The hazards of dressing up for the holidays

Party season is upon us and ’tis the time of year when I troll the shops looking for something festive, yet elegant. Sparkly, yet refined. And party hearty. Like Halloween costumes, party attire has to achieve the intended look but also be bearable – not too hot, fussy, pushy/pully, not ride up (or down). It must look good standing as well as sitting, so as to not flash any secrets to strangers, and cover all the post-50-year-old bases: upper arms, above the knee, the décolletage danger zone, etc. When you are built like me, it’s a fine line between sexy mature and aging casino waitress. It’s not an easy quest. For some reason, if you are above a size 10, the retail world seems to think you strive to dress like a dollar-store gift bag.

The other thing this party outfit needs to be is reasonable in price. As much as I am sure the gold palettes on that YSL cocktail number would probably be great, I don’t go to enough fancy parties to justify an item of clothing worth more than the apartment it will hang in.

So, I try the usual suspects and find myself in a dressing room in a major department store, surrounded by a ring of shiny temptations. Some are okay, some not and a few make it into the ever-revolving final round of selection. I get in this one top that I figure I can pair with pants or a skirt I already own. Arms? Check. Bum coverage? Check. Breathability? Check. A bit sparkly, but not so much that I’ll look like a display-window Christmas ornament come to life? Check.

It’s tricky. There’s a long, sparkly belt-type thing and some weird angles, but I manage to get it on. After several neck-pain-inducing, over-the-shoulder looks, I decide this top has made it to top contender.

And then, I try to get out of it. Try. Try. Try. After some twisting and shoulder shifting and squirming that look like I’m being attacked by killer bees … no luck. As if this experience is not already humiliating enough, I call in the sales clerk. She tries. Tries. Tries. Cannot get it over my head and off my body. Finally, she says loudly, in her clipped German accent, “Don’t move!” All the scene is missing is the sudden glare of a searchlight on my face and the distant barking of large dogs. She stands there, hands on her hips, staring at my now huffing, sweating face and says, in a resigned and ominous hush, “I get my colleague,” and leaves with a dramatic flourish of the change-room curtain.

I’m sorry, what? I look at her, not sure what to say and I’m just about to start babbling when she bursts out laughing and says, “Just joking you. This is a stupid top. It deserves this. You try something else.” And again, the flourish, and she disappears.

I humoured her and tried a few other things (I really, really wanted to leave but I just didn’t think that was an option). In the end, no luck. The search continues.

But she let me keep the sparkly belt.

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So, I wait. Trapped in sequins.

After what seems like an eternity, the sales clerk returns with a tall, dour-looking man. He’s the tailor on duty today. He has a large sewing box with him. He tells me to sit on the chair, opens his box of tools and then leans in very closely, to assess the situation. I feel compelled to ask, “Will it hurt?”

He stands up, frowns. Looks at the sales clerk. Looks at me. Then says, “Okay, we cut.” And proceeds to cut me out of my glittery prison, the entire time I am softly saying, “Sorry, so sorry…” Why I’m saying sorry I can only attribute to being Canadian, because really, why is it my fault this top is like this?

After all the snipping and sighing is done, the tailor hands the ribbons of material to the salesclerk. I sit there, shamed on my stool, a ring of murdered gold sequins at my feet.

The tailor then leaves in another dramatic curtain flourish (do they secretly practise when business is slow?) and the sales clerk stands there, arms crossed, glaring at me like I’ve dented her car. After a long silence, she says, “Do you still want it? I give you discount.”

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