dress up

On Saturday, I have every intention of hiding indoors from the 102 degree heat, until it's time to get ready for the party. Fate has other plans, though, because fate makes N. forget his wallet at home. Fate therefore requires that I meet my cash-strapped friend in the fashion district, in order to loan him money to buy the hot pink, patent leather, size ten pumps he needs to complete his own quinceanera outfit.

The fashion district is, oh, eleven, twelve blocks across town. Did I mention the 102 degree heat? I may have mentioned it.

By the time we get to Santee Alley, we're sweat-drenched and sun-fried. Thankfully, it has the shoes he needs. It also has a few hundred hot, cranky shoppers crammed into it. On the way back, we walk by a dress shop that throws a bedazzled monkey wrench into my plans: it has full length, blinged-out ball gowns for $99. I've already got a cheap dress to wear for the night, but it's short. It's not a traditional XV dress. I know I can return mine and recoup my $69, so it will only put me out another $30 to upgrade to three additional feet of dress. I look at N, assuming he'll tell me to suck it up and just wear what I've already bought.

I guess my first mistake was expecting a gay man to say, "No, for merely another $30, you should not trade up for a fabulous, floor-length pooflicious ball gown that would be exactly what the party calls for." Because he does not say that. Instead, he practically pushes me into the store. I now suspect he had ulterior motives, but more on that later.

We do a quick survey of the selection and decide that an apricot, tulle-skirted dress with a plunging neckline and silver beading is the best of the $99 options. A tiny Mexican saleswoman asks me what size I want. I frown thoughtfully, looking at N. (a clothing designer who's used me as a fit model a few times), and say, "Ummm, a two or a four?" She glances at my midsection, expressionless, before correcting me with a thick accent: "No. You are a seex."

N. enjoys this immensely.

I know he has to get back to work, so I shoo him off before spending several sweaty minutes making this poor woman all too familiar with my topless torso, while she wrestles me into the apricot number, then a lime green lace-up strapless, then back into the apricot, all the while encouraging me to just get both. "I only need one," I try to explain. "One dress for one party. Tonight."

She doesn't understand, or doesn't care. "Ninety-nine. You get both, yes? Ninety-nine. Each dress. Yes?"

The green sets off my hair better, but the last thing I want to be doing all night is yanking the top up. Strapless dresses and I have come to an understanding, which is Let's just steer clear of one another, for both our sakes.

This is when the plot thickens, kind of like how the triple-digit air outside had thickened to the consistency of soup: I don't have enough money in my checking account to get the dress. If I want it, I'm going to have to walk eleven blocks back home to transfer money before walking eleven blocks back to pick up the dress.


Ever the glutton for punishment, I do precisely this, stopping home just long enough to slam some water, let Chaucer out, and change into a dry shirt. It's hotter. Than. Fuck.

Back at the shop, my dress has been mummified in a clear plastic bag. I don't fold it over my arm for fear of getting the metric ton of tulle wrinkled, so I hoist the hanger above my head and venture back into the glaring sunshine. It weighs about a thousand pounds. I figure at this point I may as well go the full Quincy, so I trek back towards Santee Alley to a shop N. and I had stopped in earlier. It sells over-the-top crystal necklaces.

And tiaras.

Another diminutive Latina lady steps over to assist me with the tiaras, which are in a display case at the back of the store. Behind the case, barely visible from the front of the shop, are two young Asian girls, probably ten and seven years old. The older one is sitting on a stool at the counter, and looks at me curiously as I stagger up, practically dragging my massive bag. She has a school workbook in front of her, while her younger sister is playing a handheld video game. I give them a big smile.

I've apparently hit faux-crown pay dirt, because I've never seen so many tiaras in my life. The selection is massive, and I'm overwhelmed. I ask for something in the $10 range, and the shopkeeper starts pulling out tiara after tiara. Meanwhile, the two little girls are chatting me up like nobody's business.

"Isn't that heavy?" the older one asks me, nodding with seriousness and concern towards my garment bag. I assure her it definitely is. "It's hot out, huh?" the younger one adds, sympathetically. I decide that I love them.

"It is very hot out," I agree. "But I get to go to a costume party tonight, so it's ok."

Then I notice that the saleslady is still pulling out tiaras. "Oh gosh," I say, alarmed. "I'm sure I can find one among these. You don't have to take any more out."

The older girl sizes the situation up with expertise. "She's getting the ones with pearls. But you don't need one with pearls, do you?" I have no idea how she knows this but, no, I don't, and say as much. I pick three of cheapest crowns and separate them from the rest. Two are decidedly smaller and less ornate than the third, and in line with what I pictured wearing: subtle and rather sweet.

"What do you think, girls? Which one should I get?" My advisors step closer and peer carefully at the choices. Without conferring, they both point to the most intricate tiara, which has a triangular top and more bling than I've worn, collectively, in ten years.

The older girl is confident in her pronouncement: "Definitely that one. If you're going to a costume party, you should get the fanciest one." Her sister nods emphatically. I don't bother voting; I'm clearly outnumbered, not to mention by bigger authorities on how to best to look like a princess. And when the younger girl adds, "Go big or go home," I realize I'd better pay and get out of there before I commit a double kidnapping.