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What to Wear to a Millennium

January 02, 2000|Ilene Beckerman | Ilene Beckerman is the author of "Love, Loss and What I Wore."

BERNARDSVILLE, N.J. — I was at the most heralded party of the season. Everyone was there. Best of all, I didn't have to go anyplace, I could just stay home. No crowds. No parking problems. I just sat on my couch and it came to me--the year 2000.

There was one problem, however. The perennial problem that goes with every significant occasion, whether you're going to a prom, or the Oscars or just the movies: what to wear.

Luckily, the millennium party happened to fall on New Year's Eve, so I only needed one holiday outfit.

Even before I looked through my closet, I knew I wouldn't find anything to wear. I never can. The problem is, there's so much stuff in my closet, there's no room to fit in anything new.

As I thought about what I could wear that would be worthy of so historic an event, my mind went immediately to outfits I always loved. Not necessarily mine.

That's when I decided to compose my own "Top 10 Fashions of All Time" list. Why not? Every magazine has been doing the David Letterman "top 10 list" thing for the past year, milking it to be top 100 lists. (What's left for magazines to write about now?)

My sartorial review covered only the last 65 years. I learned long ago to only write about what you know. But sometimes, a lifetime can seem like a millennium. Sometimes even a day.

A little fanfare, please. Or at least Bobby Vinton singing "Blue Velvet."

10) A Sonja Henie ice-skating dress like the one she wore in "Sun Valley Serenade," pale blue trimmed with white ermine. Peggy Fleming and Kristi Yamaguchi and all the other ice divas wear pretty outfits that show a lot of skin, but their skirts never twirl. The problem was (there's always a problem), I couldn't even stand up on ice skates and my mother only had enough money to buy me roller skates you tightened with a key.

9) A Ginger Rogers dancing dress, accessorized with ostrich feathers and Fred Astaire. Who wouldn't be "in heaven" dancing cheek to cheek with Astaire?

8) Tie: Grace Kelly's wedding dress and Princess Diana's wedding dress. Cinderella dresses on two extraordinarily beautiful women who didn't get to live happily ever after.

7) Cardigan sweater worn backward. Peter Pan collar. Knotted pearls. Circle skirt, saddle shoes and bobby sox. Worn to the Paramount movie theater by all of us who swooned over "The Voice," before Garth and Ricky were even born.

6) Tie: the black dress Rita Hayworth wore in "Gilda" and the black dress Audrey Hepburn wore in "Breakfast at Tiffany's." And to think, when I was growing up in the '40s, you only wore black if you were going to a funeral or were a nun.

5) The red dress Bette Davis shouldn't have worn in the movie "Jezebel." (And a personal thank you to Davis and Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich and Katharine Hepburn, who not only made their own fashion statements but made major statements about individuality and women long before "The Feminine Mystique.")

4) The green velvet dress Scarlett O'Hara made out of her curtains in "Gone With the Wind." She deserves a significant place on this list for being the first woman recycler, way back in 1939.

3) The Grecian robe worn by the Statue of Liberty. It's timeless, indestructible, continually inspiring and only needs to be cleaned every couple of hundred years.

2) The skintight dress Marilyn Monroe wore to President John F. Kennedy's 45th birthday party. Sexy as it was, it marked the end of innocence.

And now, my choice for the top dress of all time. A drumroll, please, or at least Frank Sinatra singing "I Get a Kick Out of You."

The top dress of all time: my red taffeta maternity dress from Lane Bryant. (Bob Mackie, eat your heart out.)

Why, you are probably asking yourself, have I chosen this dress, when I didn't even cite tie-dye, miniskirts or Cher? Not to mention Dorothy Lamour's sarong, Carmen Miranda's ruffles and Josephine Baker's bananas? But ask not what is not on my list, ask why what's on my list is on it.

My maternity dress made first place because, first, since it's a tent dress, it always fits. And second, since it has absolutely no style, it never goes out of style.

But these are not the primary reasons it got the No. 1 spot. I wore this dress at least once during each of my six pregnancies, which I consider to be the greatest events of the past hundred decades.

It's highly improbable that I'll get pregnant again. If I did, I'd probably make another list: "The Guinness Book of World Records." But I still have the dress. Somewhere. I just can't throw it out.

Much as I love it, I didn't wear it to the year 2000 celebration. I knew if my husband saw me wearing a maternity dress, he'd have passed out, missed the entire millennium and have had to wait 1,000 years for another party like it.

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