I’ve never been one to claim to know about fashion. In fact, my first year of teaching I was in the lounge and another teacher had just celebrated her birthday. The other teachers were asking how her family had surprised her on her special day. “Well,” she smiled and her eyes grew wide, “my husband and my boys saved up to give me a Coach purse.” My face probably showed complete confusion because I had no idea what she was talking about. I glanced around at the other teachers who were smiling back and nodding their heads in approval saying things like, “How sweet!” and “That’s awesome!” I tried to hide my total ignorance in handbag vogue by imitating my more knowledgeable peers. So I began nodding and smiling as well all the while thinking, Who has to save up for a purse?
That night when Michael got back to our one bedroom apartment after his long day of studying (he was in med school at the time) he found me looking up Coach purses. “What are you doing?” he asked me. “Did you know that some purses cost $500?” I shouted at him incredulously. “What are you talking about?” He began setting his bag down as I continued to scroll becoming more appalled as the prices increased. “Wait. Nope, $595. Agh! $795! And I wouldn’t even pay twenty dollars for that one! I mean, seriously? Who likes Pepto-Bismol pink?” He joined me on the couch as I told him the story that I had heard over lunch. He stopped me mid-sentence as I was saying a ridiculously long run-on sentence, “…and I couldn’t figure out why that was the only thing she got and I mean, I kept thinking, what is ‘Coach’ and then…”
“Oh Lis,” he shook his head and looked up as if God shared his disbelief and then he looked back at me. “Please tell me you didn’t ask them, did you?” his eyes pleaded with me to confirm I hadn’t.
“Well no I didn’t…wait, what do you mean, did I ask them? What if I did?”
“It just makes you seem like such a small town girl.”
“But I am a small town girl.” My head tilted a bit and my eyebrows raised while I gave him a you-better-watch-your-step-mister kinda look.
“You know what I mean.”
“No I don’t. I bet there’s other ‘small-town girls'” I used my fingers to emphasize the quotation marks here and my eyes began to glare, “that know what Coach is. I just don’t ’cause…well I don’t know. I’ve never cared about purses. I don’t read fashion magazines because I read somewhere that stuff like that will only make you feel bad about yourself…and whatever. You should be happy I don’t know what Coach is because it means it saves you money.”
“I am. I do,” he said, nodding now with a smirk on his face. I know it went a bit longer than that, but the short story is I was mad that he had heard of Coach when I hadn’t. He tried to insist that my ignorance was cute while I just felt like an idiot. I mean, I’ve always known I’m not “trendy” but no one wants that fact shoved in their face. I got mad a bit, he teased a bit and then…we made up. This was before we had kids so you can imagine that at that point in our marriage making up was always awesome.
Eight years later, I find myself in my first year working at a private school. There are many things to be learned when changing jobs, one of which is the culture of your new job environment. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve experienced a bit of a culture shock. I’m no longer teaching students who receive free and reduced school lunch. Our students have to pay $5.50 for a catered school lunch and they pay tuition. School fundraisers are completely different.
This week I’ll be attending a Spring Gala for our school to raise money to pay for new playground equipment. While it sounds fun and I’m all for supporting our students, I have to admit that I’m also a nervous wreck about this. I mean, what does one wear to a gala? I had heard about the event in passing earlier in the year, but then I got an invitation. Like, a real invitation. Not something printed out and pinned up in the teacher’s lounge on the butcher papered bulletin board. This was both impressive and terrifying. Upon receiving the invite, my first thought was not, “Oh awesome, a night out with friends away from my kids” or “This will be a great excuse for a date night” but rather, “What would I wear?” The only thing that was clear to me was that I couldn’t wear flip-flops. I mean, just when I thought I’d left the embarrassing days of Coach ignorance behind me, wham!
I read and reread the invitation for some kind of clue. While I knew it said clearly, “cocktail attire” I had no idea what that meant. I asked the other teachers at school and most of them said the same thing. “It’s cocktail attire, Lis.” And my response was, “Yeah, I know that’s what it says. I have no idea what that means.” Next they would clarify, “It means a short black dress.” All the while in my mind I’m seeing images from Pretty Woman when Bridget, the kind store clerk asks Julia Roberts, “You’re gonna go out? Dinner? Well you’ll need a cocktail dress then. Come with me.” But the next thing I picture is Julia wearing a super long red gown and white gloves all the way to her elbows. Not a small black…
At some point I get online and Google Pretty Woman cocktail dress (because naturally any movie where a prostitute can end up with a multi-millionaire like Richard Gere must know how to appropriately dress people for a gala) and.. they’re right! Before the red dress is a short black dress. Hmph.
It’s clear from the get-go that I have nothing in my closet that will be sufficient for a gala. Since I have no spare time and I always have children with me, I end up finding a dress over Spring Break in-between trips to Disneyland and California Adventure. We had to drag our kids into Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet which I was given a gift card for from one of my students’ parents on my birthday. I had never before stepped foot into that store because I was intimidated and I assumed that nothing would be in our price range. On our way into Saks I had jokingly asked Mike, “Do you think I can get a whole pair of socks with this much or just one?” Turns out, I was able to get a whole dress! (No one will know that it was on clearance.) It didn’t matter that my kids ran around knocking things over or that we lost them once when they were playing hide-and-go-seek in the long formal dresses, or that we had to separate them eventually so Lindsay had to sit with me in the fitting room and commented on every dress. In the end, I had found something to wear!
So now I was covered, but we had no idea what Mike is supposed to wear to this event. I started taking an informal survey around school which basically means that every teacher I meet while taking my kids to and from specials gets asked, “Is your husband planning on wearing a suit to the gala?” While everyone was completely kind and forthcoming, every person I asked told me the exact opposite of what the person before him had. So basically I went home and told Mike, “Half of the people say you need to be wearing a suit. The other half say a shirt and tie are fine. ‘It’s Vegas’ they keep telling me. Some people say Vegas is relaxed. Other people said, ‘It’s Vegas. People dress up for everything.’ So you know,” I shrugged, “I think…whatever you want to do.”
At this point it’s exactly one week before the gala. Mike doesn’t know what he’s wearing, I don’t have shoes, and we’ve scheduled a Parents’ Night Out with the church. Basically, we pay a very generous babysitting fee to help fundraise some teenagers to go to a youth conference and we’re supposed to have a romantic night out. Our “romantic” evening turns into a let’s-see-how-fast-we-can-shop-without-children-night. We speed walk through Off-Broadway Shoes, Nordstrom Rack, Dillards, Macy’s, Banana Republic, and a few others. We have exactly two hours to find me a pair of high heels that I pray I still know how to walk in (or at least not break my ankle) and to find Mike a suit (which apparently has to be different than his interview suit which of course I didn’t know because I’ve never analyzed a guy’s suit nor did I know they were different styles. Once again, don’t come to me for wardrobe advice.)
The problem is, I don’t have the right mindset for this kinda thing. I’m currently reading Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jan Hatmaker which is about an experiment she did to live on less to let God come into her life more. Basically it’s about letting go of excess to appreciate how the rest of the world lives and allow God to touch you spiritually. So naturally this entire process is making me feel like a total hypocrite. I keep thinking, I don’t buy shoes very often, why should I buy high heels for one night when I can…“Oh I love these!” I say as we walk past some casual high heel-ish shoes that are meant to be worn with jeans.
“Those can’t go with your dress,” Mike looks back at me while he’s still moving towards the shoes I’m supposed to be looking at.
“Of course they can’t. I know that, but I like these better. Maybe I’ll wear them anyway.”
“Well try them on and we can get them too.”
I put them on and let’s face it. They’re awesome. Super cute! And I look up at Mike and he’s shaking his head and smiling at me and with a big sigh he says, “Yeah alright they’re good. Grab ’em and let’s go so we can keep looking.” We go through each aisle in Off-Broadway Shoes and I try on five different pairs and sigh a lot and frown a lot and what happens? We leave with the jean shoes and no gala shoes. Mike can’t believe it, but I’m thrilled! New shoes that I can wear more than once!
Next up is Nordstrom Rack where we find Mike a suit! Or okay, almost. There is a suit and it’s his size. The problem is it’s the exact shade of navy that my dress is. At first we think that’s awesome. And then we think that’s probably bad because we don’t really want to match do we? I mean should everyone know that we tried this hard to just get dressed and show up? I check the price tag and gasp. “It’s like $250” I say too loudly to Mike who narrows his eyebrows and then I whisper again, “So I’m guessing this doesn’t include the pants?” He smiles at me and says, “And these are cheap.” Huh. So our donation to Matthew and Lindsay’s new playground will instead be used toward closet space as I have no idea when we’ll be doing something like this again. Excellent. Mike reads my mind when he adds, “You know this is just a first of other dinners we’ll be going to.” I nod unenthusiastically while thinking, Oh no. I don’t know if I can handle this again. But geeze I could buy a ton more dresses to balance out half of his outfit. And then my next thought is, Why don’t they have a fundraiser where everyone wears their pajamas and donates the money they would have spent on buying cocktail attire? That way everyone is comfortable and who knows how much money they’d raise!
We leave Nordstrom Rack after putting the suit on hold and find out that there are other suits that fit Mike better. Of course, they’re even more expensive. We’re running in and out of stores all the while asking each other, “What time is it?” so that we’re sure to pick up our kids on time. The entire time I feel like we’re somehow getting ready for prom again, but like, together. You know how you choose your dress and then give a sample of the material to the boy so his vest can match? I felt like we were trying to figure out what he could wear that would look good with what I was wearing, but not over-the-top. At one point I asked Michael, “So are you going to buy me a corsage again?” He laughed and got my joke because we’re the high school sweet heart dorks that actually did go to prom together. At one point I’m feeling so desperate I ask one of the sales clerks who has come to watch Mike try on his jacket (I’m sure she came over to give us suggestions solely because we look so young, not because we looked clueless 🙂 “So, if we’re supposed to be wearing cocktail attire, we’re not supposed to match are we?”
“Oh Dear, you’re not?” She was in her sixties, wearing totally hip clothes and had a pixie cut with her hair all spiked up like crazy. She was older, cute and totally stylish and she was working in Banana Republic. I totally trusted her judgment.
“Oh no, I mean, I’m asking. If my dress is navy should he really be buying a navy suit?”
“Oh well you could. Or he could get a dark suit and wear a navy tie so that there is a certain color that brings you both together.”
We agreed with her but decided with only fifteen minutes left before we had to go get our kids we would think things over.
“So you really liked that last jacket, didn’t you?” I asked Mike as we rushed back to the car.
“Well yeah, it’s just that they’re so expensive.”
“It was thirty percent off. We should have asked how long the sale was going to be.”
“I bet they are always on sale. No one would pay full price for those suits,” he insisted.
I laughed because I felt like we had just changed roles. “Well, we came, we saw, and we are leaving without shoes, without a suit, but I’m super happy with my new pair of not-gala shoes!”
It’s now Thursday night and I still don’t have shoes. The event is Saturday. I have two days people. I need to find shoes that will match a clutch that Mike insist I order:
“I am not ordering a purse for one night. What a waste of money.” I had argued.
“You need something to carry your phone in!” he told me.
“What? I was going to make you do that.”
“But I’m wearing a suit!”
“But I’m wearing a dress!”
So I ordered the clutch. He won. In case you’re wondering, it is not a Coach purse…it was off Amazon and it should be here tomorrow thanks to Prime two-day shipping made especially for all of us procrastinators. Hey, I know that the shoes are supposed to match the purse. I’ve got that going for me. Now just wish me luck. I have less than 48 hours to finish this mess. And now my only concern is that my clearance dress won’t live up to his fancy pants suit…