Women in Uniform: Why I Only Wear Dresses

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With one of my motorcycles outside the Brooklyn Rod & Gun Club, photographed by Sioux Nesi.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love affair with dresses. Other than some very rare occasions (mainly when I’m on my motorcycle or on a horse), I wear dresses exclusively. No jeans, no jumpsuits, no cutoffs, no culottes—just dresses.

It all started when I got my first designer number at the tender age of three. The white lace Christian Dior Enfant confection, complete with a full skirt and intricate embroidery, was a gift from my aunt Erika to wear as the flower girl in her wedding. Aunt Erika was my earliest example of real-life glamour. As a successful model, she would take me on her jobs and “go-sees,” shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue, and out to eat at Tavern on the Green. She was sort of like my very own fairy godmother, encouraging my innate princess-like tendencies.

As I grew up, sequins and tutus became a declaration of individuality. My hardworking, Naval officer single mother sometimes dressed my twin brother and me alike out of sheer simplicity. I reached for the sparkly, girly stuff wherever I could. Between Mom’s stiff uniforms and my brother’s boy-scouts-and-baseball uniforms, dresses felt like something I could truly own. Don’t get me wrong, I got a lot of other things from my mom—she’s a fearless, sharp-shooting, two-time war veteran, who taught me how to ride a motorcycle and be an all-around boss at life—but this sense of style is all me.

Once I moved to New York, and experimented with how I thought an editor should dress, I got some truly game-changing advice from a rockabilly singer I met one night: Find your decade. She had the ‘30s-neat-as-a-pin suiting, while I discovered, the ‘50s are my sartorial decade of choice. Dresses, dresses, and more dresses—the more waist-enhancing, the better. Here’s why.

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1. They’re most flattering for my particular shape: Finding an outfit that will fit my 25” waist and 39” hips and bust (my measurements are almost exactly in proportion to Marilyn Monroe’s, ahem, but I’m shorter, so they’re more exaggerated), is rare. I have, in the words of a dear friend, “curves like a racecar track.” With a dress, particularly a ‘50s-era fit-and-flare style, that highlights my waist, I always feel like I’m putting my best shape forward.

2. Individually packaging my thighs isn’t high on my priority list: Don’t get me wrong: I love my legs. They’re strong, can still do the splits at age 35, and they’re excellent for displaying my collection of Christian Louboutin heels. They’re just not the part of my body I like showing off, so the idea of throwing them into focus in a pair of skinnies—or worse, in a pair of shorts!—is not my jam. So I don’t.

3. I’m sartorially lazy: You wouldn’t think it, since I seem so polished and pulled together in all these pretty dresses. In reality, however, it took me about four seconds to choose my entire outfit—and I don’t care to spend any more time than that. This way, my entire outfit is on one hangar. No matching, no mixing, no pairing. Just zip it up and go!

4. I’m immune to trends (at least partly): Dresses have become a uniform for me, and as a result, I don’t feel the pressure to chase trends from season to season. Sure, I’ll choose new pieces in, say, a dark floral for spring, or in a ‘70s-inspired suede, but for the most part, if the whole world is wearing rompers (or culottes or bell bottoms), I’ll still be wearing a dress.

5. I embrace femininity in my wardrobe, if not always in my activities: I have many unusual, and physically-demanding hobbies—quail hunting, motorcycle riding, competitive archery, and playing electric bass in a country rock band—which might not seem ladylike. So when I’m out of the garage, off the range, and not getting my hands dirty hauling amps and gear, it feels nice to get cleaned up and wear something totally different.

6. It leads to better connections with people: It’s not the best reason, but it’s one I encounter a lot: For whatever reason, I get a lot more smiles and friendly vibes from people when I’m in one of my ladylike frocks than I do in just about anything else. Most days that I wear dresses, I will get at least one compliment from a stranger. Days I’m out in anything else? Generally, nada. Maybe it’s because people are sick of grocery stores full of yoga pants, or maybe because not everyone understands Fashion-with-a-capital-F and dresses are approachable. I don’t know. Whatever it is, though, a pretty dress seems to just make people happy.

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Doing some dress shopping of your own? Over the years, I’ve developed ninja-like skills at knowing what flatters (and sells) as a result of a gig I had as manager/assistant buyer/chief dress-wearer at a small boutique while in school at the University of Virginia. Combined with 15 years of dress-wearing, I can shop online brands I don’t know with a high degree of success because it’s so familiar to me. Here are a few of my tips and tricks for finding true love on one hanger:

Know your measurements: This is especially important if you’re buying online. Take a dress out of your closet you know and love, and measure the following: The length from shoulder to hem, the true waist, and the distance from shoulder to shoulder. For tall ladies, the shoulder-to-hem measurement is especially important as it’s easy to end up in a micro-mini unintentionally.

Know what works for you: Busty? Look for wider straps that will hide a bra. Short torso? Skip the dropped or sculpted waists, since they likely won’t sit where you need them. Broad shoulders? Go with a racerback style.

Have a good tailor, and know what can be easily fixed: Tailors are magical creatures and can easily turn a good dress into a great one. They can shorten hemlines, slim sleeves, move buttons, and add darts or take in the waist.

A dress doesn’t have to be expensive to be made well: Are the shoulder seams and hems neat and even? Are the bust darts subtle? Does the fabric feel nice? If the answer to any of the above is no, don’t buy it. If a dress looks cheap on the hangar, it very rarely will look better on the body.

So, there you have it. Call it laziness, call it rigid adherence to a uniform, call it simple efficiency—I can’t get enough of dresses. Oh, and that tiny Christian Dior dress that started it all, 32 years ago? I still have it. (And sadly, it’s still the only Dior I own.) And I look forward to using it to start my future daughter’s dress obsession.




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