Notes On A Red Dress

by Helen Holmes

On Sunday, I left my apartment early in the morning with the thought that I would walk to my favorite cafe and get writing done. Instead, I bought a brutally red, impossibly well fitting Betsey Johnson slip dress for $15. It’s always when I’m trying to save money that I end up handing over my debit card in exchange for satin or velvet, when I should be buying leafy greens or paper towels.

But, it’s funny: with my dwindling bank account in the corner of my mind, I can saunter through an upscale lingerie store and run my hand lazily over little stitched flowers and ribbons with no temptation at all. The delicate clasps and spaghetti straps advertise a vulnerability and impracticality I’m not interested in. I own thongs for when I want to wear jeans without sporting a fabric ridge along my ass cheeks; I have one fancy push-up bra I don if the neckline I’m vibing with that day happens to plunge. If my shirt is loose enough and I feel like it, I don’t wear a bra at all. The point I’m getting at here is that my underwear has always felt separate from my outfits, and irrelevant to their impact. I delight in tucked-in T-shirts and buttoned lapels, overly padded leather jackets and calf-skimming hemlines. I thought I did.

But this dress, man. There it was, winking out at me between the kind of highly patterned housewife-y garb I usually go for, hidden in the bowels of a brand new thrift shop. It was so entirely wrong for me I had to buy it. The short straps cling like friends to the edges of my collarbone, and the neckline, not quite oval and not quite sharp, dips wickedly across my chest. The hollow of my belly button and the small shadow cast by my stomach are obvious.

The almost Valentino-red fabric, rayon-polyester, isn’t anywhere close to pajama sheer. I own one nightgown that seems comparable: it’s baby pink and empire-cut, and you can see everything. When I wear it I feel like a rich dead bitch. Never in a million years would someone put this Betsey Johnson dress on before going to sleep, but they would wear it to bed.

When I tried it on again at home, my reflection felt like a paradigm shift and a total mistake. What the fuck is this mildly squat college girl doing in something meant for a thrice divorced reality TV magnate with her own line of specialty liquor? I’m used to clothes that smack mildly of armor; in this dress, I ooze. Wearing underwear with it would be a pipe dream.