About three years ago I spent too much money for a dressy dress in a color that was not my favorite.
It was of that crinkled fabric that is a trademark of Mary McFadden. I was told that my dress was designed by one of her former apprentices, as clerks tend to say when you think you are spending too much and they claim it should be more.
From the moment I saw it on the boutique wall I almost loved the dress. I almost liked the way it was cut, a long pleated top over a slim, pleated skirt. I almost liked the color, a vivid steel blue. I almost liked the neckline, a wide, shallow V.
The dress had panache on the hanger; I knew it would travel well and take little space in a suitcase. Both skirt and top were pull-ons, so there were no snaps to lose nor zippers to break.
Over the years I remember only one compliment on that dress. It was in Normandy in the spring of 1983. I wore it to a gala soiree at the chateau of Malcolm Forbes. The man who complimented me was dark and handsome, but, in that black-tie crowd, he stood out for wearing a polyester suit of middling tan.
Recently, in a ruthless closet clean-out, I separated dreams from reality. I removed the Lindblad Explorer T-shirt with a Chinese inscription from under a ball gown of Thai silk from Bangkok. I gave away a beribboned cotton dress from Mexico that had been a winner on tropical cruises and at luaus before losing its color in a dry-cleaning mishap.
And I called a seamstress to let out waistbands on some skirts and take in waistbands on others so that these garments could rejoin my travel circle.
As she was about to leave I remembered the blue bane of my wardrobe, the almost-liked dress that would never wrinkle and, assuredly, never wear out. I thought that maybe if she changed the neckline things would be better. Maybe wider on the shoulders, I suggested, or maybe narrower. Maybe more of a V, or maybe less.
She asked me to sit down, stand up, turn around. She asked me to put on my pearls and to quit tugging on the top. Then she smiled and drawled: "Try the top on backward."
I went to a mirror and I did. The pleats rippled with laughter. The dress was suddenly terrific. It now had a high boat neckline in front, and a wide, gentle V in back. The pleats fell straight toward the floor and the pearls stood out on the field of blue.
"You'll be the only one who will know," she said. "I'll snip out the label so it won't be in front."
She looked again at the long, lustrous sleeves.
"Judith," she said as if speaking to a wayward child, "this is the ways the sleeves should button. You've been wearing the dress backward all along. They simply put the label in the wrong place."
I guess I will never know for sure. But I do know that it seems new to me. And that it fetched compliments last week at a Washington party from two dark and handsome men--both wearing tuxedos.