The blue velvet dress and the end of an era
I've said a lot of goodbyes in my time - too many, really. A recent farewell felt especially wrenching. You wouldn't think letting go of a dress would be so hard. Rather than have it hang in the closet like some museum piece, I decided to give my daughter the midnight blue velvet cocktail dress that had created such a stir. It wasn't so much that I was giving up the dress, but what that particular dress represented: reaping the benefits of beauty in full bloom.
In San Francisco, after a long, painful goodbye, I was enjoying a flirtation with an older, wealthy and sophisticated New York-born architect. We met at a dinner party months earlier, when we were both with other partners. After exchanging phone calls, we agreed to meet for dinner. But he wanted to surprise me with the destination. When I said I'd play along if he'd give me a hint about what to wear, he responded, "Something slightly wicked."
Naturally I was intrigued by this remark. And a quick glance in my closet determined a shopping expedition was in order. Hence the trip to Macy's in Union Square, where I saw it: a Betsey Johnson midnight blue velvet dress with a v-neck and long sleeves. It was a perfect fit, showing a respectable glimpse of cleavage, skimming the body and hitting three inches above the knee. I also found the beautiful pair of midnight blue satin strappy shoes to match. I wore gold drop earrings with lapis-lazuli and rust-coloured stones and my shoulder-length hair was coloured auburn. I'd never looked better. And he was suitably impressed.
The evening was lovely - he arrived at the door with an armful of roses, drove me in his sleek Jaguar to a fabulous restaurant, where champagne was chilling and waiters practically fell over themselves to accommodate our every wish. The meal was superb, with excellent food and wine and sparkling conversation. Afterwards we took a moonlight stroll near San Francisco Bay, then went dancing. On paper, it was a picture-perfect evening. The reality was that it seemed like he was trying too hard and I was acutely aware of the age difference.
But that "slightly wicked" dress had other outings. When I wore that dress, a man I'd been dating only a few weeks asked me to marry him - in front of a roomful of his friends! I declined. When I wore a figure-hugging black mohair sweater dress, I fell in love at first sight with a Dutchman at a dinner party in Bahrain. The disc jockey played Strangers in the Night when we danced, so apparent was our mutual attraction to everyone. Alas, timing and living on different continents would eventually conspire to keep us apart. And the dress vanished, along with nine suitcases left behind in Jordan.
Both the blue velvet dress and the black sweater dress are symbols of a time when I felt strong and relatively self-confident. It was a time heads always turned to follow me and possibilities were endless; a time when invitations were virtually non-stop and I never worried about facing fifty.
In December when shopping with Jordana in London, I was looking at kicky little black dresses and divine cocktail frocks and wishing I was the kind of woman beseiged with invitations to parties where such dresses were expected. And I suddenly realised I had been that woman; I had worn similar dresses to soirees and fetes. I had worn such confections in New York, London, San Francisco and Amman; in Cairo, Manama and Madrid. But now in Paris - the great fashion capital - such occasions are few and far between. I have a different life, which for the most part pleases me. And these days I really don't like cocktail parties. Still, moments of nostalgia arise...
My daughter, who is taller and thinner than I (and laments that she doesn't have my cleavage - I assure her she's better off) will wear the blue velvet dress over jeans, or embellish or adorn the classic design, giving it a more modern twist. But I suspect the dress will never have quite the same impact on her young life. She won't find it hard to say goodbye.
Read other tales of adieu at Sunday Scribblings.