I buy around 90% of my family’s clothes at Goodwill.  Partly, of course, I like that it’s cheap.  I can buy new clothes more often when they’re under 5 bucks a pop.  Also, I LOVE the thrill of a good find.  Goodwill cashmere is my favorite thing on earth.  When I find something good, I know that I Win at Shopping.  But another big part of why I shop there is limited choices.  Sometimes there’s good stuff, sometimes there isn’t, persistence pays off.  There are three pairs of non-pleated size 12 pants.  Do you want any of them?  simple.  It’s why I used to buy a lot of clothes at Costco.  I’m easily overwhelmed.  Which is why, if I NEED a specific thing, and Goodwill doesn’t have it, I’m in trouble.

I’m going to California with Steve in Dec. for his company’s holiday party.  I have not had cause to wear a dress since the last AOL holiday party we attended, three? years ago.  This party will be smaller (which is to say not only will they not rent out the Air and Space Museum, last year it was in someone’s apartment) and I will actually have to make eye contact with and talk to people.  Social lubricants will help on that front, but I’ll still need clothes.  We all know that I stress a bit when I have to present myself outside my comfortable little circle.  I’m a mid-sized fish in this pond.  I’ve carved out the Artsy Mom slot for myself, but it’s very location specific.  It doesn’t travel well.  I met a high school friend for lunch this week and even a stretch into Howard county caused a bit of displacement.  I need to shake it up more often or I’m going to turn into my dad and never leave home…  In my head, I’m a fabulous jet-setter, but in reality I’d be in full Howard Hughes tissue boxes for shoes mode in no time at all.

So I need a dress.  So I had to go shopping.  Almost as strong as my loathe of shopping in real stores is my scorn for ugly clothes, so I had a challenge.  I started small.  Well, I started Goodwill, but they let me down.  Many, many jumpers.  If I decided to homeschool all of the sudden, I’d be set (Amy, do you need anything?  I could go back).  When I went to Columbia for lunch, I also popped into their slightly-more-upscale-than-ours mall.  Lord & Taylor yielded a few things to try on, but nothing quite right.  Ann Taylor?  nothing.  H&M?  Oh. my. lord.  I must have aged 10 years since I was last in one b/c I”m all of the sudden waaaay too old to be in there.  Not only are the fashions too young for me, the system by which they hang things seems capricious at best.  Do people really shop thinking “I need something grey.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a cowl neck sweater, a pair of wool pants, a poncho or knickers.  Just that it is grey.”  Also, everything looks like it was shipped in compression packaging and then slapped up on hangers.  Look into steamers, people.  White House, Black Market, a store I never, ever thought would survive, had two possible dresses.  One of them was very pretty, very Joan from Mad Men, and $168.  no.  And the sales staff were so obsequious I wanted to be mean to them.

Back on home turf, I tried a few downtown shops.  Nothing.  Yesterday, I met a friend at the Hagerstown outlets.  I should have looked at the website first to see that they have very few stores that would be helpful to this mission, but we tried Banana Republic, nothing.  BCBG Max Azaria, I’m too old.  Calvin Klein, store smells like a douchebag.   Not the kind from Summer’s Eve, the kind that hangs out at the Jersey shore and says “how YOU doin’?”  A mixture of cheap leather and Drakkar Noir.  And not a dress for me.  Granted, I have a specific look I’m going for, but even so, there is VERY little out there.  When we gave up and went to the mall, I looked at both Macy’s and the Bon Ton without seeing a single dress I could bear.  It was all designed for either 20 year olds or 60 year olds.  And all of them have terrible taste.  A purple satin bag with a band at the knees and built in necklaces?  check!  Mauve chiffon floor length gown with no tailoring and a sequined matching blazer?  You betcha!  Where are the cougar dresses?

“Just make a dress” I hear you saying, “you can sew.”  yes, I can sew, but I cannot FIT.  I have no tailoring skills at all.  I learned to sew in the 80s.  I can make baggy things with lots of flaps and zippers.  Which will be put in poorly b/c I was never good at zippers.  I intend to make a very elegant monster bag clutch to go with my imaginary dress, but I do not intend to make said dress.  But I appreciate your trust in my skillz.

We went into JC Penney without any real hope, but damn if they didn’t have a huge dress selection, many of them appropriate for the 35-55 set.  I came home with two.  I’m not crazy about either of them.  The one I’m keeping for now is red jersey and looks okay if I wear a stern foundation garment to smooth everything out.  But it’s ugly from the back, no Style, you know?  And it pains me a bit to think of sitting with the fabulously stylish while wearing my polyester JCP dress.  Because I’m still 16, on some level.  Sure, the monster clutch will serve to distract a bit (I have previously carried an actual teapot as a purse, which served much the same purpose.  And tea), but I would like to feel a bit more confident.  So, more stores.  and the pattern section at the fabric store, just in case.  Maybe I can slap a dress together and then take it to the tailor…  I need a stylist.

We won’t even TALK about shoes.