You can run, but you can't hide from the Infinite infomercial. Suddenly, it's everywhere. It reaches out to grab you in the middle of the night, and it won't let go. Hostess and infomercial denizen Jenilee Harrison admonishes her audience to buy the only dress that can be worn in more than 30 styles and for the onetime low price of $59.95.
And so I do. For 30 straight days I wore, and only wore (except at the gym and while sleeping), the Infinite Dress--with the occasional machine washing, of course. I've always been a style-obsessed clotheshorse, albeit an eccentric one, but never has a sartorial manifestation invited so much participation or commentary from my friends and colleagues. We were all in this thing together.
Day 1: Style 4
Starting off simply, with a style that has sleeves and ties at the waist. Off to friends Collin and Charlie's, where we watched the Infinite instructional tape. I did and undid the dress to the video with increasing dexterity. C & C were very impressed.
Essentially, the Infinite Dress is a tube of polyester-Lycra with two long tails that can be wrapped in different configurations. While the DuPont slinky fabric is decidedly down-market, it drapes nicely, and the design itself is ingenious. As for the wrapping styles, some are clearly ridiculous, like the ones incorporating a choker necklace or some of the one-shoulder numbers, but others aren't bad at all, particularly when they're trim or Japanesque.
Wrapped clothing, in and of itself, has a distinguished heritage in many cultures, including the Japanese kimono, the Indian sari and the Polynesian pareo (starring at Club Meds worldwide, which give popular classes in pareo wrapping). Stateside in the '70s, Diane Von Furstenberg's wrap dress was such a smashing success that it made the cover of Newsweek and earlier this year, she relaunched her line as Diane to a receptive public.
Day 2: Style 6
As I look through the Infinite instruction booklet, I see that all but three of the 34 styles are backless. Consequently, my convertible dress is going to require a convertible bra. Friend Susan and I went to the bra department at Bloomingdale's and found the bra, the Convertible BackLess Push Up by Smoothie for $27, which can be configured into a crisscross mode, a halter mode and a wide set / deep back mode. I couldn't figure it out without her help, but together we managed. I also learned that the insider lingerie term for this item is a "3-way."
Unfortunately, when I got home, I discovered the saleswoman had put the wrong bra in my bag, so later that night when I got ready for a birthday dinner and was planning to wear Style 2 in the halter mode, I couldn't. I did manage to unearth an old bustier, though, and ended up in backless Style 6.
Day 5: Style 22
It's not Style 22's fault, but the Convertible BackLess Push Up by Smoothie in the halter configuration gave me such a literal pain in the neck that within 30 minutes of putting it on, it reactivated a whiplash injury from an accident several months back. I could stand it no longer, so I dug back into the drawer and pulled out the trusty bustier again to climb back into Style 22.
The notion of clothing that morphs into different styles isn't entirely new either.
Convertibility enabled L.A. designer Maggie Barry to put herself through fashion school at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City in the early '80s. It was the first line she ever did, she called it "Cooo Tubes," and it consisted of stretchy tulles in neon colors that could be layered one over the other in different ways.
"I was a real club kid in those days," she recalls, "and I remember going dancing at this disco in Queens with some shady characters. We normally wouldn't go out there, but that's where you ended up after-after-after hours if you wanted to keep dancing; we're talking something like 11 o'clock in the morning. So, I'm dancing away, grooving in my Cooo Tubes, thinking I'm really hot stuff because everyone, but everyone, is staring at me."
Reveling in the attention with fierce reckless abandon, it took her a moment to realize, to her horror, that the tubes had worked themselves down around her hips and she was dancing topless.
Eighties' convertibility was not necessarily just about stretch either. Administrator Anna Carey acquired and traveled around the world in a hemp-like natural-fleck canvas apparatus with drawstrings at either end and a zipper in front, which worked as a sundress, skirt, poncho, tarp and carry-all. In a pinch, it could also turn into a pup tent.
"But we never camped in it," she says regretfully. "We didn't have the poles."
Day 8: Style 2
At the doctor's office, for the first time, others spotted the Infinite as the Infinite per se. All the nurses were fascinated, surrounded me and fired off questions:
"Is that the dress on TV?"
"Does it come in other colors?"
"Do you really have to wear it for 30 days?"