Little Shop of Formal Wear Horrors

Better Dresses, Worst Nightmares

You’ve heard the expression "whistling past the graveyard”?  Well every time I visit a department store I go "whistling past the Formal Wear.”  It’s not the mannequins that creep me out – it’s the memories.

You see, I once had to actually venture into this dark, sinister place and although I lived to tell about it, the experience was so horrible, so terrifying, so completely unnerving that I still have nightmares about it.  Here’s what happened:

I awoke one spring morning to a beautiful cloudless sky.  My daughter had recently gotten engaged, and I resolved that this would be the perfect day to go in search of the Holy Grail, otherwise known as a Mother-of-the-Bride dress, so I girded my loins with panty hose, armed myself with credit cards and fearlessly set out for the mall.

Once inside the department store I passed by the cosmetics counter and on through Intimates and Accessories with confidence, but the closer I got to "Better Dresses” the more my resolve began to weaken.  As I slowly ascended the Up escalator, a shadowy darkness enveloped me and the sound of a hoot owl turned my blood to ice water.  For a brief moment I considered turning back, but because I lack the coordination to run down an upward-moving staircase I had no choice but to press on. No sooner had I reached the top than a ghoulish little woman immediately appeared at my elbow. 

"What…is your occasion?” she demanded.

"M-my daughter is getting m-m-married” I stammered.

One heavy brow above her yellow eyes lifted slightly.  Her long, bony finger beckoned me to follow her.  "This way, please.”  Deep into a dense forest we plunged, weaving our way through racks of long formal gowns that hung lifelessly like filmy headless ghosts.  Ushering me into a fitting room she said, "Wait here. I will bring you your selections.”  Then the door snapped shut, leaving me alone.  Was this how it was supposed to happen?  I mean, call me naïve, but I naturally assumed that I’d be the one to choose which dresses to try on.  But admittedly I’d never been a Mother-of-the-Bride before, so what did I know?

Moments later the ghoul returned with two garments.  Despite my misgivings I tried the first one on.  Turning to face the mirror I was overcome by a strong urge to present a Good Citizenship Award on behalf of the DAR.  Tiny pleats of mauve chiffon flowed over my stomach, down my thighs and right onto the floor.  (Picture Aunt Bea standing in a puddle.)  If I had a cleavage – which I don’t – it would have been sprouting from a large silk rose.  I’m not sure what I had in mind whenever I pictured myself being escorted down the aisle at my daughter’s wedding but this certainly wasn’t it. 

With a spirit of quiet despair I tried on the second garment, a backless, strapless, sleeveless, shapeless piece of black gauze so slimy that it could have been poured out of a soda can. There was nothing to hold up the top except my white, flabby upper arms.  In fact, I wasn’t even sure I had the front in the front.  Not that it mattered.  It was skin tight around the middle and hips, and so long that it swirled around my feet. My reflection in the mirror made me physically sick and I remember thinking, "So this is what Morticia Addams looked like when she was pregnant.”

Suddenly a wave of panic threatened to overtake me.  I had to get out of this place, but how?  The ghoul was hovering outside the door, blocking my escape.  In desperation I hatched a cunning plan.  "Oh Miss…” I called out sweetly.  "Would you mind bringing me a smaller size in the mauve?”

"Of course” she replied.  I listened for the sound of her retreating footsteps, and when the coast was clear I made a run for it, darting in and out between the racks of ghostly garments.  Just as I reached the escalators I saw a middle-aged woman riding up.  She looked so timid and frightened.  Immediately the ghoulish saleslady appeared at her elbow.  I longed to save the poor soul but self-preservation kicked in and I saved myself instead.  Less than a minute later my car was screeching out of the parking lot.

I’m only telling you this so the next time you run into me at a department store and I am "whistling past the Formal Wear”, well at least you’ll know why.

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