There were two dresses —mine was deep maroon, and my mother’s was black. We found them on the clearance rack at Pamida, a huge discount store. Score! One size fits all the label proclaimed, and it was true, but while I occasionally wore the black dress, the maroon one claimed me.
I remember that dress like it was just yesterday that I was wearing it. Its jewel-tone accented the translucent whiteness of my skin, the contrast startling. The clingy folds outlined the lithesome body, firm breasts, softly rounded hips, the round neckline with its single decorative button echoing the curve of my face. The gathered waistline emphasized my small waist and the skirt fell in classic lines just below the knee. I loved its silky softness, the way the fabric alternately flowed and clung, following my movements.
Wearing that dress, I felt every inch a woman —not a timid young girl. I recall looking in the mirror, noting a wayward curl, and being startled to see a beautiful young woman gazing back at me, gray-blue eyes framed with dark lashes, high cheekbones, somewhat somber lips, irregularly shaped nose, and the clear tones of fair skin.
Somehow, for a few moments, gazing into the looking glass, the ugly-duckling had become a swan. While the thought that I was beautiful didn’t remain with me, whenever I wore that dress confidence in myself, in my femininity flourished. It was my boyfriend, Rex’s favorite dress. I wore it when he invited me to church, and again at his missionary farewell. I wore it for my senior pictures, the look completed with an errant curl in the middle of my forehead. It was the picture he chose to keep.
The dress continued to be my favorite when I embarked on the new adventure of going to college. I moved into an apartment with roommates, I reinvented myself, and became more and more the woman I felt like when I wore the maroon dress; pretty, witty, and wiser than I had been. I was writing to Rex, dating a lot of different guys, and I was friends with Kelly, but just friends or so I thought. One of the fellows I dated was named Dave, I wore the maroon dress to a Christmas dance I went to with him. He asked me to move to Alaska with him. I was flattered, but declined. And a few short weeks later, Kelly gave me a ride Christmas gift, and I ride home for the Christmas break. That was the beginning of “us” —thought I didn’t know it at the time.
Kelly liked the dress too. It was his favorite. In fact I wore it to the temple the day we were married. Pictures show Kelly smiling widely and me looking a little dazed, my hair mussed, and curls escaping, as I lean against him in my maroon dress. I wore it in the first family picture we had taken, its rich tones contrasting with the navy blue of his suit. I wore it the day we blessed our second-born daughter.
I don’t remember when or why I discarded the dress — perhaps it became worn, or perhaps I felt like it was too much out of style, or perhaps it didn’t fit anymore. I wish I had kept it, spanning as it did my journey from girl to woman. But, perhaps having the dress was not important. Perhaps the way I felt when I was wearing it, was the important thing. It symbolized the woman I became, and when I wore that dress, the belief that I was beautiful shone forth.
Before Kelly was laid to rest, I instinctively placed in his hands, those still, motionless hands, a photo of myself, wearing the maroon dress, his “Cutestuff.’
Please feel free to share your thoughts about an experience you had that changed your self perception.