Aritzia, Inga and me.
The jumpsuit I didn't jump on.
It looked kind of like this, but I didn’t.
We’re invited to a holiday party and for once, I’m ready early - in my favorite pants and a black top with rhinestone buttons. I’m adjusting an earring when my husband wanders in and mentions the invitation, which I haven’t read.
“It says ‘wear an ugly sweater or cocktail attire,’” he says, then mutters, “why would they say to wear an ugly sweater?”
Philip knows everything about American history, and appreciates the kind of jazz that sounds like traffic to me, but knows nothing about pop culture. I’d gladly take on a superior tone, and explain the whole “ugly Christmas sweater” thing to him, but suddenly, I don’t have time.
That’s because the other phrase - “cocktail attire,” has widened my eyes and put me into my least favorite state - wardrobe panic. I disappear into the closet, pushing dresses into each other, saying, “no, no, ick, no,” like a sitcom-housewife whose annoyed husband is looking at his watch.
I stick with the rhinestone-buttoned shirt but switch my pants to a pair that’s sleeker, with a slit at the ankle. I slip into my high-heeled-slingbacks with velvet bows near the toes, march to the mirror, note my badly-chipped pedicure, and make a noise that sounds like the grinding gears of a stick shift.
I run back to the closet and choose a pair of pointy blush boots that are either a good touch or all wrong, but there’s no time to analyze. We go. We have fun. But I would have had more fun if I’d been wearing something I loved. Put me in the wrong outfit, and I’m all too aware of the pants that are too slim, or too wide, or the top that would be perfect if it were just a little shorter or longer or something-er. Put me in the right outfit and I think about how funny the person I’m talking to is, or how beautiful the cheese platter looks.
I have a few events coming up, and it’s clear - I need to find myself something I actually want to wear. I have exactly half an hour to shop, because in addition to parties, this last week of December is filled with meetings. I stop in front of Aritzia, a store whose simple esthetic I like. And instantly, I’m brought back to the time I first shopped here, a few years ago.
I’d chosen a black jumpsuit, which, on me, could go two ways. The right cut of a jumpsuit and I looked elegant and cool. The wrong cut, and I looked like a square with arms and legs. I was asked my name by a young saleswoman, and as she ushered me into the dressing room, I assumed that “Debra” was not a name she heard often, except maybe amongst her mother’s friends.
The fitting room had a lovely bench, and lots of hooks, but no mirror. Ugh. I hated stores that forced you to come out of your safe little space and assess yourself at a big mirror, in front of strangers. But it was an off-hour and the room was empty. I pulled the jumpsuit on and stepped out to a space where the entire wall was mirrored. I took myself in and looked… good! Wow. I was no square! I was elegant! I just needed to hem the pants a bit. I turned to the side and couldn’t help but smile. Look at me, in a jumpsuit, like a model!
I was about to head back into my mirror-less stall when the unexpected rustle of a curtain startled me. Someone must have walked in when I was changing. The curtain opened. And out walked… an actual model. She was 5’10”, with caramel-colored hair in a perfectly messy pony. Her skin looked like honey with a hint of apricot that glimmered on her cheekbones. She was magnificent. And sweet-looking. And she was wearing the same jumpsuit as me. My mouth fell open. Hers spread into a blindingly wide grin.
With an accent that was either Swedish or Danish, she shouted, “We’re twins!” and her joy was so sincere, I couldn’t help but like her. She threw an arm around my shoulder and stood next to me. And there we were. The twins. Who were totally identical, except that one was longer, leaner, younger, blonder, prettier and much happier than the other.
“How funny is this?” her reflection said to mine.
“So funny!” mine replied. I wondered how long it would be before she undraped her incredibly long arm from my shoulder, annoyed that her pants skimmed her ankle, while mine pooled around my feet.
The salesgirl appeared and asked if everything was ok, and I grimaced out a smile.
“Do you guys, like, need other sizes or anything?” she asked.
Us guys were still arm-in arm. She looked at the taller twin and said, “You good, Inga?”
“I think so, but I might try the zero.” Inga sighed. “I’m always between a 0 and a 2, because I’m so…”
“Tall,” I said, because clearly, we were so close we completed each other’s sentences.
“Exactly! It’s like, super-annoying,” Inga said, with a shake of her head that made a highlighted strand of hair fall onto her forehead (which looked super-pretty.)
“How about you, Debra? You good?” she asked.
I squeaked out that I was, and Inga loosened her arm from my shoulder. Only to slip it around my waist.
“How cute is this?” she said to the salesgirl. “Twins!”
I couldn’t help but adore my twin because she genuinely didn’t seem to see that aside from the jumpsuit, we had absolutely nothing in common. Maybe when you’re that used to being better-looking than everyone, you don’t notice the physical differences between you and the world. Maybe it’s simply a given, as is the fact that the only thing sticking out further than your cheekbones are your hipbones.
The 0 was brought to Inga and I changed out of my jumpsuit, hoping to leave before she popped out of her fitting room. But models are good at changing quickly - they do it for a living. I emerged from my room just as she did, and we stood there, eye to chest. Inga was a perfect 0. I was an insecure 6. I turned to leave.
“Bye, Debra!” she said, and, ridiculously, I was thrilled that she knew my name.
“Bye Inga!” I answered, and added, “The zero’s great!” with a thumbs up that I instantly regretted.
“Wait!” she said, noticing my empty hands. “You’re not taking it?” She almost looked hurt.
“I’m gonna think about it,” I said, smiling a little sadly.
“You should get it!” she yelled, then called after me, “Really. You looked super-hot!”
“No, Inga,” I thought, as I descended the stairs, “YOU looked super-hot.” I looked warm.
I think of the not-bought jumpsuit as I stand outside of Aritzia, watching the Inga’s of the world walk in. There’s a satin skirt in the window that I love - long and slim, and so right for the parties ahead. I linger.
And think of the stupid dressing room. And decide I can live without the skirt. But then I think of Inga and how she believed in me in a way I couldn’t. I wince. Because it wasn’t the communal mirror, or Inga’s impossibly long legs that made me walk out empty-handed.
It was me.
Me. Seeing her super-hotness, but not mine.
Me. Focusing on the parts of my body I dislike and not seeing the ones I do.
Me. Being a mean girl. To me.
I keep standing there. Looking at the skirt. Wanting the skirt. Suddenly wishing I’d bought the damned jumpsuit.
I catch my reflection in the window as my hair is swept by a gentle breeze. Begrudgingly, I admit that I like the way I look. I might even kind of love it.
I take a breath.
And then another.
And walk my super-hot self in.
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