AP Press Writer, New York
Beautiful, gorgeous and fabulous are words no one has ever used to describe my usual weekend outfit, which consists of a bleach-stained tank top and shorts. But those were some of the comments I got wearing a maxi dress on a recent Saturday.
That’s right, a maxi dress, gown of choice for the likes of Stevie Nicks and Queen Guinevere. The $34.50 dress from Old Navy, with cap sleeves, an empire waistline and a swirly floral print of navy blue on white, was much more feminine than my typical attire and seemed a tad too festive to wear to run errands. I longed for a tea party invitation, or a ’70s band to sing for.
But the longer I wore the dress, the more normal it seemed. And even though temperatures were in the 90s, I didn’t feel hot. The dress is flatteringly silhouetted without being tight. The flowing skirt creates a breeze as it swings around your legs. The slip-on style eliminates pinchy zippers or buttons, and the cotton-blend fabric is light and comfortable. My usual Lycra top and tight-waisted shorts would have felt much stickier in the heat.
The day started with a comment from my fashion-blind husband, who can always be counted on to crash my Cinderella fantasies. As he beheld me at 8 a.m., resplendent in my maxi dress, he said, "New nightgown?"
Ignoring the illogic of donning a new nightgown first thing in the morning, I informed him that I was doing a trend test for my office by wearing a maxi dress. He regarded me with pity, as if I had drawn the short straw in an office pool to clean the coffeepot. "Looks like a housedress," he said.
Just for that, I made him take my picture. In the course of the photo session on our residential Brooklyn street, a neighbor pronounced the dress "beautiful." I told her about the trend test and asked if she would wear one. She said she was not tall enough at 5 feet. My height was in fact why I got nominated for the test-run. At nearly 5 foot 10, I wouldn’t trip on the hem.
Next I headed to breakfast at a diner on Staten Island with a couple of old friends, who made up for my husband’s lack of enthusiasm. "Fabulous!" one gushed. "Gorgeous!" declared the other.
But would they wear it? "For sure," said the 5-foot-6 suburban mother of three who works as a style editor. The other, an older woman, demurred, saying she found the neckline problematic. I suddenly felt a draft and tugged the round neckline up a few inches while finishing my eggs and coffee.
From there I took the ferry across New York Harbor to Lower Manhattan, scanning the boat and connecting subway for other maxi dresses. Alas, I was a lonely fashionista. Amid hundreds, only a few had hems as long as mine: Two South Asian women in saris and a plus-size tourist in an unfortunate tight pink sundress down to her ankles.
I bought some snacks and toys to send to my 10-year-old son at sleep-away camp, then headed to a post office near Penn Station, where I spotted an elegant woman in a strapless black floor-length summer dress chatting on a cell phone, matching luggage by her side.
Back in my neighborhood, though, I was the only begowned shopper at Key Food as I picked up some fruit and cheese. Home again, I walked the dog, changed cat litter and did laundry. The dress was surprisingly comfy for chores, bending and carrying. Perhaps my husband’s "housedress" label wasn’t wrong.
My teenage son breezed in to shower en route to a party. He noticed the dress and said, "Good for the beach."
I imagined the skirt dragging through the sand and shook my head.
He took another stab. "Looks like something your sister would wear."
My sister is a yoga teacher. "What do you mean?" I said.
"Uh, Buddhist?" he said. "Naturistic?" I shook my head again and he headed into the bathroom.
Then I heard the ding-ding of a bell rung by an old-fashioned knife-grinder, whose truck ambles down our block every few months. I grabbed a half-dozen knives and flagged him down. Bob the Knife Grinder had no comment on my dress, but told me the dishwasher was ruining my cutlery.
As Bob drove off, a neighbor exclaimed, "I’ve never seen that!"
"Really?" I replied, thinking she was referring to the rare sighting of a maxi dress.
"Yeah, that knife-grinder guy. Does he come around often?"
We chatted about Bob and I realized that what started out feeling like an overly feminine, attention-getting gown had become a completely unremarkable outfit.
On the other hand, context is everything. At a backyard summer wedding or upscale cafe, I would have felt appropriately dressed up. The genius of this particular dress is that it’s comfy enough to run errands in on a hot day, and pretty enough for a party.
Photos courtesy of the Fashion Spot forums.