Merci.


  6. You’re SUCH a good writer. I second the opinion of one of the commenters: you have to gather these stories and publish them. Together with gorgeous pictures of dresses. I bet some publisher would be interested!


  7. I heart your writing 🙂 Imagine great dresses & great writing all in one blog!! It makes me want to put on a summer dress and do cartwheels in the yard.


  8. I love these stories! Could you put links to each story in your sidebar? I’ve recommended your blog to a few people, and I’d like to suggest the stories too.


  9. Thanks so much for adding these to the sidebar. I’ve already rec’d them to a friend, who is reccommending them to another friend! 🙂


  10. Oh, I wore a dress like this once. Only in a very ugly color. But the cut — OH that cut! This is a really great blog. Fantastic! Glad I stumbled across it.


  11. truly a wonderful site. very sad stories, but love the idea of the intelligent clothing experiencing modern life from the perspective of their own pasts…


  12. i came across your site totally by accident — i think i clicked on a link while i was trying to search for free patterns on-line — but i’m glad i did because i sooo love it! Great writing! And about clothes at that! My two favorite things! Kudos to you and looking forward to reading more of your posts!


  13. I just found your site yesterday and am finding myself already back on this morning. Am taking my second sewing class, even though my mother has been sewing for my entire life, and just finished my first dress. I’m not much of a dress wearer, but after reading your stories, it makes me want to be. Can anyone tell me where I might find either authentic, copy or similar pattern for Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress vogue pattern 1549? The one with the cuffs?? Can’t find one under $70+ Help for the newbie?? Thanks and love your site!-Kate


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